Junot Diaz has reached the super-star level of writing that very few writers do. After the massive success of his first novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz has continued with astronomical success. He’s won a Pulitzer Prize, a $500,000 MacArthur foundation “genius grant,” and is among the National Book Award finalists for this year. Much of Diaz’s work deals with the immigrant experience, so it really wasn’t a huge surprise to me when he recently went on record about his thoughts on the DREAM Act.
For those of you who don’t know, the DREAM Act is a bit of legislature that would offer citizenship for young people brought to the country under a certain age who have spent time in higher education, or done military service. Diaz, instead of using his position of prestige to say that the DREAM Act was a deserving cause, and young people should be given citizenship, instead came out saying that the DREAM Act was not enough. That this country is built on the backs of undocumented citizens, that the US is addicted to the cheap labor force we derive from undocumented folks. That undocumented people are exploited day after day, and the DREAM Act is nothing more than “a tiny little bone” for a group that has earned so much more.
I completely agree with Diaz’s radical analysis. Undocumented people are not only forced to do the hardest, most thankless work in the country, they never receive any of the benefits for it. No job security. No recourse if they are injured while doing this back-breaking labor. No unemployment benefits if they are fired. No Social Security. In some cases, undocumented people are even facing crimes such as assault and sexual abuse and can’t report them because they are afraid of being deported. Undocumented people are demonized, scapegoated, and called dehumanizing things like “illegals” in mainstream media. I don’t even pretend to begin to understand the psychological effects caused by this constant and relentless degradation.
Junot Diaz is right. It’s great to see someone with such a voice standing up for their community.
The full Diaz interview is here if you’re interested in hearing the rest. It’s really not something to miss.