The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio Read Online (FREE)
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On the night of the 2016 presidential election, I spent a long time deciding what to wear. I’d be staying home to watch the returns with my partner, but the Comey letter had come out in mid-October and I was convinced Trump was going to win. I’d always admired the women on the Titanic who reportedly drowned wearing their finest clothing and furs and jewels and the violinists who kept playing even as the ship sank. I wore a burgundy velvet dress with sheer lace back paneling, a ribbon in my hair, red lipstick, and a leopard-print faux fur coat over my shoulders. I poured myself a goblet of wine. I understood that night would be my end, but I would not be ushered to an internment camp in sweatpants. The returns hadn’t finished coming in when my father, who is undocumented, called me to tell me it was the end times. I threw myself into bed without washing off my makeup, without brushing my teeth. I had a four a.m. wake-up call.
A few hours later, I took a bunch of trains to New Jersey to meet an oceanographer I was profiling for a New York magazine. We took a boat into the Hudson and sped by the feet of the Statue of Liberty. “Fuck,” I said. “This will appear sentimental.” Still, I asked him to take my picture in front of it, and I smiled at the camera, the strong winds blowing my hair in my face.
It seemed safe, somehow, to be there, at Lady Liberty’s feet. I got off the boat and, on my phone, emailed an agent I’d been friendly with since I was a kid and told him I was ready to write the book. The book. And he said okay.
The book. When I was a senior at Harvard, I wrote an anonymous essay for The Daily Beast about what they wanted to call “my dirty little secret”—that I was undocumented. It got me some attention—it was a different time—and agents wrote asking me if I wanted to write a memoir. A news program asked to film me while I fucking packed up my dorm, to show, I guess, that I was leaving Harvard without any plans, without even the promise of a career, which was the crux of my essay.
This was before DACA.
I was angry. A memoir? I was twenty-one. I wasn’t fucking Barbra Streisand. I had been writing professionally since I was fifteen, but only about music—I wanted to be the guy in High Fidelity—and I didn’t want my first book to be a rueful tale about being a sickly Victorian orphan with tuberculosis who didn’t have a Social Security number, which is what the agents all wanted. The guy who eventually ended up becoming my agent respected that, did not find an interchangeable immigrant to publish a sad book, read everything I would write over the next seven years, and we kept in touch. I was the first person who wrote him on the morning of November 9, 2016.