The Undocumented Americans (Amazon | Book Depository)
Written by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio Publisher: Random House (2020) Imprint: One World Books ISBN: 9780399592683 (ISBN10 0399592687). Borrowed from the library. Book photo taken by me.
As a reader, I am a BIG BIG fan of Gathering Books! So when Myra invited me to be one of the contributors, I was over the moon.
In the introduction, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio shared what she did on the night of 8 November 2016. Convinced that Trump was going to be the 45th U.S. President, she wrote,
“I wore a burgundy velvet dress with sheer lace back paneling, a ribbon in my hair, red lipstick, and a leopard-print paux fur coat over my shoulders. I poured myself a goblet of wine. I understood that night would be my end, but I would not be ushered to an internment camp in sweatpants.”
This resonated with me. My immigration papers were just approved a month before the presidential elections. While I am not undocumented, entering a new country with a narcissist at the helm still left me uncomfortable. That day, thousands of miles across the Pacific, I left the office early and went for a drink with this dismal victory looming.
Cornejo Villavicencio was four years old when she arrived in the U.S. from Ecuador. For nearly three decades, she and her parents have lived as undocumented immigrants. She is currently pursuing her PhD, which she is allowed to do because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
She describes The Undocumented Americans as a work of creative nonfiction. It is part memoir and part reporting of her and her family’s undocumented experiences and that of the women, men, and children she interviews. In New York we meet the undocumented workers who were recruited into the federally funded Ground Zero cleanup after 9/11. In Miami, we enter the botanicas, which offer medicinal herbs and potions to those whose status blocks them from any other healthcare options. In Flint, we learn the demands for state ID in order to receive life-saving clean water. In Connecticut, the author childless by choice, finds a family in two teenage girls whose father is in sanctuary.
The Undocumented Americans is powerful, honest, and real.
“I took notes by hand during interviews, after the legal review, I destroyed the notes. I chose not to use a recorder because I did not want to intimidate my subjects. Children of immigrants whose parents do not speak English learn how to interpret very young and I honored that rite of passage and skill by translating the interviews on the spot. I approached translating the way a literary translator would approach translating a poem, not the way someone would approach translating a business letter. I hate the way journalists translate the words of Spanish speakers in their stories. They transliterate, and make us sound dumb, like we all have a first-grade vocabulary. I found my subjects to be warm, funny, dry-evasive, philosophical, weird, annoying, etc., and I tried to convey that tone in the translation.”