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The Undocumented Americans

4.47  ·  Rating details ·  10,124 ratings  ·  1,571 reviews
One of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard reveals the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans in this deeply personal and groundbreaking portrait of a nation.

Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the d
Published March 24th 2020 by Random House Audio
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Average rating 4.47  · 
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 ·  10,124 ratings  ·  1,571 reviews

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Such an honest and important book that centers the lives of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio names early on in The Undocumented Americans how we often tend to focus on the miracle successes of DREAMers or the wretched trauma that occurs at the border, ignoring the humanity of undocumented Americans living in our presence every day. With great awareness of her own positionality, she travels to New York to meet undocumented workers who participated in the G ...more
Paris (parisperusing)
In two years, America took three of my beloveds: all grandmothers. I remember the aisles pouring in with mourners at the first funeral, how I could not look my cousins in their bloodshot eyes, could not quell their pain with my own. Those eyes, warm with loss, found me the following year as I watched my grandmother, wracked with grief, buckle over her own mother’s casket, murmuring in tongues. The third came in the fall, days after my 27th birthday: cancer, terminal, Granny’s atrophied I love yo ...more
Karen (idleutopia_reads)
Language can often fail us and can be manipulated to present a one-dimensional view of our life and those in our community. It then becomes jarring to see these depictions and realize that they don’t match the world you’ve seen, lived and loved. In this way, The Undocumented Americans comes into our purview to highlight the nuances that we know exist contradicting the headlines that constantly bombard us. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio takes her empathy, her desire to help, her experience as a chil ...more
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I'll be honest and tell you that I read American Dirt earlier this year and fell victim to the book's sensationalized storyline. Sometimes as a white man, I don't understand my privilege as much as I should due to also being a gay man. When I heard that Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was coming out with a non-fiction book with real life accounts of undocumented people sharing their journey and struggles, I knew that I wanted to read these stories. As a New Yorker, I tend to believe that my ideals t ...more
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had such high hopes for this book and once I received the ARC, I immediately put it to the top of my list of books to read. I am such a fan of sociological books and that is what I thought this read would be. I was mistaken.

Rather than telling the stories of undocumented Americans, the author relates everything back to herself and it reads like a memoir. Not to mention that the author's commentary is extremely annoying. She claims to be a promoter of social justice and continuously uses insen
Traci at The Stacks
I really enjoyed this book and the ways the author mixed her own story with the stories of undocumented Americans and the recent history/politics of immigration in the US. Her writing was really exciting. I wanted more context. I appreciated hearing about and from the undocumented people that are overlooked so often in the narrative around immigration. The day laborers. The elderly. The sick. Very good book.
Oct 28, 2020 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-deck, 2020
I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, even more so after it was named as a National Book Award finalist. Luckily I just won a copy from Ofelia over on Bookstagram, so I’m very excited to begin!!
Oct 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
National Book Award for Nonfiction Shortlist 2020. Villavicencio is a DACA recipient and through her hard work, became one of the first DACA students to attend Harvard, and is now pursuing her Ph.D. from Yale.

Her parents left her back in Equador when she was just 18 months old and did not have her join them until she was 5 years old. This separation from her parents caused trauma that her doctors tell her caused her brain to be stripped of dendrites resulting in a history of migraines and panic
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As the title itself suggests this book is about undocumented Americans. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio never treats the people she is writing of as passive ‘subjects’, or worst still ‘objects’, her gaze is neither voyeuristic nor impersonal. She does not give the impression that she is filtering their experiences and stories, even if she admits early on that due to privacy she may or may not have altered names and specific/recognisable details. In the interac
Lupita Reads
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With the utmost care and brilliance, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio takes the power of storytelling to unveil the struggles and perseverance of Undocumented Americans throughout major crisis across the nation from 9/11 to Flint, Michigan. And in adding in snapshots of her own story, The Undocumented Americans reads like a pixelate of voices demanding to be heard and recognized. If you read any book this year, make it this one.
To my mother, who should have a different life, I will do everything in my power to give you a different future.
Finally, to my father- you'll never know what it is like to carry your father's heart in yours when it has been so torn to shreds for your sake.

