U.S. Immigration Reform: November 2008 Archives

Thumbnail image for Underground America.jpgI attended a dramatic reading tonight here in Philly of personal stories taken from a book edited by Peter Orner called Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives.  The book contains the oral histories of undocumented immigrants as told in recent years to the editors of the work.  The stories are real and all too familiar--they reminded me of the clients I work with each day.  The daily petty slights endured, the enveloping fear, the ambition, the scars, the regret, and the hope. 

From an LA Times review of the book from earlier this year, excerpted on the McSweeney's site for the book:

There are 24 stories documented here. Editor Peter Orner and a team of graduate students from San Francisco State University went looking for stories for Voice of Witness, which publishes "oral histories of people around the world who have had their human and civil rights violated." The storytellers hold many different jobs, have different reasons for leaving home and different expectations about U.S. life. Mr. Lai left China after officials found that he and his wife had violated the one-child policy. Saleem, 54, was summarily deported to Pakistan after Sept. 11. Roberto came from Mexico at 14; it took him 30 years to get a green card. "Everything we do is a crime," says a Mexican man called El Mojado. "You don't have papers, it's a crime. You buy fake papers, it's a crime." Elizabeth, an English teacher in Bolivia, came to the U.S. in 2004 to get help for her 8-year-old daughter, diagnosed with a severe form of arthritis. With no money, she slid through the American underworld, down the steps that so many of these people describe: rape, robbery, exploitation and a complete lack of credibility--no way to get help, and no way out.

Decades after arriving, many want desperately to go home and cannot. "I wouldn't make it back across," says Adela, a Mexican woman who has been here for 18 years and longs to see her family but doesn't dare leave her children. "No, there are too many that have died in the desert, too many who have drowned."
The book owes much to recently-deceased Studs Terkel, a pioneer of the oral history genre and a board member of the oral history series, Voice of Witness, of which Underground America is an installment.