Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ILLEGAL by José Ángel N.


Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant

by José Ángel N.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-252-07986-3
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois

A memoir from a decent man living in the shadows, evading questions and telling lies, presented here anonymously since to reveal his identity would mean to risk arrest and deportation.

A volume in the Latinos in Chicago and the Midwest series, N.’s story is one of isolation, sorrow and anger. When he crossed the Mexican-American border as a teenager, he had only a ninth-grade education, and he did not speak English. In Chicago, where he had relatives and got work as a dishwasher, he learned English, earned a high school equivalency diploma and went on to major in philosophy in college and earn a master’s degree in Latin-American literature. N. writes movingly of growing up in Guadalajara, of the family there he cannot visit, of his estrangement from the Latino community in Chicago, and of the personal humiliations he experienced and the deceptions he practiced to keep his well-paid, white-collar job. He could not let his co-workers discover that he lacked legal documentation of citizenship, that he could not vote or travel. Eventually, his fake social security number cost him his job, and by the end of the book, he has become a stay-at-home father dependent on his American wife. N. is still a young man, so what his future holds is another story yet to be written. While this is primarily a rather dignified personal story, between the personal passages, the author also writes angrily about the failure of the United States to reform its immigration laws. President Barack Obama comes in for especially harsh criticism, having raised hopes that have yet to be fulfilled. N.’s style often has a stilted quality, perhaps the result of his acquisition of English through formal means, but he gets his message across clearly.

An utterly believable close-up picture of one illegal immigrant’s life in the United States.