The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio


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“Did you know undocumented workers made up the majority of 9/11 clean-up crews? Of course, and so few outlets reported on it. There’s no “faceless brown mass” here, no generalization or appropriation of experience. The only political commentator you’ll need on immigration issues, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio writes with a journalist’s accuracy and depth—if journalists shed the objectivity BS and said what they really meant to say. And damn, she can write a gorgeous sentence.

Full of voice, sass, wit, and bite, Villavicencio bares her own complicated humanness as she compiles the stories of undocumented Americans: the stories that go unpublished in the mainstream for fear of deportation. From work place malpractices to the lengths people go to support their families and find healthcare, Villavicencio find the humor and heart in it all, despite the dark turns this book very well could’ve taken.

A mammoth of a debut. And just as hard and sharp (if not harder and sharper) as the edgy logic that immigration critics love so dearly.”

– Mason

One of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard reveals the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans in this deeply personal and groundbreaking portrait of a nation.

Traveling across the country, journalist Karla Cornejo Villavicencio risked arrest at every turn to report the extraordinary stories of her fellow undocumented Americans. Her subjects have every reason to be wary around reporters, but Cornejo Villavicencio has unmatched access to their stories. Her work culminates in a stunning, essential read for our times.

Born in Ecuador and brought to the United States when she was five years old, Cornejo Villavicencio has lived the American Dream. Raised on her father’s deliveryman income, she later became one of the first undocumented students admitted into Harvard. She is now a doctoral candidate at Yale University and has written for The New York Times. She weaves her own story among those of the eleven million undocumented who have been thrust into the national conversation today as never before.

Looking well beyond the flashpoints of the border or the activism of the DREAMERS, Cornejo Villavicencio explores the lives of the undocumented as rarely seen in our daily headlines. In New York we meet the undocumented workers who were recruited in the federally funded Ground Zero cleanup after 9/11. In Miami we enter the hidden botanicas, which offer witchcraft and homeopathy to those whose status blocks them from any other healthcare options. In Flint, Michigan, we witness how many live in fear as the government issues raids at grocery stores and demands identification before offering life-saving clean water.

The Undocumented Americans powerfully reveals the hidden corners of our nation of immigrants. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio brings to light remarkable stories of hope and resilience, and through them we come to understand what it truly means to be American.

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio