November 2008 Indie Next List
“McSweeney's Voice of Witness Series is dedicated to 'illuminating human rights crises through oral history,' and this new installment is an enlightening look at the plight of two dozen of the many people living here without legal documentation. You will be inspired to get out there and do something!”
— Lisa Sharp, Nightbird Books, Fayetteville, AR
Millions of undocumented immigrants live in the United States under constant threat of imprisonment or deportation. They survive underground, with little protection from exploitation by human smugglers, employers, or law enforcement. Underground America presents the remarkable oral histories of men and women struggling to carve out a life in the United States.
Among the narrators:
Farid, an Iranian-American business owner who employs a number of American citizens while he himself remains undocumented. A critic of the Iranian government, he fears for his safety if he is deported to his native country.
Diana, who along with thousands of other Latino workers helped rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. After completing her work, she and many others were detained and imprisoned for not having proper documentation.
Liso, who was enticed to come to the United States as a religious missionary, but on arrival was forced into unpaid domestic labor.
About the Author
Peter Orner is the author of two story collections, Esther Stories and Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, two novels, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo (set in Namibia) and Love and Shame and Love, and a book of essays, Am I Alone Here? His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in The Atlantic, New York Times, Granta, The Paris Review, and Best American Stories. His work has been awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggen-heim Fellowship, and a Fulbright to Namibia. Orner has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, the University of Montana, Northwestern, and Charles University in Prague. Orner is a longtime professor at San Francisco State University and recently accepted a faculty appointment at Dartmouth College.
Luis Alberto Urrea was born in Tijuana, Mexico and is a member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame. He is the author of numerous books, including The Hummingbird’s Daughter and The Devil’s Highway, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His latest novel is Into the Beautiful North. Urrea is a professor at The University of Illinois–Chicago.
“Bold and heartbreaking.”
“In a time when history is told in cheap television reenactments, if at all, and personal tragedy is gobbled up in rapidly digestible magazine photos and reality shows, this project goes against the grain.”
“Average news-watchers who think they have a grasp on the immigration debate may well find these stories, speaking for millions of invisible American residents, no less than revelatory.”
—Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
“The storytellers hold many different jobs, have different reasons for leaving home and different expectations about US life. Decades after arriving, many want desperately to go home and cannot.”
—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
“Throughout Underground America, the mistreatment of illegal immigrants painfully echoes this country’s shameful past of slavery. These immigrants are now an invisible force that has helped grow our economy and infrastructure—they’ve built America, but have nothing to show for it.”
—Holly Otterbein, Philadelphia City Paper
“Underground America is an excellent introduction to an ongoing social disaster. It gives a face to people in the country who are one injury, one legal problem, away from ruin.”
—Oscar Villalon, The California Report
“This book is both archive and call to action, a document and a communiqué. These narratives complicate and trouble the mythologies around ‘illegal immigrants’; the combination of stark and sometimes brutal concrete description of lived experience and astute analysis on the part of the people recounting those experiences undermines the received notions that ‘they are taking our jobs,’ or ‘they are merely a drain on the system …’”
—Jen Hofer, CultureStrike
“The editors have chosen these tales with an eye for human rights violations and abuse. But they have also found inspiring stories.”
—John Freeman, Houston Chronicle
“Underground America does an excellent job of showing the human side of the underground world of millions people in the United States.”
—Susanna Zaraysky, New America Media