The Undocumented Americans

by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

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How does Karla Cornejo Villavicencio counter stereotypes of immigrants in The Undocumented Americans?

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In The Undocumented Americans, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio pushes back against both negative and "positive" stereotypes of immigrants by showing illegal immigrants behaving in a public spirited manner and forming stable, cohesive communities but also showing legal immigrants using their shared background to exploit the undocumented.

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Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is an undocumented immigrant to the United States of America. She is also a Harvard graduate and a best-selling author. She therefore embodies in one person the negative and positive stereotypes of immigration. Writing from such a position, it is scarcely surprising that Villavicencio finds these stereotypes inadequate and misleading.

The author pushes back against both stereotypes. She is mainly concerned with demonstrating that the negative stereotypes of undocumented immigrants are misguided. For instance, she points out that not only do undocumented immigrants form cohesive communities amongst themselves, they contribute to the nation in many ways, performing tasks that few others are willing to undertake. After the 9/11 attacks, many of those who cleaned up Ground Zero were undocumented immigrants. This was a dangerous task that caused serious illness in many of the workers.

While many of those who worked at Ground Zero were undocumented, many of the subcontractors who employed them were United States citizens from a Latin American background. These legal immigrants with secure jobs are generally supposed to be the acceptable face of immigration. However, these are people who used their shared background to build a sense of solidarity with the workers they employed, then sent them to Ground Zero with inadequate equipment and protection. This exploitation shows that the positive stereotypes of legal immigrants can often be as undeserved as the bad reputation of the undocumented.

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