In Pursuit of the American DREAM, or Mirage? Undocumented Youth in YA Fiction
The problems of undocumented youth in contemporary American immigrant fiction have been given a major focus, as political shifts and competing agendas fuel an ongoing national debate. Especially for young people who are on the brink of adulthood, their status as documented or undocumented results in inclusion in or exclusion from social, economic and political spheres, which affect their daily experiences and influence their plans for the future. This paper will explore the ways in which illegal status informs, impacts, and shapes the protagonists’ identity. The concept of undocumented status is used in my paper as an analytical lens through which the novels are read. My choice of the comingof- age genre reflects the importance of adolescence as a crucial period in the formation of a person’s identity. I argue that young adult fiction with undocumented protagonists on the one hand gives voice to those who are silenced and forced to live on the margins of American society, and on the other hand familiarizes native-born Americans with the social struggles that might be distant from their own experiences but offer alternative ways of looking at the world. The narratives about “Dreamers” are part of a broader political discourse on the U.S. immigration. By exploring the relationship between fiction and the dominant legal system, they signal current social issues and offer a critique of exclusionary practices of American law and society.
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