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Undocumented Youth Activism as Counter-Spectacle: Civil Disobedience and Testimonio in the Battle around Immigration Reform

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The increased visibility of undocumented youth in the past decade has challenged public conceptions of who undocumented immigrants are, what they look like, and what role they play in US society. Undocumented Latino migrant youth have complicated the immigration debate not just through their presence, but also through the development of a vibrant social movement born of their experience, making clear that the country's outdated immigration policy does not reflect the complex reality of immigrants, migration, and the nation. Drawing on Nicholas De Genova's work on border spectacle, I argue that activism among undocumented Latino youth serves as a “counter-spectacle” that challenges dominant conceptions of (il)legality and undocumented workers, disrupting the link between “criminality” and “illegality.” Using ethnographic data collected from undocumented youth activists in California since 2007, I examine the ways in which their civil disobedience and testimonio act as counter-spectacle and shift conceptions of citizenship in a country entrenched in a debate around who has the right to belong.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2015

More about this publication?
  • Aztlán presents original research that is relevant to or informed by the Chicano experience. An interdisciplinary, refereed journal, Aztlán focuses on scholarly essays in the humanities, social sciences, and arts, supplemented by thematic pieces in the dosier section, an artist's communiqué, a review section, and a commentary by the editor, Chon A. Noriega. Aztlán seeks ways to bring Chicano studies into critical dialogue with Latino, ethnic, American, and global studies.
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