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Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s Book Captures The Anguish Of Living Undocumented And Makes Her The First Undocumented Immigrant Named A Finalist For The National Book Award

Ecuadorian-born Karla Cornejo Villavicencio immigrated to the United States when she was about four years old. She was one of the first known undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard and is also a Yale Ph.D candidate. While at Harvard, she wrote the Daily Beast anonymous essay “Dream Act: I’m An Illegal Immigrant at Harvard,” which expresses the war Villavicencio faced as the Dream Act failed to pass. She wrote “It would hurt to be forced to leave, but it hurts to stay the way I’m staying now. I belong to this place but I also want it to belong to me.”

About a decade later, Villavicencio is the first undocumented finalist in history named for the National Book Award on her book The Undocumented Americans.

Villavicencio always had a knack for writing. As a teenager living in the Bronx, she started out writing by reviewing jazz albums for a monthly magazine in New York City.

For years, she would read different cliche caricatures of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and the chasing of the “American Dream.”

She always felt that she could do much better to tell these raw stories but didn’t really know how. It wasn’t until Trump was elected to the presidency, that Villavicencio knew it was time to tell the story in her own words. “I just never felt like I had a fire in my belly until the night of the election.

As a DACA student herself, Villavicencio set out across the country to interview and tell the stories of undocumented immigrants like never before. To give names to the nameless laborers and tokenized pawns and rather report on the provocative heartbreak, love, insanity, and at times-vulgarity infused into the everyday plight of undocumented immigrants. She describes these accounts as complex, unscripted, and “don’t inspire hashtags or T-shirts.” She goes on to say in the introduction of the book that “This book is for everybody who wants to step away from the buzzwords in immigration, the talking heads, the kids in graduation caps and gowns, and read about the people underground,” she writes. “Not heroes. Randoms. People. Characters.”

Mixed in with accounts that reflect her own biography and memoir also include Latino literature styles of writing such as magical realism, streams-of-consciousness, and testimonio.

The book is dedicated to Claudia Gomez Gonzalez, an undocumented immigrant and nurse-hopeful killed by a border patrol agent in 2018. The Undocumented Americans takes the reader throughout the nation. To the undocumented workers recruited to clean up New York City after 9/11 and some of the undocumented people’s deaths from this community shortly after. To the curanderas and healers in Miami who create medicinal herbs since their citizenship status blocks them from healthcare. To the immigrants denied clean water in Flint, Michigan because they do not have a state ID. To the childless teenagers in Connecticut who’s parents are in sanctuary. To the Staten Island where undocumented day laborer Ubaldo Cruz Martinez drowned during Hurricane Sandy. To the startling amount of undocumented Black and Brown people dying from COVID-19 more than any other groups.

Throughout these interviews and stories, Villavicencio interweaves her own personal stories of the battles she faced mentally and externally in the face of her undocumented status and intergenerational trauma.

Villavicencio paints an incredibly raw and vulnerable picture of her mental anguish and Borderline Personality Disorder in complexities and nuances of her life as an undocumented immigrant chasing what society has deemed the “American Dream.” She grappled with this dream narrative for children of immigrants which she says is like “kid, you graduated, now you can pay your parents back—actually, you’re 21, and your parents are going to keep aging out of manual labor, and you might lose DACA, and you might not be able to pay them back.” After she graduated Harvard as a “good immigrant,” she said that instead, “I was on so many antipsychotics that I forgot how to go down stairs.”

Villavicencio now has a green card. Described as “captivating and evocative” by New York Times and the “book we’ve been waiting for,” by author Robert G. Gonzalez, Villavicencio hopes this book will give undocumented immigrants a voice they’ve never had before. She even said “I’ve had my DMs flooded with children of immigrants, DACA kids, kids who are not on DACA, older immigrants whose parents came here as adults, all these people saying, “I didn’t know I was allowed to feel this way.” Her book is available for purchase anywhere.

