On September 4, 2019 there will be nation-wide literary protests, in forty-plus cities, to stand up against the inhumane treatment of migrants by the US government. These protests are being led by Javier Zamora, Anni Liu, Jan-Henry Gray, and Christopher Soto on a national level. Additionally, dozens of writers are leading on a local level throughout the country, and for that we are extremely thankful. We are partnering with the organization Immigrant Families Together to help raise money so that they can pay bonds to release mothers from detention and reunite mothers with their children. Money raised from these protest readings will also go to acute needs such as medical, food and transportation costs; clothing, blankets, car seats and diapers for families who have been released; and temporary housing stipends for refugees who have just been released from detention and have no family in the US. To make a donation and to find a reading in your city, visit our GoFundMe page.
In anticipation for the Writers for Migrant Justice protest readings, we would like to suggest a few books for you to read that were written by undocumented, migrant, and first-generation American writers.
Javier Zamora recommends:
Jose Antonio Vargas’s Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen is a heartbreaking memoir from the Pulitzer-prize winning journalist whose quintessential essay “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” in the New York Times back in 2011 certainly taught me what “coming out of the shadows” looked like. His memoir continues this courageous work of showing an entire generation the sacrifices, the hurt, and the joy that undocumented individuals live with in this country.
Growing up undocumented, or with undocumented family, in the Bay Area, at some point you’ll read Yosimar Reyes‘s work. He was the very first person I knew that was writing about the undocumented experience. I was in high school when I first heard his poetry, and later I read his self-published debut collection, For Colored Boys Who Speak Softly. I thank him for pushing us to depict undocumented individuals in our full humanity.
Anni Liu recommends:
In The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, by Bhanu Kapil, Kapil interviews Indian women living in India, England, and the US, asking them all the same twelve questions (“Tell me what you know about dismemberment,” for instance, or, “Who was responsible for the suffering of your mother?”) and collaging their responses into prose poems that startle in their intimacy and their emotional power. In answer to the question of who is an interrogator in an interview in BOMB, Kapil gave an immediate and private answer”: “I think of being pressed down against or upon something and not being able to get up—a definition, perhaps, of nationality. Of sexuality as well. All sorts of things.”
Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of five poetry collections, and her most recent, Invocation to Daughters, is as much an invocation as it is an anthem of transnational feminism. In English, Spanish, and Tagalog, she weaves a poetics of resistance, showing all of us a way to “create a language so that we know ourselves.”
Jan-Henry Gray recommends:
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s Cenzontle is full of tender, visceral poems that give voice to the unspeakable. More than a “biography of grief,” the book points at our dark historical moment: “years from now there will be a name for what you and I are doing.” Co-founder of Undocupoets, Castillo’s memoir Children of the Land comes out in January 2020.
When I first read Janine Joseph’s essay “Undocumented, and Riding Shotgun,” she was the first person I knew who was an undocumented poet from the Philippines living in the US. Winner of the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize, Driving Without a License chronicles a distinctly familiar migrant experience of navigating an inhospitable American landscape. The book’s haunting final line: “Again to hear our name leave / the mouths of others as if no one disappeared.”
Christopher Soto recommends:
I am listing the below authors because without their literature and activism, we would not be able to have protests like Writers for Migrant Justice. For me, these poets are paving the way for migrant literary activism today and tomorrow. I recommend the work of the Undocupoet Fellows: Yujane C., Frankie Concepcion, Aline Mello, Jesus I. Valles, Juan Rodriguez, Esther Lin (also current lead organizer with Undocupoets). I am also indebted to the poetry and activism of Alan Pelaez Lopez and Sonia Guiñansaca, who are fearless queer/trans poets that write about migration and documentation. Via email, Javier Zamora was also singing praises for León Salvatierra’s book Al Norte and Javier O. Huerta’s book Some Clarifications y Otros Poemas. Finally, there is a folio of writings by Undocupoets that was released with Southern Humanities Review if you want to check that out, too.