Creating a BOOK and SOLIDARITY at the same time!

by Jill Anderson, PhD

Los Otros Dreamers, The Book started with a preoccupation that is familiar to all of us: How do I get these powerful stories off my laptop and out into the world? How can I bring the transformative process of telling and hearing these stories aloud to the communities that are most affected by the traumas and challenges of our region’s inhumane immigration policies? These not so simple questions led me to throw caution to the wind—as an academic and as an activist. I began to dream big and to act outside of the boxes I had come to know so well as a graduate student and as a community organizer.

Last year, I asked the young people themselves: What if we made a book of your stories? With Nin Solis, a talented photographer and friend, I shared my vision of a small, accessible book of testimonios with full color portraits of each narrator. I carved out the space in my postdoctoral research commitments, to make a book that would speak to a broad community of constituents. Enthusiasm, interest and momentum began to build. Nin, as well as leaders in the movement to recognize the presence of Dreamers (“otros” y “muy otros”) in Mexico, became co-conspirators. We decided to raise funds through a crowd-funding campaign and to print the book ourselves. No publishing house. No research agenda. The making of this book would be defined by our vision for it, by the integrity of each story and photo, and by the people who want to write it and read it.

I am going to be frank with you now: This meant de-prioritizing the pressure to produce a peer-reviewed, academic publication as a young scholar. This meant choosing to let the book project lead me, rather than the other way around. This has meant taking leap after leap of faith in regards to story-collection, funding, and distribution/dissemination. And, to be honest, I still don’t know how it is all going to work itself out.

That said, the journey continues to be incredible. Los Otros Dreamers, The Book is a process as much as it is a product. Dream in Mexico and a growing network of youth who call themselves “Los Otros Dreamers” invited us to collect stories far beyond my own geographical research focus in central Mexico, and we have been traveling in search of the stories of deported and departed Soñadores all summer and into this fall. Each time we connect with a deported or departed Dreamer in Mexico eager to share their story, or to an immigrant rights and advocacy organization in their community, or to an academic working with young return migrants, we build visibility and solidarity. It is a new coalition that is bringing visibility amongst the young people themselves, who are all too often paralyzed by the sense of isolation and alienation that return to Mexico can represent for a person raised in the United States. Nin’s photos have already begun to communicate so powerfully what words can only begin to approximate.  And, because of the positive response by the press in the US and in Mexico, as well as the crowd-funding campaign, direct sales, and the dynamics of Facebook, we have also been able to create new avenues for transnational solidarity as we make the book.

As soon as it is printed, the book will be mailed directly to readers around the world who have already decided that these stories matter. We will also donate a percentage of the books to the broad network that has made the book possible, as well as organizations working directly with Dreamers in Mexico and the US. And recently, several of the Otr@s Dreamers who have been a part of the vision for the book from the get-go began to ask themselves, “What kind of impact do we want this book to have for us when it comes out?” This creative and community-building process has made real for me the fact that, in the end, it is not about the book. The answers to my questions lay in the encounters, the conversations, the interviews, the new friends and collaborators, the acts of writing and reading, the unanswered questions, and even the “likes” on Facebook, that an ambitious, collective, creative, and sincere oral history project can inspire.

So, I suppose I am writing this short blog post to invite all of us to continue to think big about all those stories for social justice that we are holding close to our hearts, to start telling people about our visions for social change through story-telling, and to stop believing too much in the limiting stories of scarcity, impossibility, and institutionality that can nip the best of intentions in the bud. If you’d like to read more about Los Otros Dreamers, The Book, which has evolved a great deal since my initial proposals over a year ago, click here.  And if you would like to be a part of making this particular book+community-making process happen, you can order your book here.

¡Viva Groundswell!

Jill Anderson was born in Utah, grew up in Texas, and has been living in Mexico City since 2007. She has a PhD in English with a specialization in US American and Mexican-American literatures from the University of Texas in Austin. There, she also taught writing and rhetoric courses and she collaborated with the Worker’s Defense Project on behalf of immigrant labor rights and visibility. In Mexico City, she served as Co-Director of the Casa de los Amigos, a Quaker center for peace and international understanding. Currently, she is in her second year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for North American

Nin Solis was born in Puebla and lives in  Mexico City. She studied architecture at the Universidad Iberoamericana (2004) and a master degree in photography at the Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle in Germany (2011). She received the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD-Germany) and Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (FONCA-Mexico) scholarships. From 2005 to 2008 she worked for the publishing house Arquine. In 2012 she assisted the photographer Graciela Iturbide. Her photos have been exhibited in the Mexican Embassy in Berlin; Stiftung Moritzburg, Halle; and Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, among others.