Xolo Score 4.5/5
The Undocumented Americans is an autobiographical expose about living in the United States as an undocumented person. Cornejo Villavicencio interviews undocumented people about their struggles and triumphs and her experiences living undocumented. Her commentary is sharp and meant to pull back the veil of immigration as a political talking point and dives deep into "the people underground, not the heroes." She throws the model minority narrative into the basura where it belongs and spotlights the people who live within this country's broken immigration system.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Immediately, Cornejo Villavicencio clarifies that immigrants are not your model minority. They are imperfect and flawed, just like anyone else who carries the privilege of living in their country of birth. She dispels white-centric immigrant tropes and stereotypes such as comparing immigrants to the migratory practices of butterflies -"I fucking hate thinking of migrants as butterflies. Butterflies can't fuck a bitch up." Or that it's only worth supporting immigrants who come in the "right way" and pick themselves up from their bootstraps to achieve success despite throwing every obstacle and barrier the U.S. throws at them. All immigrants, such as those who default on loans, smoke weed, require social services or take antidepressants, deserve the same human dignity as everyone else. But people in the U.S. eat up American exceptionalism. They love it when they can point to immigrants who achieve success to counterpoint any attempts at socio-political reform.
The Undocumented Americans makes it clear that the American Dream is a pyramid scheme that sees white and wealthy immigrants at the top, swearing that the system works if you sacrifice your mind, body, soul, and MONEY. The folks that Cornejo Villavicencio interviewed continuously sacrifice parts of themselves to justify their decision to live in the U.S., often suffering alone and in silence to ensure their personal and family's survival.n.
Cornejo Villavicencio mentions how the exceptional immigrant narrative can condition young immigrants or children of immigrants to believe that they have a debt to repay to their parents and the U.S. for the opportunity to be extraordinary. For instance, Cornejo Villavicencio expresses how her Ivy League education felt tangible proof to herself and her parents that her parents' sacrifices weren't in vain. But that, ultimately, obtaining this coveted education left her with more trauma and isolation than a sense of accomplishment.
The Undocumented Americans is not a white-washed success story crafted to make you feel good about the U.S.
To what extent are there BIPOC leading characters or perspectives?
How well does the author avoid writing BIPOC experiences through the white gaze?
To what extent does the author challenge white-centered beliefs?
How well does the book explore nuances between intersectional identities?