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This Digital Posada Is All About Helping The LGBTQ Migrant Community, Who Face A Uniquely Challenging Reality

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This Digital Posada Is All About Helping The LGBTQ Migrant Community, Who Face A Uniquely Challenging Reality

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

With homosexuality still illegal in more than 60 countries around the world and attitudes towards transgendered people often even less welcoming, it’s obvious why so many people risk their lives to migrate to the United States.

However, that journey to a better life is often one of many dangerous hurdles and often times, once swept up in immigration proceedings, things don’t get much better.

LGBTQ detainees across the country have shared harrowing experiences of being mocked or tortured for their gender identity or sexual orientation. Many others have been sexually assaulted while in ICE custody or while waiting for their asylum claims at the U.S.-Mexico border. And transgendered and HIV-positive detainees have both been denied medically necessary healthcare that has posed a risk to their lives.

LGBTQ migrants have the same issues and problems to worry about that all other migrants face, however, the LGBTQ experience comes with several extra hurdles.

LGBTQ migrants coming to the U.S. face unique challenges that often put them at increased risk of violence.

Credit: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Like so many others, LGBTQ migrants are often fleeing violence and persecution in their native countries. But despite often fleeing sexual violence and trans- and homophobia, so many migrants are sexually assaulted while in U.S. custody.

While just 0.14 percent of ICE detainees self-identified as LGBTQ in 2017, they reportedly accounted for 12 percent of sexual abuse and assault victims.

Based on a new report from the Center for American Progress, a public policy research and advocacy organization, LGBTQ migrants in federal detention centers are 97 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other detainees.

Studies show LGBTQ migrants are among the most vulnerable, more likely to be assaulted and killed, especially trans migrants. Of Central American LGBTQ migrants interviewed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in 2017, 88 percent were victims of sexual and gender-based violence in their countries of origin; two-thirds suffered similar attacks in Mexico.

Human rights group allege that ICE fails to provide proper medical care to LGBTQ migrants – particularly trans and HIV-positive detainees.

Migrant advocacy groups and several lawmakers have demanded that ICE release all LGBTQ detainees and anyone with HIV in the agency’s custody, because the government has repeatedly failed to provide adequate medical and mental health care to them.

“We know that lack of medical and mental-health care, including lack of HIV care, is the norm,” Roger Coggan, director of legal services at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “By the Department of Homeland Security’s own count, 300 individuals identifying as transgender have been in custody and at the mercy of ICE since October of 2018.

For detainees with HIV, antiretroviral treatment is necessary to help kill and suppress the virus which ensures a healthy life but also reduces the risk of transmission to basically zero. Yet ICE is failing to provide this life-saving care.

Johana Medina Leon, a transgender woman who was detained at Otero and had tested positive for HIV, fell seriously ill and died at a hospital in nearby El Paso. Leon, 25, was the second trans woman to die in ICE custody in New Mexico in the past year. Roxsana Hernandez, 33, died in November 2018 after falling ill at the Cibola County Correctional Facility.

Meanwhile, Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy is presenting additional challenges to the LGBTQ community.

Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

While the Trump administration has severely limited asylum qualifications for Central Americans fleeing gang violence and domestic abuse, migrants can still request asylum based on persecution because of their gender identity and/or their sexual orientation. But their path is far from easy.

The administration continues to return LGBTQ migrants to Mexican border cities where they face assaults, kidnappings and death while they await U.S. court hearings.

“Here, the same as at home, the police discriminate against us,” Alejandro Perez told NBC News in early October. “We’re very vulnerable. I don’t feel safe here in Mexico.”

Border Patrol officials initially said “vulnerable” asylum seekers would be exempted from the Remain in Mexico program, including those who are LGBTQ, pregnant or disabled. But that hasn’t been the case.

Thankfully, the LGBTQ Center Orange County is working hard to protect and help the most vulnerable.

Southern California is home to the nation’s largest undocumented community, which means organizations like the LGBTQ Center Orange County have their work cut out for them. However, the center has proudly stood up to help in powerful and life-changing ways.

