Author Valeria Luiselli On Misconceptions Of Immigration

Immigrants represent a relatively small 13.7 percent of the U.S. population, yet have become the subject of national controversy, according to Valeria Luiselli, author of “Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions,” Luiselli led an hour-long discussion on immigration and misconceptions around immigration in Kemper Auditorium on November 1.

The event was coordinated by Michael Barker, Director of Academy Research, Information, and Library Services, who believed the would provide a new perspective for the Andover community.

“I believe that Luiselli is an author of an important book that I thought all students at Andover might enjoy reading,” said Barker. “That book came to me through Monique Cueto-Potts [Director of Community Engagement]. Because it resonated with other people on campus, I thought it would be neat idea to bring here. Obviously, there is a lot of discussion in the national level dialogue around this topic and issue, so it was certainly a good idea.”

“Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions” is a book-length essay based on Luiselli’s experiences as a translator for child migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, according to NPR. The book’s subtitle refers to the 40 official questions that authorities ask these children when detained.

The evening began with Luiselli addressing common misconceptions that audience members might have about immigration in the U.S., continued by the explanation of her personal experience behind the motivations of writing the book.

Having mentioned different immigration laws, Luiselli argued that crossing the border should not be criminalized by any reason.

Luiselli said, “By national and international agreements, the idea that people arriving to the U.S. ‘illegally’ is false. A major misconception that people have is that declaring your status as a refugee and coming here [U.S.] is illegal and criminalized.  However, it is legal to arrive to country and seek asylum, speaking for yourself on court. The only issue is that this process is becoming more rare, and there are not enough lawyers to represent the people. People who do not possess U.S. citizenships don’t have a right to an attorney provided by the government. It is truly difficult, having just arrived to a country that is not your own, while seeking asylum.”

She continued, “According to public discourse, we are living in a moment where there a mass of ‘illegals’, as they like to phrase, are streaming in through the border. Immigration is a reality, not a problem, for a lot of people.”

Following her talk, the audience engaged with Luiselli through questions.

Itzelt Reyes ’19, an attendee and introduction speaker of the event, said, “Whenever Andover students talk about immigration, since they have not lived in a community full of immigrants, many of them make major misconceptions about what it means to be one of them. In that sense, whenever they speak about it sometimes, I get a bit frustrated. They are ignorant of many of the topics that currently take place including drugs, violence, and gangs all around. One of the things that I liked about her talk is that she did not shy away. She is very educated, and I am just glad that she had the courage to [disprove] some of the misconceptions that many students previously had.”

Luiselli further explained that her previous background as a translator for children seeking asylum helped understand the perspective of the immigrants, which in turn helped Luiselli write her book.

Luiselli said, “The U.S. government created a priority docket for children in court, limiting the days for children to find a lawyer to 25 days, which is impossible. As a person who tries to counter the unrightful decisions made by the government, I ended up volunteering alongside a group of people to translate the lawyers. That is basically how I arrived to write my book.”

Teresa Peralta, Teaching Fellow in Spanish, wrote in an email to The Phillipian that she related to the mistreatment given to the children as both a teacher and an immigrant.

She wrote, “The presentation had a lot of value for me as an immigrant and a Spanish teacher. It is very sad to think about the obstacles and dangers that refugee children have to face in order to get to the [U.S.]. However, once they get to the [U.S.] it does not mean the end of the trip, but the beginning of a legal battle.”

Luiselli ended her presentation by describing the lack of safety that causes an increased number of immigrants, followed by a need to be more cognizant of current issues.

She said, “People don’t migrate for the fun of it. Immigration is the last option, when the situation is so desperate that there is nothing else left for them. According to the children that I have interviewed, their best friends were killed in front of them, and gang violence was openly present. Whatever the brutality of the immigration systems may be, people are living in worser lives. The most important thing is that we are in a moment where it is so important to educate yourselves. Go beyond the headlines and the shock, and please do more research.”

Reyes commented on what other members of the community should take away from the event.

Reyes continued, “I think that it is the idea of being more global. Many of us here are so focused into the idea that our problems are the only ones that matter.We focus too much on our problems to feel empathy for others. I think events like this highlight that our problems don’t even matter. If anything, we are privileged to be going through those problems. While we are stressed about school and classes, events like this offer a scope of a more global perspective.”