Book Review #35: The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Undocumented Americans
Author: Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
Published: 2020 (One World, Penguin Random House, New York)
Pages: 185 (Hardcover)
Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir, Social Justice, US Immigration
CW: Death, Illness/Cancer, Assault, Abuse, Violence, Disasters
Link Here

Hi everyone! I am back this week to talk about this genuine and spirited work of nonfiction about a controversial topic in the United States: immigration, specifically, undocumented immigrants, or as author Karla Cornejo Villavicencio appropriately calls them, Undocumented Americans. I saw a lot of positive reviews about this one, and knew I’d have to pick this one up. This is Cornejo Villavicencio’s first book, but she has written for multiple print publications from The New York Times to Vogue. She is undocumented, and a Harvard graduate pursuing her PhD at Yale. Cornejo Villavicencio writes about a variety of topics, but this time in her first book, she writes about her own experiences to help tell the stories of other undocumented persons like herself as she traveled around the country recording them. Overall, this book is rewarding in itself, and I recommend most Americans should read this to add to the debate of US immigration.

One study found that family income dropped around 70 percent after a deportation. Another study found that American-citizen children born to immigrant parents who were detained or deported suffered greater rates of PTSD than their peers” – Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The Undocumented Americans

Undocumented Americans explores the lives of different persons experiencing similar and different economic and social issues in the US, because of their immigration status. She highlights experiences from persons in New York, Miami, Flint, Michigan, Cleveland and New Haven. The author comments on her own experiences as well as an undocumented immigrant on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and in a University setting. She also comments on her relationship with her undocumented family, and how it impacts her mental health and daily life in the US. Though this book did appeal to emotion at some parts, it objectively highlighted persons’ actual experiences as undocumented. This book was not like a social media influencer calling for government or NGO action about immigration, or someone aiming to change people’s hearts and minds. These memoirs are derived from actual experiences and stories, and gives the reader another side to read about immigration as a social struggle.

What I saw in Flint was a microcosm of the way the government treats the undocumented everywhere, making the conditions in this country as deadly and toxic and inhumane as possible so that we will self-deport. What I saw in Flint was what I had seen everywhere else, what I had felt in my own poisoned blood and bones. Being killed softly, silently, and with impunity” – Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The Undocumented Americans

I really enjoyed the writing style, and the way the author told others stories. She did so with her own perceptions about the persons, but respecting their wishes and image at the same time. Overall, I thought this book was fantastic, and a must read if you want to learn more about the life of undocumented Americans in the US. I do not read many books that cover topics like US immigration (besides what I read about in the news), which is surprising to me because of how often I’ve been part of discussions about it amongst family and friends.

I think every immigrant in this country knows that you can eat English and digest it so well that you shit it out, and to some people, you will still not speak English” – Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The Undocumented Americans

Why should you read this book? If you enjoy nonfiction books about social justice issues and immigration, which objectively lay out life for those who are undocumented, this is the book for you. This book made me think about my assumptions about those who are undocumented, and my place of privilege as an American citizen as well. It also made me want to keep up with current policy, and I realized how much I did not know. The author’s personal stories mixed in as well only add to the narrative, and I enjoyed seeing how it applies to why she wrote this book in the first place.

I give this a 4 out of 5!


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