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Unformatted text preview: Lives in Limbo Undocumented and Coming of Age in America Roberto G. Gonzales Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. With a foreword by Jose Antonio Vargas university of california press Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Praise for Lives in Limbo “Lives in Limbo is one of the most important books in immigration studies of the past decade. The moving and heartbreaking narratives of struggle, support, and heroism in this book should be read by every American.” —Hirokazu Yoshikawa, author of Immigrants Raising Citizens: Undocumented Parents and Their Young Children “Lives in Limbo vividly documents the experiences of belonging and exclusion that mark the everyday lives of undocumented youth as they transition to adulthood. Through his careful attention to the ways in which these young people navigate these contradictory processes, Roberto G. Gonzales puts a human face on the many victims of America’s broken immigration system. Theoretically rich, beautifully written, and cogently argued, this brilliant book is a landmark study of the human costs of American policy failures.” Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. —Mary C. Waters, coauthor of Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age “This necessary book documents in tragic detail how American public policies prevent hardworking children from pursuing their lives as full members of the society in which they were raised. The scholarly and personal commitment required to produce a work of this caliber is evident in the intimacy of the ethnographic work. This theoretically skillful book is one of the best examples of high-quality academic scholarship that also fully engages the policy debates of our times. An impressive achievement that will set the standard for others.” —Robert C. Smith, author of Mexican New York: Transnational Worlds of New Immigrants “Written after years of fieldwork, this book brings into sharp focus the plight of undocumented children transitioning to adulthood in America. Lack of a path to citizenship condemns hundreds of thousands of these youths to a life of permanent marginality. This is must reading for anyone wishing to understand the realities of contemporary immigration.” —Alejandro Portes, coauthor of Immigrant America Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. “This extraordinary study provides important details about a generation of immigrants that, through the courageous organizing and leadership of its members, has already permanently altered the national debate on immigration reform, politically united the Mexican American community across all generations of presence in the United States, and launched the most vibrant youth movement this country has seen in four decades. The book powerfully demonstrates the national shame in failing to enact, nearly a decade and a half after its first introduction, the congressional legislation that would permit the United States to benefit fully from the intellect, ingenuity, and perseverance of this generation of young immigrants.” —Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) “This book accomplishes something truly remarkable. Its ethnographic commitment makes a solid contribution to scholarship without compromising on allowing the reader to experience the poignancy, sadness, distress, and emotional trauma society has inflicted on these unfortunate young people. A must-read for anyone interested in the victims of the current stalemate over immigration reform.” Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. —Leo R. Chavez, author of Covering Immigration: Popular Images and the Politics of the Nation “Lives in Limbo is a book of tragic beauty. It recounts with moral clarity, conceptual precision, and empirical rigor what Hannah Arendt, writing in another terrible time, called ‘the calamity of the right-less.’ It is about what happens in a society, our society, when children and youth who are de facto but not de jure members of the family of the nation lose the right to have rights. It fearlessly narrates the quotidian empire of suffering and shattered dreams our barbaric immigration system has begotten. Reading it will bring tears and joy. It will make you mad and it will make you sad. It will stand as the definitive study of the undocumented coming of age in our midst. It is a book every teacher, every policy maker, indeed every concerned citizen should read and ponder.” —Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, author of Latinos: Remaking America Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. THE ATKINSON FAMILY IMPRINT IN HIGHER EDUCATION Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. The Atkinson Family Foundation has endowed this imprint to il uminate the role of higher eduction in contemporary socity. Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. The publisher gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Atkinson Family Imprint in Higher Education of the University of California Press Foundation, which was established by a major gift from the Atkinson Family Foundation. Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. Lives in Limbo Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. This page intentionally left blank Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Lives in Limbo Undocumented and Coming of Age in America Roberto G. Gonzales Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. With a foreword by Jose Antonio Vargas university of california press Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. University of California Press, one of the most distinguished university presses in the United States, enriches lives around the world by advancing scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Its activities are supported by the UC Press Foundation and by philanthropic contributions from individuals and institutions. For more information, visit . University of California Press Oakland, California © 2016 by The Regents of the University of California Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Gonzales, Roberto G., 1969– author. Lives in limbo : undocumented and coming of age in America / Roberto G. Gonzales ; with a foreword by Jose Antonio Vargas. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-520-28725-9 (cloth : alk. paper) — isbn 978-0-520-28726-6 (pbk. : alk. paper) — isbn 978-0-520-96241-5 (ebook) 1. Children of illegal aliens—United States—Social conditions. 2. Children of illegal aliens—United States— Education. I. Title. JV6600.G66 2016 305.23086′9120973—dc23 2015022454 Manufactured in the United States of America 24 10 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 16 In keeping with a commitment to support environmentally responsible and sustainable printing practices, UC Press has printed this book on Natures Natural, a fiber that contains 30% post-consumer waste and meets the minimum requirements of ansi/niso z39.48–1992 (r 1997) (Permanence of Paper). Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. For Sara and Joaquin Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. This page intentionally left blank Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Every year my students read Night by Elie Wiesel. Following completion of the book, I assign them the tasks of writing their own memoir. Maria came to America when she was five years old, wrote that she had to cross a river before she ever knew what it meant to swim, ran through knee-high grass as if the field were made of landmines, hid under the belly of trucks amid concrete and fertilizer so as not to leave a scent for the dogs. She did not know why she was running, but she knew that her mother cried every night for her father, she knew she was beginning to forget her daddy’s face, she knew that he worked eighteen hours a day just to provide them with food they could barely find at home, she knew that he loved them & wanted to remember what it felt like to hold his daughter in his arms. But Maria was five. She doesn’t remember life in Mexico. She remembers Kindergarten & sleepovers & middle Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. school graduations. She is more American than any slice of apple pie but that is not what we tell her. We punish Maria for following directions, for being a child simply listening to her parents. We tell her parents that they are wrong for wanting a better life for their family. We tell her that a 4.0 isn’t good enough. We tell Maria that college wasn’t meant for girls like her. Too much brown skin. Too much accent. Where’d you come from? You don’t have a number you don’t exist. There is apathy under the eyelids of this country & we cannot see what’s right in front of us. It’s hard to convince someone to do well in school when the law tells Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. them that it won’t matter—when you’re a number before you’re a face. How convenient that we forget our own history. A country of immigrants who were once told we didn’t belong. An assemblage of faces simply waiting for our country to see us. Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. —Clinton Smith, “Memoir” Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Contents Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. Foreword by Jose Antonio Vargas Preface Acknowledgments 1. Contested Membership over Time 2. Undocumented Young Adults in Los Angeles: College-Goers and Early Exiters 3. Childhood: Inclusion and Belonging 4. School as a Site of Belonging and Conflict 5. Adolescence: Beginning the Transition to Illegality 6. Early Exiters: Learning to Live on the Margins 7. College-Goers: Managing the Distance between Aspirations and Reality 8. Adulthood: How Immigration Status Becomes a Master Status 9. Conclusion: Managing Lives in Limbo Notes References Index xi xv xxiii 1 35 58 73 92 120 149 176 208 237 257 279 Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. This page intentionally left blank Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. Foreword Roberto G. Gonzales, the preeminent academic expert on the struggles of undocumented immigrant youth, has written more than a book. Lives in Limbo is a unique, essential wake-up call. Using qualitative research methods to elicit the stories of young Latinos who grew up in Los Angeles, Gonzales does something no journalist has done: he follows them over twelve years. Lives in Limbo breaks new ground in placing their stories in context by examining the sociological, historical, political, and cultural forces that shape the outcomes for these young undocumented Americans. In doing so, Gonzales brings value to the research itself, by saying these lives are worth examining, these outcomes are worth understanding, and these stories are worth telling. Gonzales is among countless people—many of them educators and teachers who are allies and mentors to undocumented students—I met while traveling the country through my work with Define American, the media and culture organization I founded in 2011. Define American was born when the New York Times Magazine published my essay in which I revealed my status as one of more than eleven million undocumented Americans. Like the young undocumented people whose stories are