Figured Worlds and American Dreams: An Exploration of Agency and Identity Among Undocumented Students



In this chapter, I report on one of my studies of undocumented students with a focus on identity, education, and agency. The lives of undocumented students are at the mercy of the political ups and downs that impact their daily realities. No matter the agentic acts these students take to reach their goals or steps they take to simply survive, there is a limit to what they can achieve in the context of the law. While the unpredictable journey of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which sought a conditional pathway to citizenship, raised students’ hopes since its inception in 2001, xenophobic messages about undocumented immigrants stealing American jobs, committing crimes, and otherwise abusing the US system of government continue to proliferate. These symbolically violent messages depict undocumented people as uneducated and deficient—as takers of what is not theirs, bringing with them problems rather than contributions.

 As a result, undocumented students find themselves on continuously shifting ground, calibrating each decision they make in accordance with or as a strategic reaction to the existing political climate. Specifically, some undocumented students find themselves in an ongoing internal battle to fashion an identity that counters the pervasive stereotypes of undocumented people through a process of hyperdocumentation (Chang, Harvard Educational Review, 81(3), 508–520, 2011), while simultaneously bearing the weight of fierce anti-immigrant sentiment. In this chapter, I ask the following questions: How do undocumented students navigate educational spaces? In what ways do their legal statuses impact the production of their identities? How do they exert agency within the parameters of their undocumented status? In answering these questions, I explore the ways in which some undocumented students figure—or take agency in shaping meaning of—their worlds, find identity in their education, and leverage community cultural wealth (Yosso, Race, Ethnicity, and Education, 8(1), 69–91, 2005) as a source of critical hope and resilience in their quest to achieve the ever-nebulous American Dream.


Undocumented Students World Computer Development, Relief, And Education For Alien Minors (DREAM) Undocumented People Latinx 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationLoyola University School of EducationChicagoUSA

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