Top 10 Books for Undocumented Students

Top 10 Books for Undocumented Students

By Jesus Cisneros, Ph.D. and Alonso Reyna Rivarola

Published on August 31, 2021

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Undocumented immigrants, including undocumented college students, have had to transpose themselves into narratives for and by citizens for most of their lives. That is because undocumented characters and themes are often underrepresented in mainstream publishing.

Books by, for, and about undocumented immigrants can have a profound effect on all readers. These stories can educate and inform readers who are far removed from their own families' immigration experiences. They can also portray paths in life for undocumented readers that they may not have thought possible.

Including inspirational memoirs and poetic and visual portraits, the list of books below honors the lives of undocumented immigrants and the larger movement for immigrant rights.

Top 10 Books for Undocumented Students

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We Are Not Dreamers: Undocumented Scholars Theorize Undocumented Life in the United States

By Leisy J. Abrego and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales


This book works to dispel the false distinction between "deserving" and "undeserving" immigrants. It explores undocumented life by contesting the theory, metaphor, and narrative behind the concept of "Dreamers."

The editors, Leisy Abrego andGenevieve Negrón-Gonzales, position undocumented and formerly undocumented immigrants as theory creators. They also offer other ways of seeing undocumented people beyond merit-based views that prioritize education and capitalist productivity.

The Struggles of Identity, Education, and Agency in the Lives of Undocumented Students: The Burden of Hyperdocumentation

By Aurora Chang


Aurora Chang explores her identity journey from a once undocumented immigrant from Guatemala to a hyperdocumented academic. She supplements her personal story with research about undocumented students' identity, education, and agency. By combining personal experiences with empirical research, she pushes the reader to consider the complexities of growing up undocumented and the power of telling your own story.

Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America

By Roberto Gonzales


Drawing from interviews and fieldwork with 150 Mexican youths over the course of 12 years, Roberto Gonzales traces how the lack of lawful status shapes young undocumented peoples' understandings of themselves, others, and society at large. This book challenges the false distinction between the "deserving" Dreamer and the "low-achieving" early exiter. It examines the sociological, historical, political, and cultural forces that shape outcomes for undocumented youth.

Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer: Undocumented Vignettes From a Pre-American Life

By Alberto Ledesma


In this graphic memoir, Alberto Ledesma explores his childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood as an undocumented immigrant and eventual naturalized citizen. He highlights the psychological and philosophical concerns of undocumented families living under constant fear. By using drawings and vignettes to connect with his audience, Ledesma describes the challenges, achievements, and frustrations of his own undocumented experience.

Identity, Social Activism, and the Pursuit of Higher Education: The Journey Stories of Undocumented and Unafraid Community Activists

By Susana M. Muñoz


In this book, Susana M. Muñoz explores the ways undocumented college students make meaning of the intersection between their immigration status and their social identities as community activists. She chronicles the stories of 13 undocumented students navigating different types of educational institutions across the United States. She also explains how undocumented students' identities and experiences with higher education are complex and unique, given the current and historical contexts of xenophobia.

Undocumented: A Dominican Boy's Odyssey From a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League

By Dan-el Padilla Peralta


This memoir recounts the journey of Dan-el Padilla Peralta, an undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic coming of age in the United States. It follows his journey from homelessness to an Ivy League education. He also describes how the interplay of U.S. law and politics results in legal and social ramifications for undocumented immigrants.

Intergalactic Travels: Poems From a Fugitive Alien

By Alan Pelaez Lopez


This book is a poetic portrait of Alan Pelaez Lopez's perspectives and experiences growing up undocumented in the United States. Through their writing, Pelaez Lopez addresses the intersections of Indigeneity, Blackness, queerness, and migration as they relate to U.S. federal immigration law. The author also calls attention to systems of power and oppression and the trauma these systems inflict on immigrants.

Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card

By Sara Saedi


This book is an autobiographical account of Sara Saedi's experiences as an undocumented teen immigrant from Iran living in the United States.It highlights her coming of age journey following her sister's revelation of her family's undocumented status.

Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

By Jose Antonio Vargas


In this memoir, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas tells his story as an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines. Vargas recounts coming to and growing up in the United States, outlining the legal struggles he and his family faced in their attempt to become "legal."

The Undocumented Americans

By Karla Cornejo Villavicencio


Karla Cornejo Villavicencio challenges readers of her book to consider this question: What does it mean to be "undocumented" in America? Weaving in the stories of undocumented immigrants across the country, she describes the dehumanizing injustices immigrants face in various aspects of life (e.g., healthcare, labor, education). She also focuses on intergenerational trauma related to being undocumented in the United States.

Feature Image: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Learn about the concept of hyperdocumentation and how undocumented students navigate belonging, worthiness, and intolerance in college. Check out our list of scholarships for undocumented students. Find out how citizenship and legal status may affect access to financial aid. Learn from an expert about how Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) support the needs and educational success of Hispanic and Latino/a students.