shared in Lives in Limbo, I struggled with conflicting realities of belonging and exclusion and still do. My mother and I have not seen each other in person for over twenty years, not from deportation, but from an equally unyielding US immigration policy that prevented her, a single parent with limited means, from legally joining me in California xi Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. xii | Foreword when my grandfather smuggled me over from the Philippines at age twelve. I weathered that transition as best I could, buoyed by the blissful ignorance Gonzales writes about, an ignorance that envelops undocumented children at younger ages when neither they nor their teachers understand their status. Four years later, I felt like the all-American kid, riding my bike to high school, joining the newspaper, drama club, and choir, feeling proud of my English and my grades, and excited about the future. Then, at age sixteen, a storm hit. But I was so fortunate, because as I reached that terrible moment in every undocumented child’s life, the moment of realizing the import and impact of one’s immigration status— when panic leads to anger, confusion, and alienation—I had wonderful, caring mentors to calm me and catch me: my teachers, friends, high school principal and superintendent, internship supervisors, even a parent from my high school who offered to pay my college tuition. These good, kind, law-abiding citizens readily stepped up to help me navigate a future path that would require me to join the millions of people like me who would have to “transition to illegality,” as Gonzales puts it. Gonzales’s dedication to developing the long-term qualitative research presented in this book will help us to more fully understand the lives of young undocumented Americans and the impossible circumstances in which they find themselves. At its heart, this research is about stories of belonging and wanting to belong. Alexia, Chuy, Pedro, Gloria, and the others in this book are real people whose lives have been profoundly shaped by our complex and unpredictable immigration system. Gonzales’s research shows that the trajectories of their individual lives vary profoundly, depending on the political climate of the communities in which they live and where they fall in the de facto educational tracking to which they are subjected. Whether you can get a driver’s license, pay in-state tuition and apply for financial aid for college, earn a green card, purchase health care, and travel without being subjected to checkpoints depends on where you live in this country. But equally consequential are the impacts of being singled out as one of the “good immigrants” with “college potential” or being routed to the separate and unequal lower tracks of America’s public schools. America needs this book. We’ve always needed it, but we need it now more than ever. By contextualizing the individual lives of his subjects, Gonzales helps us see not only the humanity of all the people who allowed him into their lives but the larger forces shaping their outcomes. Gonzales, Roberto G.. <i>Lives in Limbo : Undocumented and Coming of Age in America</i>, University of California Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from csudh on 2019-08-27 20:56:02. Copyright © 2015. University of California Press. All rights reserved. Foreword | xiii Community and civic leaders would do well to read this book, because it will help them understand how neighborhoods, cities, and states can promote integration over illegality by making it simpler for immigrants to navigate their daily lives within the law. California provides a clear example of a state whose government moved from criminalizing to legalizing many of the necessary activities of its residents. For example, after generations of having a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy regarding immigrants, the state went through a series of approaches to regulating immigration issues. In 1994, California’s voters passed Prop. 187, effectively prohibiting noncitizens from accessing health care, education, and other public services. My dear friend Karen Willemsen, a teacher and Define American’s education director, remembers the chilling effect of the law. The day after the election, thousands of immigrant children failed to show up for school, and teachers spent much of their time calling parents to reassure them that their children were still welcome. The law never took effect, having been found unconstitutional in federal court, in violation of Plyler v. Doe, the landmark case that ruled that the state has a vested interest in the education of undocumented minors. For educators, these stories show the limits of Plyler v. Doe. The reasoning in Plyler, Gonzales explains, was that the social cost of denying education to so many children would be likely to have a significant negative impact on the state. But, as Gonzales also notes, the current debate over which immigrants might be worthy of a path to full citizenship betrays that state interest in educating all students. The majority of educators and education organizations advocate for educating undocumented students to their fullest potential. In practice, however, Gonzales shows that they are tracked, as the majority of public school students are, so that a small percentage considered to have college potential are culled into advanced placement and honors classes and the majority are shunted to lower tracks, where they receive little to no individualized attention or mentoring. I was lucky. I was deemed one of the “good kids,” the kind of immigrant ...
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