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Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life

written and illustrated by Alberto Ledesma

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8142-5440-0
Publisher: Mad Creek/Ohio State Univ. Press

Mexican-American scholar/writer/artist Ledesma (Graduate Diversity Director/Univ. of California) recounts his own experience of “the immigrant experience,” with its tiers of risk and layers of aspiration.

Drawing on a mix of prose, sketches, and other drawings that commemorates his emergence as a “critical cartoonist” to match his work in literary critical theory, the author describes his long years “underground” as the undocumented child of undocumented immigrants from Mexico, a “dreamer” who wanted nothing more than to go to college and have a chance at success. “Being undocumented,” he writes, “as I’m sure you can imagine, meant that we always lived with the fear of being caught, that any misstep we took could endanger the entire family.” This fear is why undocumented immigrants tend to be very law-abiding, and when they’re caught, they have developed skillful strategies, sometimes keeping silence, sometimes talking a strange patter of doublespeak. None of that helps in the end; Ledesma writes of his own father saying that no matter how well he spoke English, he still was a target: “la migra will still get you.” A good chunk of Ledesma’s text is given over to an ABC of immigrant life—for example, “R is for the resilience of undocumented immigrant mothers”; “B is for the back pay that was withheld from your father’s paycheck those few years when he worked as a bracero”; “M is for machine, the inevitable result of an immigrant worker’s metamorphosis from human being to mechanical instrument.” Ledesma and his family have been legal residents of the United States since the 1980s, but the old fears remain, he writes, especially given the anti-immigrant sentiment of the new administration. As he writes in closing, “President Trump? Even thinking about the phrase feels as if I am uttering an uncouth incantation. He has stood in front of Weimar multitudes, ratcheting up jack-booted antagonisms targeted towards my people.”

Affecting, highly charged, and deserving of broad attention.