“My world seems upside down. I have grown up but I feel like I’m moving backward. And I can’t do anything about it.” – Esperanza
The above quote is but one voice from Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America. Written by Roberto G. Gonzales, an Assistant Professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, the book specifically focuses on the stories of immigrant Latino children and young adults who are caught in the Kafkaesque U.S. immigration system.
Dr. Gonzales first contacted me on January 6, 2015 with a query regarding the use of my Ningun ser Humano es Ilegal - No Human Being is Illegal drawing as the cover art for his forthcoming book. I thanked him for his kind letter, but politely rebuffed him with the following: “I have to admit to hesitancy about using the image for a book cover. The image has become iconic of the immigrant rights movement, as I intended, and I am frankly reluctant to alter the legacy of the image.”
However, Gonzales did not relent, and in retrospect I am happy for that. The Assistant Professor continued to e-mail this artist with an epistle of dispatches that ultimately convinced me of his profound seriousness. But it was Gonzales sending me copies of several chapters of his unpublished manuscript that ultimately persuaded me; a boundless humanism leapt off those pages. It was the same spirit of commitment to the downtrodden that compelled me to create the Ningun ser Humano es Ilegal - No Human Being is Illegal drawing in 1988.
Dr. Gonzales told me that he thought my drawing was a persuasive criticism against racism and America’s unfair immigration system, referring to the artwork as emblematic of a social movement in opposition to bigotry and injustice.
He expressed a fervent desire that Lives in Limbo would have a similarly powerful impact. Because I had no doubt that it would, I enthusiastically gave Gonzales full permission to use my artwork - an approval I extended to no other in all these years.
You may of course take this as a wholehearted endorsement of Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America, a book that I am absolutely thrilled to be associated with.
I believe that every person living in the U.S. would benefit from reading this tome, not just academics, but working people and students, because it is imperative that we humanize the plight of the immigrant.
In some ways the narratives found in Lives in Limbo relate to my own history. Along with his family my father came to the U.S. from Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico when he was around 2-years-old, settling in San Diego, California. At sixteen years of age he came to Los Angeles to work in the city’s restaurant business. There he met and married Patricia Schneider, a young woman of mixed Mexican/German heritage. Ten days before I was born on September 7, 1953, my father officially became a U.S. citizen, changing his name from José Jesus Valenzuela to Joe Vallen. I never knew the disquietude he must have suffered as an undocumented worker, nor do I know anything about his path to citizenship. I can only imagine because he never discussed it with me.
Regarding the opening quote of this brief scoop; in case you are unfamiliar with Spanish, Esperanza is “Hope” in English. It is an enchanting name that has been given to many a girl child. Here in Los Angeles where I was born and raised, for the brown-eyed people of the sun it has always been a common name - stretching back to the 1781 founding of El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles, or for the monolingual reader, “The Town of the Queen of the Angels.”
But hope is dying… we are living in terrible times where there is frightful talk about mass deportations and building a colossal wall to separate humanity. Whatever your position regarding immigration, bear this in mind, when people are stripped of their humanity and thought of as illegitimate, appalling things will follow. That is the REAL meaning behind No Human Being is Illegal.
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