MTYT: Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight

By Dr. Kathleen Crawford-McKinney, Wayne State University and Deanna Day-Wiff, Washington State University.

In the last installment of November’s MTYT, Dr. Kathleen Crawford-McKinney and Deanna Day-Wiff talk about the picturebook A Undocumented Worker’s Fight, written by Duncan Tonatiuh. November’s theme is Global Perspectives on the Refugee and Immigrant Experience. This book pays homage to Mexican pre-Columbian heritage by presenting the illustrations in the style of the ancient Mixtec codex, which means the story literally unfolds in an accordion format. It tells the story of a undocumented Mexican immigrant who has come to the United States for work.

My Take Your Take Undocumented: A Worker's Fight

Kathleen: We end this month of books on immigration and refugees with an important story exploring what it means to be an undocumented worker in America. This two-sided accordion foldout picturebook begins with this very powerful intro:

You don’t know our names but you’ve seen us here.

It is told through the eyes of a young man named Juan who is from a small village in Mexico. Juan needs to work to help his family so he decides to cross the border into the United States to live with his uncle in order to make a better living. His journey begins at the border where he works with a coyote to help him and where he faces the border patrol agents, the migras. We have a glimpse into his struggles to survive in a “poor neighborhood” as an undercompensated busboy who risks being reported to the authorities by his employer because he protests against his working conditions. I would definitely utilize this book in an elementary school classroom, but it should be read with the support of a teacher in order to provide answers to any questions students may have about what it means to be undocumented. There is an author’s note which yields more detailed information on undocumented immigrants and what they face.

I was first taken aback by the register because of some of the slang language in the text. It seemed very stereotypical use of the bilingual language; It forced me to confront my own stereotypes of what is “appropriate style of language,” so I decided to look up the author. On the author’s webpage – there is an audio of him discussing his name. It is here that I listened to his language style and noticed that he writes like he speaks, and perhaps it’s me who is not seeing his bilingualism. His webpage provides info on his artwork that is inspired by “Pre-Columbian art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex” which is the culture of Juan, the main character in this story.

Deanna: Opening the black cover of this picturebook reveals a wonderful surprise—unfolding pages that reveal the struggle of a worker’s fight for justice. The first page shows a side view of a man with one fist in the air and a megaphone in the other. From his bullhorn the story begins.

The comic like illustrations are geometric and stylized, making this an aesthetically pleasing reading experience. Plus, the unique layout of the text is placed in different places on the pages and sometimes centered, angled or flowing across the page. Tonatiuh uses photographs to create textured like collages. For example, on the second page the howling coyote, Juan’s pants and the clothing of the migras look like actual textured fabric. The child-like, flat, exaggerated fingers, toes, and facial expressions showcase Tonatiuh’s unique style.

This past summer Tonatiuh spoke about this book and shared that this was his senior project in art school and that it is based on a friend. Equal rights and wage theft have been left out of the immigration and refugee picturebooks so this topic is extremely important for children and adolescents to ponder. Immigrants often work in low paying jobs and they are not compensated appropriately. Is this theft? Is this exploitation?

The book closes with an author’s note and bibliography with more information to think about.

Closing Remarks:
Kathleen: If this topic of Immigration and refugees has caught your interest, please make sure you look at more books on this theme by going to the WOW webpage for additional book titles.

Title: Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight
Author: Duncan Tonatiuh
ISBN: 9781419728549
Publisher: Abrams Books
Publisher Date: August 7, 2018

This is the last installment of November’s issue of My Take/Your Take. You can find the the first, second and third issues on our site. Check back next month to see what books we’ve selected and to follow the conversation!

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