The Undocumented Americans : Code Switch : NPR


Author Karla Cornejo Villavicencio.

Talya Zemach-Bersin

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Talya Zemach-Bersin

Author Karla Cornejo Villavicencio.

Talya Zemach-Bersin

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would be allowed to continue, and hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio has been one of those DACA recipients — but she’s not interested in writing about “Dreamers.” And she doesn’t want to be a poster child for the “American Dream.” She could be. She has the bonafides: former undocumented immigrant who graduated from Harvard and is now getting a Ph.D. at Yale.

“The American Dream is a pyramid scheme,” she said. “I am like one of the top sellers at Mary Kay, and I am recruiting so many people, and I need to warn them that they need to take care of their mental health. Because that is going to be the casualty, the price they pay for the American Dream.”

Her new book, The Undocumented Americans, is that warning. In it, Karla profiles people who’ve paid a steep price for the so-called American Dream. Including herself. She writes about her own struggles with mental illness. She weaves stories from her life with reporting and narratives of undocumented people she meets in five different cities: New York, Flint, Miami, Cleveland and New Haven.

Their names have been changed and it’s possible their stories have changed a bit, too. Karla leaves it up to the reader to decide what is fact, what is fiction and whether that even matters.

In this episode, we hear why Karla wrote The Undocumented Americans :

“I wanted to tell the stories of people who work as day laborers. Housekeepers. Construction workers. Dog walkers. Delivery men. People who don’t inspire hashtags or t-shirts. But I wanted to learn about them as the weirdos we all are outside of our jobs.”

Audio courtesy Penguin Random House Audio from the audiobook The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, narrated by the author.


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