This book pulls at your heart for the entire read and doesnt let up. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio writes about The Undocumented Americans in New York City, Miami, Staten Island, Flint and New Haven. We get a real life look into what it is l
Isabella González
The author qualifies many times that she is not a journalist because she gets involved with the subjects in her stories. She doesn't pretend to be objective because if one of the subjects needs a used MacBook or $400, she will give it to them. Some of the strongest passages of the book are her fictionalized accounts of (view spoiler) ...more
Natalia Sylvester
It's taken me a long time to write a review of The Undocumented Americans simply because it's hard to put into words what an incredible work this is. In the introduction Villavicencio writes, “This book is not a traditional non-fiction book. Names of persons have all been changed. Names of places have all been changed. Physical descriptions have all been changed. Or have they?”

Villavicencio talks about the act of translating her interviews like a literary translator translates a poem—in other w
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

In case you haven’t figured it out yet – my reading tastes are all over the map. I also have a severe case of FOMO so if I see a book enough I will want to read it too. I was shocked to see that I’m the first of my Goodreads’ friends to have reviewed The Undocumented Americans, but it has been all over Bookstagram and I didn’t want to miss out. I’m going to be totally honest and say this one almost lost me from the jump because I simpl
Whatever this book might have that I did not love so much, really is not important enough to take stars off it, the stories are just wonderful, it's learning about different lives, and the problems people face from living as undocumented in the US. I really loved all that she shows in this book. ...more
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thank you to the publisher for the free review copy

“I am not a journalist. Journalists are not allowed to get involved the way I have gotten involved. Journalists, to the best of my knowledge, do not try to change the outcome of their stories as crudely as I do. I send water. I fight with immigration lawyers. I raise money. I make arrangements with supernatural spirits to stop deportations. I try to solve shit the way an immigrant’s kids try to solve shit for their parent because these people ar
Adrienne Courtney
Unpopular opinion: I really did not like this book. I had such high hopes based on the rave reviews it was getting but this was beyond disappointing. The writing style was grating and self-serving.

Here’s a line from the author that pretty much sums up how I feel about this book: “Then I felt like I sounded like a white girl trying to slum it, so that made me feel disgusted with myself, so now I felt like cutting my arm with the room service knife but that seemed even whiter, so I didn’t do anyth
Never Without a Book
This book is everything!!!! A must read!
Allyson Hilliard
Nov 19, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I feel one star isn’t fair to those who shared their experiences with the author, but multiple times I almost quit reading. The stories of undocumented immigrants, especially those who worked at Ground Zero, are incredible. However, the author is insufferable. You know those people that one-up every experience you tell? That’s her. Her commentary and attitude is just awful. It overshadows the purpose of sharing the accounts of those living day-to-day in the US. On top of it all, the truth and fa ...more
Dec 24, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The parts of this book that are actual research and facts and stories about undocumented Americans are very interesting, but interwoven into it seems to be the memoir of an angry, immature, self aggrandizing narrator. The narration swings from rage to entitlement to bravado; it seems willing to call anything a micro aggression (ie, the complaint that Mexicans have to dial 011 to call home from the US otherizes them? Please). After reading the introduction I just couldn’t take this book seriously ...more
May 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In her introduction to The Undocumented Americans Karla Cornejo Villavicencio writes:

On the night of the 2016 presidential election, I spent a long time deciding what to wear…I wore a burgundy velvet dress with a sheer lace paneling, a ribbon in my hair, and a leopard print faux fur coat over my shoulders…I would not be ushered to an internment camp in sweatpants.

Cornejo Villavicencio’s book is both political and highly personal, mixing memoir with her collected ‘stories’ of other undocumented A
Mar 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author was one of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard and in this book she utilizes creative nonfiction to tell the stories of undocumented Americans across the country. The stories speak of issues including healthcare access and employment and family stability and love, among so much more. From a method perspective, Villavicencio went across America and spoke to 9/11 relief workers in NYC, deli delivery workers, people living in Flint trying to access fresh water, peo ...more
Jan 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best book in this new month of 2021 that I have read. Brilliant, sharp writer. Funny, edgy, quick, irreverent, and conflicted.

