Book review: “The DREAMers” by Walter J. Nicholls


One of my mentors recently recommended that I read “The DREAMers” by Walter J. Nicholls, given my interests in civic and political engagement, undocumented immigrants, and social movements. This book does a great job at capturing the growth of activism by undocumented immigrant youth in the last decade.
The book analyzes the beginning phases of framing the political voice for the DREAM Act among immigrant serving organizations and politicians who introduced and supported the DREAM Act. While in the beginning stages (2001), undocumented immigrant youth were not yet at the forefront of advocating for the DREAM Act, those who shared their stories represented the need for Congress to enact the DREAM Act. The book takes the reader from 2001 to 2012, sharing the “behind the scenes” decisions undocumented immigrant youth took across time to gain political recognition. While much of the activism for, and by, undocumented immigrant youth entailed advocating for the DREAM Act in 2001, undocumented youth have increasingly created ways to organize (even in hostile environments) to challenge unjust immigration policies and treatment.

What I learned: As an undocumented immigrant youth activist myself, I was aware of a lot of the information the book provided. However, because I did not begin to get involved until 2009 after I graduated from high school, I greatly benefitted from the analysis provided about the birth of the movement. The book gives me a broader understanding of key decisions, actors, and policies that set the stage for the activism that we are now seeing. I enjoyed reading the book because it told my story, which is only a fraction of our story as undocumented immigrant activists.

Who should read this book: Anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of social movements, particularly of undocumented immigrant youth, should check out this book. Even though there are several organizations and activists who have contributed in many ways to the movement, Nicholls is concise and the book is easy for the reader to follow through. This book would also be great to use in classrooms to shed light to challenges affecting undocumented immigrant youth, but also equally important- to understand how undocumented youth do not seek to just survive in hostile environments, but they aim to transform such environments for the current and future generations to come. With this said, this book is a great and informative read for the community, students, researchers, and professors.

Selected quotes: 

“The master frame used to represent immigrants in the early cycle of mobilization has constrained the messages and representations of a newer generation of activists and advocates. This newer generation finds itself bound in a particular discursive path that contributes to the reproduction of the themes and their associated dilemmas” (page 59).

“The civil disobedience actions demonstrated the power of the students to come out in public, criticize government policy, and successfully fight the deportation of their comrades” (page 86).

“Coming out” as undocumented was viewed as a way to defiantly assert one’s dignity in a world where hiding in the shadows had become the norm” (page 121).

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