Wednesday, 16 June 2021

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio


The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
Published by OneWorld on the 24th March 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


One of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard reveals the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans.

Right after the election of 2016, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants – and to find the hidden key to her own.

In her incandescent, relentlessly probing voice, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio combines sensitive reporting and powerful personal narratives to bring to light remarkable stories of resilience, madness, and death. She finds the singular, effervescent characters across the nation often reduced in the media to political pawns or nameless laborers.

The stories she tells are not deferential or naively inspirational but show the love, magic, heartbreak, insanity, and vulgarity that infuse the day-to-day lives of her subjects. And through it all we see the author grappling with the biggest questions of love, duty, family, and survival.

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio has a unique voice and perspective on the plight of undocumented immigrants within the USA and I appreciated how she blends many immigrants stories with her own personal experiences throughout The Undocumented Americans. I was reminded of Marcos Gonsalez' work, Pedro's Theory, in the way Villavicencio seeks to counter traditional myths and misconceptions, especially those propagated by right-wing media outlets, in order to show the truth about the outrageously unfair way that undocumented immigrants are forced to live. I was appalled to learn, for example, that the IRS has created a system by which these people can pay taxes without having a social security number, yet even decades worth of tax payments has no bearing on a court's decision if an individual is suddenly targeted for deportation. This is just one of the myriad ways in which the American system is stacked against undocumented immigrants, but America would seriously struggle to function without their labour. The paradox makes for a disturbing situation to be stuck in and I was amazed at the strength of character needed to continue working, raising children and living under such stress for years and years.

I felt that The Undocumented Americans allows a valuable insight into a massive social disaster that I am sure many documented Americans would rather simply ignore. The book is unfortunately let down by occasional factual errors (such as the year of Hurricane Sandy), but I loved how Villavincencio so deftly captures the individual personalities of the people she portrays. I never felt as though I was being asked to pity these people, but simply to actually see them for themselves.Their stories are frequently heartbreakingly sad, and it wouldn't take much of a change in the American mindset to legalise these thousands of workers in a dignified and humane way. However, similarly to the way in which 'illegals' are demonised by politicians and the media here in the UK, their political capital as a scare tactic continues to outweigh the real economic, communal and humanitarian contributions undocumented immigrants make.


Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio / Sociology books / Books from Ecuador

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