Villavicencio’s The Undocumented Americans (2020) delves deeper into the lives of immigrants, who are often portrayed negatively in the American media. Villavicencio does not limit her discussion of immigrants to stereotypes of them as either laborers or bright young students. Unlike American popular culture, Villavicencio gives a far more comprehensive perspective that touches on family life, mistreatment, stereotype, perseverance, immigration, or homelessness. That is a story about immigrants in their own homes, replete with the interests, objectives, and resentments of everyone living there.
Racism is directed at Mexicans and Latinos because of their skin color. Villavicencio once rode a bus while reading an English book in complete silence. Someone said to Villavicencio in a harsh tone, “I wish these folks would learn English” (Villavicencio, 33). Those interviewed for this book also recalled being discriminated against due to their lack of English skills. Julián recalled that his managers yelled and cursed at him in English since he did not understand it. Julián describes how, after seeing 9/11 and working for a boating company to take personnel in and out of Ground Zero, he was shown no compassion and coerced into signing agreements that “liberated the employers from any obligation from suddenly terminating [him]” (Villavicencio, 23). That compelled Joaqun to join the workforce and exposed him to dangerous working circumstances.
Villavicencio uses Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy to show how important and underappreciated Undocumented-Americans are in the American workforce. Half of the “reconstruction personnel in New Orleans were Latinx,” with “more than half being undocumented,” as “The Hurricane Katrina cleanup set[ted] the model” for Hurricane Sandy (Villavicencio, 23). Workers had to “walk waist-deep in polluted waters” and “clean up dead bodies without gloves and masks” as part of the “most perilous occupations for the lowest earnings” (Villavicencio, 24).
Almost everyone in Cornejo Villavicencio’s interviews finds inspiration from their family. Julián emigrated to the US to provide for his family, but the strain of his long absence led to a breakdown in his marriage (Villavicencio, 44). He wishes he could have another American citizen child but recognizes the impossibility of this given his age and social standing.
Several people, like Julián, come to the US without proper documentation to give their children the advantage of being born there. Parents put in long hours of hard work so their children can make it and, ideally, care for them when they’re old.
Having a family may be both a blessing and a curse. Paloma escaped her family and the burden of caring for her grandkids by emigrating to the US. The Villavicencio family moved away from Ecuador for work, leaving Villavicencio behind for many years (Villavicencio, 38). Dedicating one’s life to helping another person is admirable, yet doing so might lead to resentment and disappointment.
Stereotype or Racial discrimination
Several undocumented immigrants constantly fear deportation and encounter institutionalized racism in a white supremacist country. Volunteers and Ground Zero workers who dedicated themselves to assisting others after Hurricane Sandy experienced verbal, physical, and financial abuse. “Staten Island was the most affluent, white, and suburban of the five boroughs of New York City. Almost 80% of the population is Caucasian. When compared, the Bronx is only 45 % white, white, and Manhattan is only 65 % white. Staten Island is a solitary entity due to its location” (Villavicencio, 14)
The Mexican employees of the ferry company were all let go after 9/11, despite the extraordinary efforts of both individual employees and management. Joaqun is not the other immigrants forced into working as day workers due to the current anti-immigration sentiment. Employers can do whatever they want to immigrant workers because no rules protect them from harassment or termination.
Many white Americans decry their existence. The media often publishes alarmist stories about immigrants’ strain on the economy and public services like healthcare and social assistance. Cornejo Villavicencio argues against these false beliefs but acknowledges that she is unlikely to persuade anyone who sincerely blames immigration for the issues in the United States.
The United States presents a hostile environment for undocumented immigrants due to prejudice and a lack of safety nets. The mistreatment of undocumented persons is a major theme of the opening chapter of The Undocumented American. The author addresses the larger, systemic problems associated with undocumented persons, such as racism and classism. “I kind of hope they insult us with a name… because doing so describes all of us in a way that goes beyond our utility.” (Villavicencio, 48)
Perseverance is one of Jose Antonio Vargas’s most admirable qualities in “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant. As a young lad, Vargas crossed the border illegally from the Philippines to the United States. Because of this, he was always on the run for fear of being deported. Few people knew his condition, yet he kept applying for citizenship. Vargas’s determination is evident when he says, “To do it, I had to labor.” Being an undocumented immigrant was difficult for Vargas, who worried he burdened the community.
Immigration or Homelessness
Several immigrants come to the United States seeking a better life but escape one dire circumstance only to find themselves in an even more difficult one. Since she hates to identify as an Ecuadorian, she will undoubtedly claim she is from the divine kingdom (Villavicencio,1). Joaqun travels through the desert to the United States for employment opportunities. After coming close to death in the desert mountains, his first reliable job was on a ferry service, where he eventually helped transport personnel into and out of Ground Zero in the aftermath of September 11, 2001
Karla Cornejo’s novel demonstrates the importance of immigrants to the US economy by drawing on actual accounts of American-Immigrants lives around the country. Joaqun’s story, from wanting to “die” trying to cross the US border to be a “day laborer” in New York City, is brought to life as Villavicencio describes her experiences and talks with various American immigrants across the country (Villavicencio, 23).
Villavicencio takes a novel method by incorporating personal opinions and facts into his interviews. For instance, Villavicencio helps her readers realize that the recovery from disasters like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 would not have been possible without undocumented Americans by utilizing statistics to highlight how most of the workers are undocumented. Villavicencio utilizes her personal opinion against Ray Nagin, claiming that he would be unable to prevent “New Orleans” from being “over-run with Mexican employees.” However, most employed people were illegal immigrants (Villavicencio 24). Therefore, as a narrator, Villavicencio is a unique and natural storyteller with a good mastery of history, which she infuses with contemporary issues, making the story more interesting to read.
One may tell a family narrative about someone in their family who immigrated to the US. The author likely suggests it is appropriate to decriminalize immigration after highlighting the difficulties immigrants face. It is almost impossible for any reader to ignore the burden of responsibility, family life, mistreatment, stereotype, perseverance, immigration, or homelessness that undocumented people feel toward their children can be stressful for everyone involved.
Villavicencio, Karla Cornejo. The Undocumented Americans. One World, 2020.