Undocumented: A Worker's Fight

by Duncan Tonatiuh (Author)

Undocumented: A Worker's Fight
Reading Level: 6th — 7th Grade

Undocumented is the story of immigrant workers who have come to the United States without papers. Every day, these men and women join the work force and contribute positively to society. The story is told via the ancient Mixtec codex--accordion fold--format. Juan grew up in Mexico working in the fields to help provide for his family. Struggling for money, Juan crosses over into the United States and becomes an undocumented worker, living in a poor neighborhood, working hard to survive. Though he is able to get a job as a busboy at a restaurant, he is severely undercompensated--he receives less than half of the minimum wage! Risking his boss reporting him to the authorities for not having proper resident papers, Juan risks everything and stands up for himself and the rest of the community.

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Publishers Weekly

Tonatiuh's lean and elegant fable plots a memorable map of one man's immigration experience. Laid out in an accordion-fold format, Tonatiuh's slim but big-hearted graphic novella is narrated by Juan, a Mixteco-speaking man who crossed from Mexico to America while a teenager. Since then, he has worked with "no papers," underpaid and unknown ("You don't know our names but you've seen us"), laboring seven days a week and living in miserable poverty. While the experience of undocumented workers in America is most often told via hard-hitting, dry reportage with occasional attempts at melodrama, this comic is both inventive in form and (darkly) humorous. The plot is a staunch, if short, ode to the power of collective labor, as Juan is recruited to and ultimately leads the fight for better wages and visibility for immigrant workers of many different nationalities. The direct and brief narrative reveals Tonatiuh's background as a picture book creator, with pages formatted much like a child's read-aloud, but the earth-tone coloring and use of flattened perspectives and long scrolling arcs of action evoke ancient Mixteco codices. While speaking to the current political climate, Tonatiuh's work is also a timeless reminder of the dignity inherent to labor and the laborer. This is the graphic novella reconfigured as a call to action. (Aug.)

Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

The Pura Belpré winner tries his hand at a tale for adults and crafts a gorgeous, timely, and necessary offering about the daily plight of undocumented workers in the United States. Juan grew up in Mexico working in the fields but crosses the border before his 18th birthday with the help of his uncle. He's hired as a busboy at a restaurant where he eventually meets his wife, but he is severely underpaid and works long hours, seven days a week. Though he risks losing his job and being deported right before his wife gives birth to their first child, he joins his fellow undocumented workers in fighting for fair wages and conditions. The matter-of-fact, accessible narrative is sprinkled with Spanish and Spanglish, highlighting the obstacles undocumented immigrants face and their important contributions to our country's economy. The story is told via the ancient Mixtec codex--accordion-fold--format. Through striking mixed-media illustrations, Tonatiuh depicts Juan's exploitative white employer as a large skeleton, giving the tale a mythic but timeless feel. A thoughtful author's note discusses Tonatiuh's inspiration and includes bibliographic information, making this a good start for research or curricular tie-ins. And for libraries that might shy away from the accordion format, the volume comes in an elegant slipcase for easy shelving. VERDICT A relevant and important title for all libraries.--Shelley M. Diaz, School Library Journal

Copyright 2018 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

STARRED REVIEW: "Multiple Pura Belpré Medal and Honor- awarded Tonatiuh (Diego Rivera, 2011) channels his interest in the Mixtec codex format to create a superb modern odyssey, stupendously illustrated in his signature contemporary adaptation of Pre-Columbian art forms, presented on accordion pages in a handsome slip-box."— "Booklist"
Duncan Tonatiuh
Duncan Tonatiuh was born in Mexico City and grew up in San Miguel de Allende. His books, including Diego Rivera, Dear Primo, and Separate Is Never Equal, have received many awards over the years. He currently lives in San Miguel with his wife and children but travels to the US often.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Harry N. Abrams
Publication date
August 20, 2018
BISAC categories
YAN012040 - Young Adult Nonfiction | Comics & Graphic Novels | Social Topics
Library of Congress categories
United States
Graphic novels
Illegal aliens
Comics (Graphic works)
Employee rights
Workers' compensation

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