Evanston Public Library hosts undocumented immigrant to read from memoir

Alice Yin, Development and Recruitment Editor

A writer recounted living as an undocumented immigrant from on Sunday at the Evanston Public Library.

Jose Angel N., a professional translator who lives in Chicago, visited the library, 1703 Orrington Ave., to read from his memoir, “Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant.” Jose Angel, who preferred not to disclose his full name, shared stories from his past two decades of living in the United States and held a question-and-answer with the audience.

Jose Angel told the audience he trekked from Tijuana to San Diego in 1993 at 19 years old, later moving to Chicago. He took English as a second language classes and got his GED diploma on his third attempt. Now, after going to college and graduate school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he works as a professional translator and lives with his wife and daughter.

Jose Angel’s book touched on the ironies of his life: working his way up to the middle class while remaining hidden in the shadows. Jose Angel shared how he briefly considered being a lawyer before realizing the danger of an illegal immigrant arguing court cases.

He also read a passage on being forced to quit his job as a translator after he could not verify a Social Security number. He said he never missed a single day of work in his five years there, and his superiors respected him. He was humiliated by the abrupt loss of his job, he said.

“I had been dreading this day since I first got the job,” Jose Angel read. “Everything was quiet and dark in the office. I had entered that company with the stealth of a thief, and like a thief I left.”

But Jose Angel said he is still grateful for his life and appreciates his chance at an education, a job and having a safer home for his family to be together.

“There is only one life to live, and you should embrace it faithfully,” he said.

As an immigrant, Jose Angel said he is deeply invested in mastering English. With only an atlas and a Bible in his home growing up, he said he became fascinated with reading books after arriving in Chicago and decided to major in philosophy. Jose Angel said he was never a very outgoing person. Being undocumented isolated him from social events even more, so he spent a lot of time reading.

“It’s been an obsession of mine,” Jose Angel said during the question-and-answer about learning English.

Dr. Francisco Gonzales-Crussi, a Mexican author, introduced Jose Angel before the reading. Gonzales-Crussi said Jose Angel’s writing that reflects his experience “has always been the best kind of writing.”

“I think he writes very well,” said Charlotte Robertson, who works at The Book Stall in Winnetka and went to sell copies of Jose Angel’s book.“For a person who says he still struggles with the English language from time to time, he sure had me fooled. He’s a brave guy to come and do this.”

Maria Ugarte-Ramos, a social worker in Chicago, said Jose Angel’s book brings awareness to immigration reform.

“This is a man who struggled for the American dream,” Ugarte-Ramos said. “A thing that really tugs on our hearts is the fear and constant anxiety of living like you’re hiding. This is a human right, and we violate human rights because we don’t accept immigrants.”

Jose Angel said he believes it is important to share his story with other people.

“It is a relief to be able to talk about this,” Jose Angel told The Daily. “I know it also counts to be able to move the conversation forward.”

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