The Undocumented Americans: An American Classic

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Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s “The Undocumented Americans” is a new classic. The writing, the interviews, the vulnerability– almost everything about this book made me think, cry, or both.

“The Undocumented Americans” is a book that offers undocumented persons the opportunity to share their own stories. Villavicencio carefully chronicles individuals or families who are undocumented in the United States. It’s scary. ICE, formerly INS, has formed invisible tentacles of fear that spread throughout immigrant communities in America, and people without papers are living under constant stress.

Villavicencio travels to Cleveland to capture the story of a family living in a rural area. She traveled to Miami to highlight the dangers of living undocumented but requiring medical care: natural remedies and homeopathic treatments reign supreme. Haitian remedies, specifically teas, get a shout out in “The Undocumented Americans.” I was appreciative of the author’s inclusion of undocumented persons of Afro-descent; they often get overlooked.

It’s a cowardly stance to say or think, “well, why won’t they come here legally!?” The lands were hijacked away from Indigenous peoples by White colonizers and worked by kidnapped Africans. Why do people now want legal migration? It’s weird. Also, Villavicencio makes a terrific point when she mentions how many undocumented persons are escaping countries in which America interfered with foreign governments.

The locality of the book struck me. The author was raised right here in Queens and mentioned so many landmarks, boroughs, and neighborhoods that I know, that I pass by regularly. It saddened me that I never considered what these people, some of my neighbors, go through. Though I share the experience of being a child of immigrants, I have no idea what it feels like to fear parental deportation. The stress, the constant worry, my heart breaks for these families.

The best thing I can do for these families is to vote smart. Vote for politicians and laws that are people-centered, not just political affiliations.

“The Undocumented Americans” is an American classic.

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