The LGBTQ Center OC is one of the leading migrant outreach centers in the region, attending numerous events throughout the year and providing outreach at the Mexican consulate in Santa Ana – each year reaching more than 5,000 people. The center also played a pivotal role in ending the partnership of Santa Ana Police and the Orange County Sheriff with ICE, bringing an end to ICE detention within the county.

As those migrants were detained at facilities outside the county – sometimes more than two hours away – the center mobilized volunteers to help stay in touch with detainees. This team helps provide much needed companionship through letters and notes, as well as providing legal representation and even cash payments that help detainees get everything from a filling meal to in-person visits.

And the work the center does is so important because it shouldn’t just be on detainees to speak out. All of us as part of the LGBTQ and migrant communities should support those in detention and speak out about the injustices they’re suffering in detention.

The Center is hosting a digital posada and you’re invited!

We all know the tradition of a posada. So many of us grew up with a holiday season full of them and although this year will look very different (thanks to Covid-19), the LGBTQ Center OC wants to keep the tradition and celebration alive.

Posadas commemorate the journey of Mary and Joseph in search of a safe refuge, a sentiment that so many migrants and refugees in our communities can relate to. It’s with this spirit that the center is hosting it’s annual posada – but virtually.

The important event is free for all to attend but is a critical fundraising event that enables the center to do all that it does for the LGBTQ migrant community across Southern California. You can learn more and RSVP here but just know that it’s an event you do not want to miss.

Not only will you be able to virtually hang out with members of the community and leaders from the LGBTQ Center OC but there will also be a screening of the short documentary, Before & After Detention, a spirited round of lotería, raffle, and a live performance by the LGBTQ Mariachi Arcoíris de Los Angeles.

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Beyoncé’s Daughter Blue Ivy Is Going To Narrate The ‘Hair Love’ Audiobook

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Beyoncé’s Daughter Blue Ivy Is Going To Narrate The ‘Hair Love’ Audiobook

Lester Cohen / Getty

We’ve called her an entrepreneur, a singer, a BET Award winner and now we’re here to call her an audiobook narrator.

Blue Ivy, daughter of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, has added “audiobook narrator” to her resume. Recently, the Hair Love author Matthew A. Cherry announced on Twitter and Instagram that the singer’s oldest daughter will narrate his children’s book’s new audio version.

With his announcement Cherry, shared a short clip of Blue’s voice, in which she introduced the book and herself.

Hair Love is being narrated by Blue Ivy Carter.

In the audio clip shared by Cherry, the young singer can be heard introducing the book. “Dreamscape presents Hair Love, by Matthew A. Cherry,” she says. “Narrated by Blue Ivy Carter.”

Hair Love is a story originally written by Matthew A. Cherry and published on May 2, 2019. Soon after its release, the book was turned into a short animated film won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film at this year’s ceremony. Cherry worked as a writer and co-director of the short animated film which follows the story of a Black father who learns how to do his daughter’s hair while his wife is staying in a hospital.

“I liked the idea of something that was centered around a Black family, because so often you don’t see that in animation,” Cherry, a former professional football player, told the Los Angeles Times about his book.

In his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, Cherry said that he created Hair Love “we wanted to see more representation in animation — we wanted to normalize Black hair.”

Speaking about her daughter’s success, Beyoncé recently told British Vogue that she and her daughter love to share in each other’s accomplishments.

“When I tell her I’m proud of her, she tells me that she’s proud of me and that I’m doing a good job. It’s teeeeeew much sweetness,” Beyoncé said. “She melts my heart. I believe the best way to teach [my kids] is to be the example.”

In the interview, the singer shared that Blue Ivy’s birth was what actually inspired her to pursue the elevation of Black voices.

“From that point on, I truly understood my power, and motherhood has been my biggest inspiration. It became my mission to make sure she lived in a world where she feels truly seen and valued. I was also deeply inspired by my trip to South Africa with my family,” she explained.

The Hair Love audiobook is currently available now on Amazon.com.

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