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Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant

Jose Angel N

Publication Year: 2014

A day after Jose Angel N. first crossed the U.S. border from Mexico, he was caught and then released onto the streets of Tijuana. Undeterred, N. crawled back through a tunnel to San Diego, where he entered the United States to stay. Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant is his timely and compelling memoir of building a new life in America. Authorial anonymity is required to protect this life. Arriving in the 1990s with a 9th grade education, N. traveled to Chicago where he found access to ESL classes and GED classes. He eventually attended college and graduate school and became a professional translator. Despite having a well-paying job, N. was isolated by a lack of official legal documentation. Travel concerns made big promotions and vacations impossible. The simple act of purchasing his girlfriend a beer at a Cubs baseball game caused embarrassment and shame when N. couldn't produce a valid ID. A frustrating contradiction, N. lived in a luxury high-rise condo but couldn't fully live the American dream. He did, however, find solace in the one gift America gave him -his education. Ultimately, N.'s is the story of the triumph of education over adversity. In Illegal, he debunks the stereotype that undocumented immigrants are freeloaders without access to education or opportunity for advancement. With bravery and honesty, N. details the constraints, deceptions, and humiliations that characterize alien life "amid the shadows."

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Latinos in Chicago and the Midwest


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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F. González-Crussi

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pp. ix-xvi

During World War II, just before the American forces disembarked in Sicily, General George S. Patton harangued his men in his inimitable, incisive style, with this caustic oration: “When we land, we will meet German and Italian soldiers whom it is our honor and privilege to...

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1: Amid the Shadows

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pp. 1-26

My life in the shadows began some seventeen years ago. It was a hot April night in Tijuana, that border siren that lures both migrant and tourist with promises of boundless prosperity and unchecked lust. That night I joined a numerous army, an anonymous army. Under...

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2: Of Things Lost

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pp. 27-40

My father lived a very short life. He died at the height of his youth, at twenty-two, just days after I was born. He was an artisan. Had I been more sensitive during my youth, I would have done everything to preserve the sun-shaped mirror he had crafted with his...

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3: My Adult Education

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pp. 41-56

When I arrived in Chicago, one of the first things that caught my attention was the absence of life out on the streets. Life in the United States, I would soon learn, is lived indoors. And it was there, secluded in the intimacy of distant relatives’ houses, still bemused...

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4: The Song of the Cicadas

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pp. 57-76

Ask any undocumented driver what, on a regular workday, he fears most. He will likely tell you he is afraid of being pulled over. After work the shadow of illegality creeps out of factories and kitchens and rides on highways. I, however, was spared this risk for a good number of years...

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5: At Work

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pp. 77-88

Browsing the Internet, I read the headlines: Arizona passes law criminalizing every undocumented immigrant within its state boundaries. Last year, I read that a great number of undocumented workers in the American Apparel factory in Los Angeles had been fired...

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6: The Day I Got Counted

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pp. 89-98

“How about Samoan? Can I be Samoan?” My girlfriend is filling out the 2010 census. She is trying to answer the race question for me. The questionnaire came in the mail today. Ten years ago, when the previous census arrived, I glanced at it and tossed it in the garbage...

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pp. 99-116

When I got word that my book would be published, I knew I’d have to add to it. The previous chapters were written between 2008 and 2010. It is now September 2012. A final and more current chapter would give me an opportunity to write about crucial developments...

About the Author, Further Reading, Production Notes

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pp. 117-120

E-ISBN-13: 9780252096181
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038310

Page Count: 128
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Latinos in Chicago and the Midwest
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OCLC Number: 870305104
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Illegal

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • N., José Ángel.
  • Illegal aliens -- Illinois -- Chicago -- Biography.
  • Mexicans -- Illinois -- Chicago -- Biography.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
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