BINGO – REP (BLACKOUT)
I feel that is is important at the start of this review to indicate that I am a non-Hispanic white person.
Author Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is a recipient of DACA and a journalist (though she eschews that title, more on that later). For The Undocumented Americans Villavicencio set forth to tell the stories of the undocumented immigrants that we don’t often hear about. She purposefully does not write about DREAMers because she “didn’t want to write anything inspirational.” She wanted to write about “the people underground.” The people who we see and interact with on a daily basis whose stories are not known outside of their families or communities. The adult immigrants. The parents, the grandparents, the community leaders and organizers. The delivery men and dishwashers. The day laborers and house cleaners.
I have said in another review that books don’t make me cry and that this rule has rarely been broken. Well, here we are again. Rule broken. Villavicencio shattered me on more than one occasion. The stories that she has found are difficult to read. The things that these people endure, must endure, in order to simply survive are unjust and horrible. Villavicencio weaves together the large-scale national concerns surrounding immigration with the minutia of each person’s life in order to highlight that America’s immigration policies and laws and Americans attitudes towards immigrants have real, tangible effects on people. And not just people in the abstract. But real, specific people with names and jobs and families. There’s the Ecuadorian man trapped in sanctuary in a church for months to avoid deportation. There are all the men and women day laborers who rushed in to help after the 9/11 attacks who cannot receive any aid from New York because they are not citizens. There are the parents in Flint who didn’t know not to drink the water because all of the warnings were written exclusively in English.
Villavicencio was able to get everyone’s story by entrenching herself in their lives. She does not call herself a journalist because she allows herself to get so involved. She can’t help it. She gives people money. She picks up interviewee’s children from school. She goes to church services and participates in religious rites with the community. She writes about her own family. She writes about her own mental illness. It’s impossible not to, as it’s all connected. Her parents are undocumented. Her brother is an American citizen. She sees herself and her family in every community she goes to.