Arts & culture, Literature

Students tell ‘undocumented’ stories in bilingual anthology

By Cathy Cockrell

Berkeley undergrads bring the experiences of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows in a new bilingual anthology, Historias de Indocumentados (Stories of the Undocumented).

book cover

Cover art by Alberto Ledesma

The book includes short nonfiction works written in Spanish and translated into English by 13 students enrolled in “Biographical and Autobiographical Writing: Telling the Stories of the Undocumented,” a course taught by Spanish lecturer Amelia Barili, the anthology’s editor.

Some students, being undocumented themselves, write under a pen name, describing terrifying confrontations or quotidian challenges they or their family have faced. To give voice to previously unspoken traumatic memories “is above all a healing experience,” Barili says of the class, and resulting book, in her prologue.

In “The Process,” Hu’Ler recalls an anxious first day at a U.S. high school. In “Curse of the Guiri-Guiri,” student-parent Daniela Milián-Cavenecia (who spent the summer studying the indigenous language Nahuatl) tells a story about learning to speak English as a young child in Mexico, in order to “communicate with the spirits,” and her experience coming to the United States as an undocumented child.

Some authors portray individuals they met during service-learning placements at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant — a local nonprofit that assists undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers — as part of the course. In another, “Lexa,” Leanna Marie Sac relates the traumatic migration story of a young Guatemalan refugee, living in Oakland, who gave her lessons in the Mayan language Mam.

“As soon as I saw this book I knew there was nothing else like it,” says Lillian Castillo-Speed, head of the campus’s Ethnic Studies Library. Each story’s “undocumented experience” is unique, she notes. “This book makes those experiences real and visible.”

The anthology includes a foreword by English professor Sue Schweik, preface by Amelia Barili and illustrations by graduate diversity director Alberto Ledesma, who was an undocumented undergrad at Berkeley in the mid-1980s and went on to earn a Ph.D. in ethnic studies.

Copies of Historias de Indocumentados, which is published in a limited edition, are in the Ethnic Studies and Doe libraries.