“The book you are holding was scheduled to be published in 2017 with full-color portraits of the young people who were interviewed for it. Since that time, executive action regarding DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] recipients has been in flux, making it risky for many of the participants to reveal their identities. Their images, names and other identifiers have been withheld to protect the inspiring people who share their stories in these pages.”

Imagine opening a book and finding that paragraph before you’ve even gotten to the Table of Contents.

We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults (Candlewick Press) is an extraordinary work from Susan Kuklin, an award-winning author and photographer of more than 30 books for children and young adults that address social issues and culture.

In her note to readers, Kuklin explains, “The nine young people featured in We Are Here to Stay could be your neighbors, classmates, friends or even family members. For much of their lives, they’ve lived with a secret: they did not have any of the documents…that identify them as legal residents or citizens of the United States.”

These people live in the constant threat of deportation and could be taken from their homes at any time. They also do not have documentation that could authorize them to work. They are often labeled as illegals, aliens, criminals, and worse.

This book tells the stories of these nine young people. When Donald Trump repealed DACA in 2017, the book was on its way to being published but suddenly the future of these youths was clouded with uncertainty. It was decided to temporarily halt publication. But after much discussion, the stories of these nine young immigrants were too important to withhold, and it was decided to go ahead with publication (January 2019) but protect their identities.

The storytellers came from Colombia, Mexico, Ghana, Independent Samoa and Korea in search of education, fleeing violence, and escaping poverty. They all tell heartbreaking and hopeful stories about leaving their countries of birth and starting a new life in America.

They tell of their experiences, their feelings, and their reaction to the environment around them.

In Medellin, Colombia, ”S,” as she is identified, recalls, “I remember every single detail from that day. My brother and I were rollerblading outside. I was wearing my new sweat suit…it had a cute Barbie on it. I remember being in the hospital and looking at the pants with a big hole and blood all over them.”

That’s because moments later, S heard gunshots, and she “fell down and felt something hard on my left leg.”

“There was more and more violence,” said Y, “and our neighborhood was becoming unstable. There were turf wars.”

One of the reasons for leaving Colombia, said Y, was for education. “It was unclear if we stayed in Colombia that we could go to college,” and the child’s dad saw the U.S.as an opportunity to have a better life.”

They had no idea what life would be like in a new country, but they would be together as a family. That was enough to take the risk.

Another tells the story of how, at her school, she was on a panel geared for the parents of incoming freshmen, and she was asked to share her experiences as the university.  “I told them that activism is important to me because I’m undocumented.”

“Should I have shared that?” the student asks in retrospect.“Maybe next time they hear someone railing about how terrible immigrants are, they’ll think about me. I’m a real person. I go to school with their kids. I have a wonderful family. Maybe after listening to me, they will feel differently about immigrants.”

Says Kuklin, “It is my dream that the stories of the nine young people will encourage and facilitate an informed, reasonable and honest conversation about the complexities of immigration. It is also my hope that we can one day republish this book with the participants’ names, places and photographs fully intact.”

We Are Here to Stay is available for purchase.

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Image courtesy of www.susankuklin.net

Susan Kuklin is the award-winning author and photographer of more than 30 books for children and young adults that address social issues and culture, including No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row and Beyond Magenta: Transgender TeensSpeak Out, which was named a Stonewall Honor Book.