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Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant

José Ángel N.
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 128
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    A day after Jose Angel N. first crossed the U.S. border from Mexico, he was caught and then released onto the streets of Tijuana. Undeterred, N. crawled back through a tunnel to San Diego, where he entered the United States to stay. Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant is his timely and compelling memoir of building a new life in America. Authorial anonymity is required to protect this life. Arriving in the 1990s with a 9th grade education, N. traveled to Chicago where he found access to ESL classes and GED classes. He eventually attended college and graduate school and became a professional translator. Despite having a well-paying job, N. was isolated by a lack of official legal documentation. Travel concerns made big promotions and vacations impossible. The simple act of purchasing his girlfriend a beer at a Cubs baseball game caused embarrassment and shame when N. couldn't produce a valid ID. A frustrating contradiction, N. lived in a luxury high-rise condo but couldn't fully live the American dream. He did, however, find solace in the one gift America gave him -his education. Ultimately, N.'s is the story of the triumph of education over adversity. In Illegal, he debunks the stereotype that undocumented immigrants are freeloaders without access to education or opportunity for advancement. With bravery and honesty, N. details the constraints, deceptions, and humiliations that characterize alien life "amid the shadows."

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09618-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    F. González-Crussi

    During World War II, just before the American forces disembarked in Sicily, General George S. Patton harangued his men in his inimitable, incisive style, with this caustic oration: “When we land, we will meet German and Italian soldiers whom it is our honor and privilege to attack and destroy. Many of you have in your veins German and Italian blood, but remember that these ancestors of yours so loved freedom that they gave up home and country to cross the ocean in search of liberty. The ancestors of the people we shall kill lacked the courage to make such a...

    (pp. 1-26)

    My life in the shadows began some seventeen years ago. It was a hot April night in Tijuana, that border siren that lures both migrant and tourist with promises of boundless prosperity and unchecked lust.That night I joined a numerous army, an anonymous army. Under the infinite depth of night and guided by a sneaky coyote, we moved, slowly descending the slopes flattened nightly by the illicit weight of millions of other shadows who preceded us. Denied a legitimate chance at the American Dream, what better way to attain it than by penetrating America by night?

    There were precedents in...

    (pp. 27-40)

    My father lived a very short life. He died at the height of his youth, at twenty-two, just days after I was born. He was an artisan. Had I been more sensitive during my youth, I would have done everything to preserve the sun-shaped mirror he had crafted with his own hands. The mirror that hung, for an unexplainable reason, on a wall of my grandmother’s patio. After my father’s death, my mother and I went to live there. Until I was about fourteen, I saw the mirror hanging on the blue wall every time I went out onto the...

    (pp. 41-56)

    When I arrived in Chicago, one of the first things that caught my attention was the absence of life out on the streets. Life in the United States, I would soon learn, is lived indoors. And it was there, secluded in the intimacy of distant relatives’ houses, still bemused by the strange new world surrounding me, that I first glimpsed the complexity of language here in the States. I observed, for instance, that children spoke mostly English, while adults spoke exclusively Spanish. The fact that adults wouldn’t answer in English to their children at first seemed something laudable, something that...

    (pp. 57-76)

    Ask any undocumented driver what, on a regular workday, he fears most. He will likely tell you he is afraid of being pulled over. After work the shadow of illegality creeps out of factories and kitchens and rides on highways.

    I, however, was spared this risk for a good number of years.

    As I have written in earlier chapters, a few months after arriving in Chicago, I wove myself into the dark workings of the Illinois secretary of state. A legal driver’s license and state ID were the first significant purchase of my life in the United States. They required...

    (pp. 77-88)

    Browsing the Internet, I read the headlines: Arizona passes law criminalizing every undocumented immigrant within its state boundaries. Last year, I read that a great number of undocumented workers in the American Apparel factory in Los Angeles had been fired. In Georgia a poultry plant was raided; the number arrested and eventually deported was close to two hundred. Last year, also, I read that the City of San Francisco—following the example set by New Haven—had decided to provide official IDs to its undocumented residents.

    About two or three years ago, I read a story of an undocumented man...

    (pp. 89-98)

    “How about Samoan? Can I be Samoan?” My girlfriend is filling out the 2010 census. She is trying to answer the race question for me. The questionnaire came in the mail today. Ten years ago, when the previous census arrived, I glanced at it and tossed it in the garbage immediately. I was suspicious of it. This afternoon, however, I decided to leave it resting on the kitchen counter for a while.

    As the evening went on, I couldn’t help looking at the envelope from the corner of my right eye as I boiled the water, heated the oil, chopped...

    (pp. 99-116)

    When I got word that my book would be published, I knew I’d have to add to it. The previous chapters were written between 2008 and 2010. It is now September 2012. A final and more current chapter would give me an opportunity to write about crucial developments in my life having to do with my new family and my employment during these past two years. This postscript would also help me come to terms, once and for all, with the peculiar situation I have found myself in since my arrival in Chicago almost two decades ago.

    The first event...

  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 117-120)