Sharp, incisive, piercing points. Dazzling.

For example, that there could be brown Latinx whose loss was way more personal than for a white person, but simply is not culturally acceptable. You’ll have to read for yourself.

Or the super heartbreaking vignette of drowned homeless who tried to save a squirrel or chipmunk... the humane face of the marginalized.

Peter, Javier...
May 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On a topic im very passionate about. I feel so sad when I hear about families being separated and children left without a parent or parents.
Jiny S
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: society
There are so much love and eloquence in this discourse which the author exposes the injustice and discrimination of undocumented Americans.

The United States has always had a complicated, dependant, and abusive relationship with its southern neighbors, especially in the current political climate. Its treatment of those who chose to cross the border for asylum or better opportunities is unsympathetic and vulgar.

This novel seeks to break the popular and very false stereotypes of South Americans b
Leo Walsh
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio has a degree from Harvard and is a Ph.D. candidate at Yale: translation, wicked smart and a solid citizen. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is also a Dreamer, a DACA recipient born in Ecuador and raised in NYC. Because of this, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio lives in fear of being deported by Trump's amped-up deportation regime. Her story alone would make for a very good memoir.

But instead, she gave us THE UNDOCUMENTED AMERICANS, a great book.

Instead of focusing on her own ex
Oct 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone who raved about this book was right- it is excellent. I fell in love with her writing from the introduction. It just grabbed me immediately, like she was saying “Look at these people and these stories that I’m going to tell. Don’t look away.”

I loved the way she told these stories about day laborers, housekeepers, construction workers, and more, the people that “don’t inspire hashtags or T-shirts.” Rather than translating her interviews word for word, she wove them into a powerful narrat
Elena L.
Sep 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Maybe you won't like it. I didn't write it for you to like it. And I did not set out to write anything inspirational, which is why there are no stories of DREAMers.

THE UNDOCUMENTED AMERICANS is a raw and powerful non-fiction book about undocumented immigrants sharing their lives and struggles. Villavicencio is unapologetic at telling several experiences by chosen individuals and families, allowing us to empathize with their struggles regarding health insurance, job opportunities, family separa
Abbie | ab_reads
Like most people on bookstagram, I initially added The Undocumented Americans to my wishlist because of @lupita.reads, @idleutopia_reads and @booksteahenny's undying love for it. I was holding out for a paperback copy, but then @thestackspod announced it as the September book club pick, where Traci would be discussing it with Lupita so I went ahead and downloaded the audiobook from @librofm instead! This was an excellent decision, as it's narrated by the author, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, and ...more
Skyler Autumn
Jan 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5 Stars

Short and sweet review. This book is heart-wrenching and eye-opening and will illicit compassion from anyone willing to read it.

Books like this should be required reading in American Schools not 1984 by George Orwell which lets be honest isn't helping with American people with their socialism paranoia.
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Karla Cornejo Villavicencio has written about immigration, music, beauty, and mental illness for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Glamour, Elle, Vogue, n+1, and The New Inquiry, among others. She lives in New Haven with her partner and their dog.

Articles featuring this book

Someday, this year will end! And with the ringing in of 2021, we will come to the end of this year's Goodreads Reading Challenge. Of course,...
211 likes · 105 comments
“The twisted inversion that many children of immigrants know is that, at some point, your parents become your children, and your own personal American dream becomes making sure they age and die with dignity in a country that has never wanted them.” 25 likes
“What I saw in Flint was a microcosm of the way the government treats the undocumented everywhere, making the conditions in this country as deadly and toxic and inhumane as possible so that we will self-deport. What I saw in Flint was what I had seen everywhere else, what I had felt in my own poisoned blood and bones. Being killed softly, silently, and with impunity.” 16 likes
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