Valeria Luiselli Challenges Perception of Immigration

By Samantha Trottier

AUSTIN, Texas – On Oct. 26, the Moody College of Communication hosted author and professor Valeria Luiselli for a reading and discussion of her recent book, “Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions.”

Valeria Luiselli engages the audience in the details of young migrant children’s stories. She explains that many children leave their home country due to violence (photo: Evelyn Moreno).

In the talk, Luiselli shared some background about the book, which is based on her experience as an interpreter for detained migrant children.

She explained how, in 2015, nearly 80,000 children from Central and South America arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, leading to what became a public and policy crisis. The Obama Administration, she said, created a policy that failed to recognize the the situation of the children.

“The Obama Administration created the priority docket,” said Luiselli. “In the case of this group of children, this priority meant nothing good. It was a priority of being deported first.”

In March 2015, shortly after the sudden immigration surge, Luiselli began volunteering as an interpreter for New York City’s Federal Immigration Court. Her book was written in response to this refugee crisis and is based on the 40-question intake questionnaire she was required to use.

“The children’s stories are always shuffled, stuttered, always shattered beyond repair of a narrative order,” said Luiselli, reading an excerpt from her book. “The problem with trying to tell their story is that it has no beginning, no middle, and no end.”

Luiselli said that she wanted her book to act as an x-ray of the immigration system and give the reader insight into the court and the children’s stories.

Luiselli signs copies of her newest book for event attendants after the discussion (photo: Evelyn Moreno).

Another reason, she said, was to to address the language surrounding immigration.

“Basically, the book is centered on that preoccupation, saying ‘no, the term is not illegal, the term is undocumented,’” said Luiselli. “It’s not even about political correctness, it’s about being precise, being accurate. People are not illegal. It’s nonsensical.”

Terms like illegal, alien and removal create inaccurate depictions of immigration. According to Luiselli, throughout history, language has sugarcoated shameful realities, allowing them to become systematic and institutionalized.

The lecture opened a discussion to students, faculty, and the public on the perceptions of immigration and the realities for these migrant children.

“It’s easy to look at numbers and make your conclusion,” said Conner Jansen, a first-year honors student and third-year audiology major. “But whenever you hear the stories and what is actually happening, it definitely moves you in a way that she wants: as a call to action.”

Luiselli poses for a photo with Dave Junker, director of the Moody College Honors Program, and students (photo: Evelyn Moreno). Advertisements Share this:
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