Lawtina Bookclub: Undocumented Americans

It’s time for another Lawtina Bookclub session! And I know lots of you loved this latest selection, Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicenico. I finished this book earlier this month and it left me feeling some type of way. I think mostly because I felt frustrated…let’s get into it!


First, Undocumented Americans is a non-fiction collection of stories of undoc folks living throughout the United States. The author grew up undocumented as well. She interviews workers throughout the U.S. and shines a light on their experiences. Not just the day-to-day, but also the dismissal and mistreatment they experienced in cities/towns where major traumas occurred–NYC during 9/11; Katrina; Flint, Mi. The trauma and violence is impacted when a person is undocumented and cannot access the same services and resource as others. Karla provides example after example of people who are so dehumanized by systems, and people in power, and even by the communities around them.

She does a tremendous job at digging for details resulting in beautiful prose that returns the humanity to those who had their humanity stolen from them. By speaking of their lives, she underscores the dignity in their existence. The best example for me, one that was haunting, was Ubaldo Cruz Martinez, someone easily dismissed as an alcoholic, who died in the hurricanes. She describes how in the midst of his drowning death, he did what he could to save a squirrel from drowning. It was so moving and sad. And then to know that his death was not necessary, it makes it even more disturbing. I’ve only ever read one other book (a fiction) that provides a collection of experiences like this. Karla has done such a service in providing this collection.

At the same time, I’m going to keep it real and there were a lot of moments that reminded me of unpleasant memories because growing up poor is traumatic af. Part of being poor is feeling like you need to hide it so seeing it exposed felt weird–but that is my gut reaction, not to say that it shouldn’t be discussed–it should! But I would imagine for many, reading this book will rile up a bunch of emotions. And so many of the stories also reminded me of former clients and remembering the abuse and trauma they experienced always feels overwhelming.

This book is important. I’d love to know the emotions it made you feel. For me the ultimate feeling is that it felt like impotent anger. All the problems she discusses are based on policy and legislative decisions; decisions made by people who don’t have our best interest in mind (to say the least) and it can feel like there’s so little we can do. It can feel overwhelming and impossible to solve. I’m not a pessimist by nature, so it threw me off balance to end the stories feeling a little hopeless (though Karla does add moments of hope). Pero no se, maybe it was too much sadness in one fell swoop that made it hard for me to digest. Maybe the book doesn’t need to leave you feeling good though. The way we treat, dismiss, and abuse people without status is shameful. It’s good that we address it and find ways to transform the shame and sadness into action.

What did you think? Do you totally disagree? I fear that I’m the odd one out here!