Literature of the Undocumented
I recently submitted a course description for a class I will be teaching next semester (si Dios quiere).
Literature of the Undocumented
Book List: Diary of an Undocumented Immigrant, Ramón Tianguis Pérez; The People of Paper, Salvador Plascencia; The Elements of Style, Strunk and White.
A Course Reader will have additional readings.
Films: Bajo la misma luna/Under the Same Moon; (short film) AB 540 The Movie.
It is a curious thing how many documents attempt to document the undocumented. The texts we will read this semester ask us to engage our critical reading and writing skills on the topical question of undocumented immigration. We will turn our critical attention to articles from both sides of current debates on immigration in order to analyze and evaluate the efficacy of those arguments. In the literary works—a novel, a nonfiction diary, and poems—we will focus on those characters that are either defined by documents or by the lack of documents. We will also look at the significance of documents in our lives: birth certificates, driver's licenses, school identification cards, passports, death certificates, etc.
The primary goal of this class is to develop students' practical fluency in argumentative writing and research skills. Taking these texts as occasions to produce further writing on documents and the undocumented, students will write a couple of short writing assignments and a couple of long argumentative essays (each 8-10 pages long).
This class is one I believe I am uniquely qualified to teach and one I wish to continue to adapt and develop for different courses and different levels throughout my teaching career (si Dios quiere).
The question at the heart of this class is, can the undocumented be documented? Scholars in the social sciences have been dealing with the difficulties of this question since the first major study of undocumented immigration, Los Mojados: The Wetback Story by Julian Samora. The force behind Diary of an Undocumented Immigrant is that we get a view of the undocumented experience directly from someone who has lived it. Directly? Well, we get a translation of someone writing about his experiences after he returns to Mexico and has been removed from the undocumented situation. In The People of Paper, the characters are trying to escape documentation; they want to go beyond the narrative and its/our gaze.
I originally had Sir Walter Scott’s The Heart of Mid-lothian on the list because I wanted to focus on the character of the Whistler. The Whistler remains undocumented and beyond the narrative for most of the book. Even in the end, all the narrative can do is presume that the Whistler ended up among the American tribes. One way of developing this class would be to expand its focus on the undocumented experience globally and historically. Undocumented immigration is also a “problem” in many other Western nations. Guy Debord even writes an essay called “Notes on the ‘Immigrant Question.’” Another way to develop this class would be to investigate the role the figure of the undocumented immigrant plays in the theories of Agamben, Zizek, and Hardt and Negri.
The course next semester will start with early 20th century corridos by Anonymous. Anyways, just thought I’d share. Sugerencias, of course, would be greatly appreciated.
Javier O. Huerta's debut collection Some Clarifications y otros poemas (Arte Publico 2007) received the 31st Chicano/Latino Literary Prize from UC Irvine. He is also the author of American Copia (2012). A graduate of the Bilingual MFA Program at UT El Paso, Huerta is currently a PhD student in the...