How did it happen that undocumented youth occupied the office of Arizona Senator John McCain in 2010, raising awareness of the potential of the DREAM Act, which would ensure that these youth were no longer criminalized for growing up and residing in the United States? This book provides a brief history of a series of events and changes in how undocumented people are taking control over their destiny and their legal status by using the same rights as any other American to explain their position and their solution. It is easy to sympathize with these undocumented youth, who often look, sound and hold values that are similar to any other young American.

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Key Points
In the past those who were undocumented tended to stay out of the public eye or the limelight, but with the DREAM movement many openly declared and decried their situation as undocumented youth. Their voices were heard, and many in the public as well as policy makers began to understand their perspective in being illegal, which was not in any way their fault. Nicholls seeks to understand how these changes occurred, and why it was that this group of youth was able to speak out and draw attention to the issue in a way that resulted in positive attention. Nicholl’s achieves this through first hand reports from the people themselves who participated in these actions.

Intersections of Race, Ethnicity, Class and Gender
The book addresses the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, and gender when it discusses the difficulties of belonging to other groups against which there is discrimination, such as women, homosexuals, transgendered or persons of color (Nicholls, 126). It is described that the effect is multiplied. In the example given it describes how an undocumented lesbian stated the impacts that it had on her; for example, she had to “come out”, or announce her sexual orientation, twice. She had to come out to the American public, but she also had to do so within her Latina and Latino community. This is an additional stress in addition to the everyday burden of being undocumented in America. The discrimination which undocumented people and those of Latin descent suffer also contributes to further stigmatized situations such as poverty and homelessness (Nicholls, 181). Nicholls further points out that there is a danger in using the well placed- that is, those undocumented youth who look and sound American and belong to no other marginalized groups- as it reinforces the principle that only those who seem American have American style rights (Nicholls, 181).

Relating to other books on Latina/os
Other books on Latina/os look at one of the many possible perspectives which help to better understand the experience, culture and reality of Latin Americans. One such book is The Latino Generation: Voices of the New America. This book focused less on struggle, discrimination and working towards a better future, but rather it looks at the present and future from a demographic perspective. The previous book focuses on the growth of the Latin American population in the United States, and investigates the position of the Latin American community as the largest minority community and one with a high relative population growth rate. In the future one can expect the United States to be increasingly Latin American, and therefore more open to treating Latin Americans, whether citizens, undocumented or immigrants with a greater respect for human rights, and the right not to be made illegal by administrative rules.

Impact of the Book
It seems that often, when speaking of an oppressed group, the focus is on what they cannot do as well as more negative aspects. After reading Nicholl’s book one can no longer discuss the oppressed as broken individuals who cannot help themselves. Rather, it makes clear that the best assistance is to support their efforts. In the case of undocumented youth in the United States it is nearly impossible not to have sympathy for these people. Through no fault of their own they had found their very existence and location to be illegal. Their situation raises larger questions about how a person can be “illegal”, and whether this constitutes an abuse of human rights. It also transforms the image of the undocumented Latin American in the US from one who hides to one who actively asserts their rights as a human being.

Success in Carrying out Purpose
This book was successful in carrying out its purpose to raise awareness of the situation of undocumented Latinos and Latinas in America from the perspective of rights and solutions, and it was also successful in displaying the persistence and passion of a group of undocumented youth referred to as the DREAMers. Overall it takes multiple perspectives in order to understand the complexity of the Latin experience in America, and this book provides an important view of current history and legal perspectives. This does not mean that other perspectives, such as the historical, social justice, poetry, legends or quantitative social research is not all important. The whole picture requires many sources and points of view. Nicholl’s is successful in filling a gap with regard to the capacity of young Latin Americans in America to make their own changes for the better.

Nicholl’s book, like that by Garcia, provides an understanding of a new era for Latin Americans in the United States, one where they no longer must stay under the radar or hide for fear of discovery, but rather use the same tools of democracy as any other American in order to ensure that they can continue to contribute to a better America.

  • Garcia, Maria T. The Latino Generation: Voices of the New America. UNC Press. 2014.
  • Nicholls, Walter. The DREAMers: How the undocumented youth movement transformed the immigrant rights debate. Stanford University Press, 2013.