What does it mean to be undocumented? That’s the question at the center of Papers, an anthology of 30 narratives of undocumented youth, recently published by Graham Street Productions, as part of a documentary project of the same title. The book presents personal reflections on the experience of growing up without papers, colored by the cultures and languages spanning “countries as diverse as Nigeria, Korea, Mexico, Indonesia and England,” illustrated by CultureStrike’s own Julio Salgado.
In the announcement of the book’s publication, Prerna Lal of Undocumented and Unafraid remarks, “There is no one undocumented experience. Some of our parents crossed the border without authorization, some of us came here legally and overstayed visas, some of us were escaping persecution while some came seeking more prosperity. We are from all over the world. But somewhere in all our stories, there is a common thread: there is an act of love.”
Below are excerpts from Papers. You can learn more about the documentary and the book at PapersTheMovie.com.
UPDATE: The UCLA Labor Center recently hosted a launch party for the book. Here’s a video about the event, featuring Julio, from our friends at Colorlines.com.
Salvador, Age 18
Being gay and undocumented is a little harder because you face discrimination for both things, you get judged for both things. Sometimes my own people, the Latino community, can be closed-minded about gay people. When I’m in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community, I feel we’re a big family who will support each other. I like that. I feel very comfortable and it gives me courage.
I came out to my family because I didn’t want to live a double life, being one person at home and another person with my friends. I’m not going to live in the closet. I’m going to be me. I want to be courageous. There are similarities between coming out as undocumented and coming out as being gay. You fear that people will reject you and that your friends might look at you weird or feel like you lied to them. You don’t know how they’re going to react.
We’re living in the 21st century; we have stop caring so much what people think. People are always going to talk about you. But I’m not going to live a life for them, trying to make them happy when I’m miserable. The people who are going to love you are going to love you for who you are.
Jamie, Age 19
My parents decided to emigrate from South Korea to the United States ten years ago, due to the financial damages that the International Monetary Fund Bankruptcy caused in 1997. They believed that America would provide a better future and opportunities for my sister and me and our family would essentially have a fresh start at life.
Just like any other American story, our family started from scratch. I remember watching my parents work day and night, stooping down to people, seeing my dad cry for the first time. I have never seen them this vulnerable in my life. So, I turned to education as my only escape from poverty.
I worked hard because I wanted to be somebody and have the opportunity to experience the world. American society tells us that if you work hard you will be able to obtain your American Dream. But that wasn’t the case. Despite all the qualified grades and extracurricular activities and the passion I had for higher education, I viewed even obtaining a vocational degree as a challenge because of the status that I had no choice in making.
During my junior and senior year of high school, I fell into depression. I felt confused, angry, and sad. I did everything to the best of my ability to attempt to receive the type of education and experience I wanted for myself. But I couldn’t. I no longer felt like I could relate to my peers and even felt isolated at times in the Dream Act movement that was heavily dominated by Latinos. Unfortunately, people often believe that “undocumentation” is a small faction issue that only affects Latinos, but it can happen to anyone from any country, who choses to come to the United States. They can’t gain an education, access to civil rights or even a simple thing such as nutrition. Even regular immigrants can get cut out by lawyers misfiling their papers.
My fellow Dreamers are the most passionate, intelligent, and motivated people I have ever met in my life. They are the reason why I no longer live in fear and in shame. They are the reason why I believe that I am going to accomplish everything I aspire to achieve in the future. I am going to do everything I can to fight for my and our future. It is not just a Latino issue, it’s a universal fight for equal education. The longer we hold off the Dream Act, the longer the Dreamer’s future is on hold.
Eliseo, Age 12
I was brought to the United States by my parents when I was six years old. Unfortunately, the difference between me and other kids is that I’m undocumented. Most students are taught to dream and mold their future. I can see my future but I’m being told that I don’t have one.
My parents are farmworkers. They wake up at 5:00 am every morning to go to work. Every day I go through the day never knowing whether they will come home or not. I live in fear and uncertainty, but I don’t want to give up or lose hope. I want to become a full citizen of these United States. I want to be a positive role model. I want to do this for my parents, because to me my parents are like stars. Stars only live to be around 10 billion years old. Before a star dies it crunches up into what is called a red giant, then it explodes. But the star doesn’t just die, its matter and gas helps create new stars. The star sacrifices itself to create new life, just like my parents are doing for me.