The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio | Nonfiction Book Review

✨”A portrait of a nation”✨

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio hooked me from the very beginning. Not with her resume of being an undocumented Harvard graduate. Not with her confession of being the only one crazy enough to take on the challenge of sharing these stories as well as her own. No — it was her admission that she couldn’t tackle this the way a journalist typically would.

I can’t review this book and tell you about its accuracy or how it captures the hardships of her subjects. That’s not a life I’ve lived, so seek out own voices reviewers for how this book touched their lives (@lupita.reads and @read.rewind on Instagram have reviews that are good places to start). But what I can do is look at it from my perspective working in “mainstream (albeit print) media.”

“When you are an undocumented immigrant with undocumented family, writing about undocumented immigrants—and I can only speak for myself and my ghosts—it feels unethical to put on the drag of a journalist.”

Excerpt from The Undocumented Americans

I know all too familiarly why the author feels this way. Oftentimes, people in my profession are looking for powerful yet simple stories to tell. Heroes and villains. A single entity to call out for its corruption and wrongdoings. Clean, easy stories. Even when aspirational young journalists try things the hard way, they are often shot down by the powers that be who don’t recognize themselves in those stories. So when they are given characters like the ones the author chooses to include, they balk. Bring on the Dreamers, that’s a great story. Delivery boys who skate by the “rules” to survive and help their families? No thanks.

So when I say these stories feel like they belong in the memoir section more than in gray newsprint, that’s not a dig at KCV’s abilities. It’s a compliment. She brought these people to life in ways I’ve rarely seen. And she didn’t have to “clean up” their stories to do so.

So read this book. Seek out and read articles telling stories like this. Speaking from experience, those eyeballs and clicks speak volumes to the decision makers. Make the demand uneasy to ignore, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see more of these Undocumented Americans.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
Read on audio, narrated by the author
Received an eARC via Netgalley from Oneworld Books in exchange for an honest review

What do you think about the author’s view here? Should journalists keep their feelings out of their work?

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