Synopses & Reviews
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.
“There’s nothing to do but sit down and read this book. Inside it, I feel deep in being, immersed in a frankness and a swerving bright and revelatory funkiness I’ve not encountered ever before concerning the collective daily life of an undocumented family in America. It’s a radical human story and Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is a great writer.” Eileen Myles
“This is the book we’ve been waiting for. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio offers an unflinching indictment of our current immigration system, one that separates families, inflicts trauma, and every day eats away at people’s dignity. At the same time, she writes about migrants in a way they’ve never been written about before — in all their complexity, messiness, humanity, and beauty. Cornejo Villavicencio understands in her bones that writers cannot give people voices or faces. The Undocumented Americans succeeds precisely because she sees their faces and hears their voices. Deeply personal and so superbly told, this is a work we will be talking about for a long time to come.” Roberto G. Gonzales, author of Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America
“Memorable...compelling...heartwrenching...a welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.” Kirkus Reviews
“Profoundly intimate...highly personal and deeply empathetic....Readers will be deeply moved by this incandescent account.” Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is a writer whose work, which focuses on race, culture, and immigration, has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vogue, Elle, The New Republic, The Daily Beast, n+1, The New Inquiry, and Interview magazine. Born in Ecuador, she later became one of the first undocumented students admitted to Harvard University. She is a fellow at Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective and is currently a doctoral candidate in the American studies program at Yale University.