Drifting Youth: Undocumented and Awkward

The new YouTube video series produced by undocumented youth.

Blind dates are awkward no matter what—but Jesus Iñiguez’s just racheted up the awkward index.

While drunken couples stumble by, Jesus stands in a parking lot outside a bar and takes his cellphone out to call his date. The bouncer won’t let him in, because his ID isn’t up to snuff. All he has is a card from the Mexican consulate, and it won’t get him in. “Maybe we can go somewhere else?” he asks.

That’s one scene from the new YouTube series, “Undocumented and Awkward,” produced by a collective of undocumented youth who call themselves Dreamers Adrift. Like many young people in their generation, these four college graduates in their 20s find themselves in paralysis: U.S.-educated, willing and able to work, yet forbidden.

As Von Diaz noted in her recent piece about the DREAM Act’s journey in 2011, this past year was marked by the energy and momentum of youth who “outed” themselves as undocumented immigrants and staged public actions to bring media attention to their predicament. Some youth focused on civil disobedience on the steps of government buildings, others advocated for state-level changes that would ease the financial burdens of attending college, and a few took an artistic approach that allowed them to creatively express their troubling situation.

California based Julio Salgado, Jesus Iñiguez, Fernando Romero, and Deisy Hernandez are producing the “Undocumented and Awkward”  video series—numbering seven episodes so far—which, by using situational comedy, clever premises and high-quality production, has gleaned thousands of hits on YouTube. They started making videos in advance of attending their 10 year high school reunion, as a way of explaining their struggles and dreams to former classmates who might not “get” why talented graudates were working under the table jobs. Read Salgado’s interview with Michelle Chen at Wordstrike to learn more about the project’s beginnings.

Most of the episodes start with a commonplace situation with nice-looking young actors speaking without accents—on a date, at a new job, waiting for the bus—which inevitably turns awkward when one character avoids revealing their status as an undocumented immigrant. In one of the episodes, two high school classmates run into each other at a hotel—one is a guest and the other is working a shift cleaning rooms:

The project uses narrative to express the difficulty of existence for undocumented youth in a dominant culture that wishes they would disappear or “go home” to a country they don’t remember. For viewers who are undocumented, watching this series is cathartic. For those who are in the lucky camp of having U.S. citizenship, it’s a way to experience the drama and petty humiliations felt daily by thousands of assimilated, yet paperless youth.

This could be a successful kind of activism for DREAMers. It’s easier to relate to feeling awkward than it is to understand why you should attend a press conference or sign a petition. Everyone knows it’s humiliating to be bounced from a bar.

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.