You’d be hard pressed to find a meaningful literary platform for undocumented immigrants who work as day laborers, housekeepers, deliverymen, construction workers or students to share their raw and complex realities with the world– until now, with Karla Cornejo Villavicenio’s The Undocumented Americans.
Cornejo Villavicencio’s first book authentically shares their full stories while telling us bits and pieces of her own story. Her Ecuadorian parents brought her to the United States at the age of five and she became one of the first undocumented students to graduate from Harvard. She is now enrolled in Yale working on her PhD. In her introduction, she tells us that many of the books she read about migrants she hated, “I couldn’t see my family in them, because I saw my parents as more than laborers, as more than sufferers or dreamers,” she writes.
The book opens with the 2016 Presidential election of Donald Trump as she decides what to wear, she writes, “I understood that night would be my end, but I would not be ushered to an internment camp in sweatpants. The returns hadn’t finished coming in when my father, who is undocumented, called me to tell me it was the end times.” For many immigrants, the Trump administration left their families in despair and limbo, without a road in sight for citizenship, nor relief from deportation.
The Undocumented Americans shares the journey of undocumented immigrants in a manner that is rarely told, in a series of short memoirs. She focuses on stories that are rarely spoken about: Their complexity as humans, their struggles in America and the demeaning work they take on to survive.
Cornejo Villavicencio reveals her deeply personal story in a way that made me- feel as if I were reading her journal. Her book captured my full attention from the first page to the last. As she explains: “I attempt to write from a place of shared trauma, shared memories, shared pain.” But she doesn’t make this book all about her. She captures the lives of undocumented immigrants in Cleveland, Flint, Ground Zero, Miami, New Haven and Staten Island.
This isn’t another book focused on the possibility of immigrants to achieve the American Dream. Cornejo Villavicencio puts it this way: “I did not set out to write anything inspirational, which is why there are no stories of DREAMers.” It exposes the real suffering of people who have lived in fear for far too long. Too many of us could relate to this road filled with hardships, displacement and deportation, especially during the Trump administration. Hopefully, it will shed a light on our harsh reality and inspire people to join us in our journey toward collective freedom.