Undocumented Motherhood: Conversations on Love, Trauma, and Border Crossing (Paperback)

Undocumented Motherhood: Conversations on Love, Trauma, and Border Crossing By Elizabeth Farfán-Santos Cover Image

Undocumented Motherhood: Conversations on Love, Trauma, and Border Crossing (Paperback)

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2023 SANA Book Award, Society for the Anthro­pology of North Amer­ica
2023 Honorable Mention, Outstanding Book Award NACCS Tejas Foco Award for Non-Fiction, National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies
2022 Nonfiction Discovery Prize, Writers' League of Texas

An intimate portrayal of the hardships faced by an undocumented family navigating the medical and educational systems in the United States.


Claudia Garcia crossed the border because her toddler, Natalia, could not hear. Leaving behind everything she knew in Mexico, Claudia recounts the terror of migrating alone with her toddler and the incredible challenges she faced advocating for her daughter’s health in the United States. When she arrived in Texas, Claudia discovered that being undocumented would mean more than just an immigration status—it would be a way of living, of mothering, and of being discarded by even those institutions we count on to care.

Elizabeth Farfán-Santos spent five years with Claudia. As she listened to Claudia’s experiences, she recalled her own mother’s story, another life molded by migration, the US-Mexico border, and the quest for a healthy future on either side. Witnessing Claudia’s struggles with doctors and teachers, we see how the education and medical systems enforce undocumented status and perpetuate disability. At one point, in the midst of advocating for her daughter, Claudia suddenly finds herself struck by debilitating pain. Claudia is lifted up by her comadres, sent to the doctor, and reminded why she must care for herself.

A braided narrative that speaks to the power of stories for creating connection, this book reveals what remains undocumented in the motherhood of Mexican women who find themselves making impossible decisions and multiple sacrifices as they build a future for their families.

Elizabeth Farfán-Santos is a medical anthropologist and the author of Black Bodies, Black Rights: The Politics of Quilombolismo in Contemporary Brazil.

Product Details ISBN: 9781477326138
ISBN-10: 1477326138
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Publication Date: October 18th, 2022
Pages: 176
Language: English
A beautiful gift of intimate, vulnerable, and compassionate ethnography where women's voices leap from the page, speaking truth to power boldly and deeply.
— Ruth Behar, author of The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart

Farfan-Santos is a beautiful storyteller who weaves together two dynamic transborder migration stories to reveal how undocumented mothers navigate unjust state systems. Fear and sacrifice shape the maternal experience highlighted in this book but so do love, commitment, comadrazgo, and radical aguante. An important book for all readers to understand how immigration policy deeply impacts the everyday existence and mobility of families on either side of the US/Mexico border.
— Michelle Téllez, University of Arizona, author of Border Women and the Community of Maclovio Rojas

A compassionate study...Farfán-Santos movingly describes how the Latinx community comes together to help their own and makes a powerful case that the traumas of migration manifest themselves in the bodies of immigrants. This is a stirring portrait of pain and perseverance.
— Publishers Weekly

Through a polyphonic chorus of testimonios, a fluid dance between Spanish and English, and an expressive collection of contour portraits, Farfán-Santos relays the story of Claudia Garcia, an undocumented mother from Mexico, who fights tooth and nail to advocate for her daughter...One of the defining features of Undocumented Motherhood is how lovingly it's assembled...the care and respect [Farfán-Santos] has for the women she interviews shines through like warm light from a busy kitchen.
— Sightlines

Farfán-Santos gives readers an intimate view of life as an undocumented immigrant mother of young children in the US. At the same time, the book illuminates the often unseen breadth of maternal labor. The book celebrates maternal strength, focusing on one dauntless mother named Claudia, while also asking about the cost of that strength, the price mothers pay for their resilience.
— Literary Mama

Undocumented Motherhood is a piercing ethnography about the struggles and strength of undocumented mothers from Mexico in the United States…Farfán-Santos’s unorthodox approach, vivid writing, and strong voice are what make this ethnography truly extraordinary, salient, and palpable.
— American Ethnologist

Ultimately Farfán-Santos’s work serves as a challenge to the anthropological discipline as it is more methodologically whole than most human investigations. Her work aims to tackle the ways in which the geopolitical border between the US and Mexico hinders motherhood and children for generations. Her work demands a forceful reexamination of undocumented motherhood—an often overlooked, hyper-criticized and judged, and ultimately politicized experience that she states is the experience of millions of women in the US and is largely missing from the literature on parenting.
— E3W