How Many Illegals in the U.S.? Who Knows?!

Dear Mexican: I hear all the time that 12 million illegal immigrants live in the United States. Is that true? Who counted them? How did they do it? Is there a turnstile at the border tallying up illegals and stamping their hands with neon glowing cartoon characters so they can go back and visit their familias? —American Patrol

Dear Gabacho: Counting the number of undocumented in this country is as exact a science as determining how Mexicans can fit so many people inside a Ford Ranger. Estimates range from the 12 million you cited (originally published in a 2006 Pew Hispanic Center survey) to more than 20 million, a figure bandied about by Know Nothings and taken from a 2005 Bear Stearns report. The problem with all the numbers is that they're only projections. Some of the factors used include the 2000 United States Census, number of deportations per year, increase or decrease in usage of social services, amount of remittances, and whether someone "looks" illegal. Truth is, nadie knows the real number of illegals in this country, and never will. Only one thing is certain: Not all are Mexicans—more than half, yes, but not all. Somebody should tell the Minuteman Project to start manning airports to ensure visitors don't overstay their visas, ¿qué no?

I'm a third-generation Mexican-American who was raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Houston. Growing up, I was only interested in being "American" and fitting in with my Anglo friends. But as I grow older, I'm beginning to appreciate the rich culture I came from and am still a part of. I enjoy your column and realize that you are a well-read, intelligent individual. Will you please supply me with a reading list of authors who write on social and historical issues of Mexicans in the U.S.? I'd greatly appreciate it. —Proud to be Latino

Dear Wab: "Well-read, intelligent individual"? From what lunatic conspiracy website did you lift THAT? That said, no understanding of the Mexican people is complete without my books, ¡Ask a Mexican! and Orange County: A Personal History. Shameless self-promotion aside, people preguntan this question to the Mexican quite often, which flatters me, as it shows folks view this column as something more than just cleverly stringed curse words and Guatemalan jokes. The best writer on Mexican immigration is Los Angeles Times reporter, Sam Quinones: True Tales From Another Mexico shatters stereotypes of our neighbors to the south, while Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream examines what happens to them when they invade el Norte. The Bible of the Mexican-American experience is Rodolfo Acuña's Occupied America—but at $63 (even on Amazon.com), it's out of most people's price range, let alone the students forced to buy the textbook for their Chicano studies class. A slimmer, but more affordable, alternative is Carlos Muñoz's Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement, but it was published in 1989 and is thus a bit dated. And the best examination of Mexicans and their role in the gabacho psyche is Tex(t)-Mex, Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in America, a bizarre, profane, brilliant 2006 treatise that remains the only academic book ever published that isn't a literary sedative. Some of the best insights into the human soul occur through fiction, so here are three great ones: Rain of Gold by Victor Villaseñor, the Sandra Cisneros canon, and Bless Me, Ultima; each offers a different experience of Mexicans in the United States. I'm leaving out dozens of other libros, so readers: Send me your picks, and I'll include them in a column before Christmas so gabachos know what to get each other and you for Navidad!

 
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