Rosas Figure 1

Ana Elizabeth Rosas

Adelaida Gutierrez wrote “The Eternal Wait” during the Spring 2016 semester. She wrote it to capture the people and moments that framed her immigration history.[1] She identified and described the anxiety she felt over her mother’s U.S. immigration status as an underestimated undocumented experience in the state of California. Gutierrez is among the undergraduate students enrolled in my courses at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) who have developed and applied informed and meaningful dimensions of emotional intelligence as an intellectual priority. She is also among the students at our campus that, irrespective of whether they are U.S. citizens, have met with me to untangle, write, and learn from their own emotive immigration histories. She and her fellow students’ investment in an emotional intelligence that does not underestimate the transformative potential of emotive immigration history has proven to be intellectually generative. For the purpose of this essay, an emotive immigration history is being referred to as a person’s historical account of the underestimated emotional configuration and consequences of navigating particular boundaries—including governmental border enforcement measures and programs—as an immigrant person or a person with an emotional connection to an immigrant person across a diversity of contexts and relationships, and over a range of space and time.

Since the 2015-2016 academic year, UCI undergraduate students have grown in their commitment to recollect, document, write, value, share, and learn from their undocumented emotive immigration histories under my faculty advisement, which has been something they have done together as a critical intellectual response to the tumult of the contemporary moment.[2] Our collective investment in appreciating the relevance and potential of our emotive immigration histories together has emerged as a restorative intellectual investment at our campus because it has laid the foundation for an intellectual imaginary that refuses to settle for emotionally unintelligent approaches to U.S. border enforcement measures and programs.

Learning about their undocumented emotive immigration histories together and having an emotive immigration history in place to turn to when pursuing their undergraduate study has been helpful at UCI. And so had the support provided to each other, with increased importance as students have benefited from the federal government’s administration of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. In 2012, President Barack Obama created this program to grant temporary immigration status to an estimated 742,000 people (about one in three living in California), permitting them legally to work, pursue an education, and continue openly contributing to U.S. society.[3] Every two years, successful DACA program applicants were expected to renew their program participation through their continued fulfillment of program requirements. More than 800,000 immigrants have DACA program temporary status and permits.[4]

It is important to not overlook that DACA recipients are young. In 2014, the largest age group of DACA recipients were individuals younger than 19 years of age.[5] Upon writing this article, an estimated 4,000 students attending University of California campuses are DACA program recipients, and an unrecorded number of students are in the process of applying to this program or else know a student, friend, loved one, or family member pursuing education, employment, marriage, caring for their family, conducting civic engagement and political activism as recipients of this program.[6] Taken collectively this makes President Trump’s 5 September 2017 decision to rescind DACA a devastating social reality for students and faculty like myself who work closely with students participating in this program and who are interested in the future of students at our campus. We worry that if Congress does not pass legislation protecting DACA recipients, an estimated 404,909 of them will have temporary status revoked from permits expiring in 2018.[7] This means that immigrant students, among other undocumented immigrant peoples, would be subject to deportation from the United States.

Such deep-seated concern has inspired UCI students to invest in taking careful inventory of their and their fellow students’ emotive immigration histories to remind themselves of the positive results that occur when they don’t let questions about personal relationships, daily routine, and outlook on their academic, emotional, and financial future intensify or reproduce anxiety and exhaustion over immigration, immigration status, and the future of the DACA program and other border enforcement scenarios. Engaging with fellow students at our campus without intensifying the emotional weight of the many ways that border enforcement measures and programs influence their emotional relationships, wellbeing, and lives became a widely shared (and often undocumented) goal among students at our campus.

Engaging with fellow students at our campus without intensifying the emotional weight of the many ways that border enforcement measures and programs influence their emotional relationships, wellbeing, and lives became a widely shared (and often undocumented) goal among students at our campus.

By focusing on the undocumented and emotionally intelligent intellectual imaginaries, productivity, and community, in response to the uncertainty of our contemporary immigration policy as an instructive undocumented experience, UCI students have forged, developed,  informed, and engaged humane forms of emotional intelligence alongside other undergraduate students. This has been integral to the pursuit of thriving as a community of learners that cares about the emotive consequences and future of U.S. border enforcement measures and programs. Learning from the writing, documentation, and collaborations that UCI students have undertaken as proactive and emotionally intelligent students enrolled in my courses and workshops on immigration history and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies throughout the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years is integral to enriching a form of scholarship on the intellectual investments and collaborations of students who have prioritized learning from undocumented social realities, emotive relationships, and intellectual choices they have made as undergraduate students facing the uncertainty of immigration policy while being part of the University of California.[8] The present essay aims to showcase that the intellectual act of recollecting, documenting, and learning from undocumented emotive immigration histories together with humanity and with rigorous critical reflection provides a revealing and promising approach to the emotional expanse and consequences of undocumented immigration and immigration policy within and beyond our University of California classrooms. 

Writing Emotive Immigration History

For UCI students investing in the writing of their emotive immigration history was a way of recognizing and learning from the entirety of their family history without underestimating the weight of their feelings. In “The Eternal Wait,” Gutierrez recognized that throughout her childhood her mother’s pursuit of a legalized U.S. immigration status had been formative to her developing an emotional intelligence that would discourage her from underestimating the emotional accountability of being supportive of undocumented immigrant parental figures as they pursued the legalization of their immigration status. She shared the worry that would overcome her whenever she and her older brother accompanied their mother to U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) offices to complete forms and conduct interviews. This solidified her support for fellow students and friends applying and benefiting from an immigration status that protects them against deportation from the United States. And this act made it possible for her to confront the silence that sets in when pursuing the legalization of one’s immigration status in the United States.

Elaborating, Gutierrez noted that she was expected to

remain quiet after my mother was called behind the monochromatic cubicles. I anxiously sat in my chair and took in my surroundings. There wasn’t a hint of color to feast my eyes upon, just the decaying noxious spectrum of browns and weird faded yellows.  It was hard to distract my mind from the catastrophic thoughts racing through my head. At our age waiting for my mom to reappear felt like an eternity.[9]

She explained that being “expected to sit still and behave was impossible.”[10] How could she be still? The likelihood of her mother’s INS interview resulting in the permanent separation of their family was real. The emotional weight of waiting was not new for Gutierrez, and she feared that students and friends applying or renewing their DACA program permits to varying degrees and on an everyday basis shouldered the weight of waiting in silence.

Writing about the emotive continuities between her recollections of her emotive immigration history and the feelings students acknowledged and shared as part of our discussions of these histories moved Gutierrez to identify the enduring emotional challenge of being an immigrant and/or a member of a mixed-status immigrant family in the United States. Writing her emotive immigration history fueled her resolve to appropriate an informed emotional intelligence so that she did not risk underestimating the emotional labor and silence that INS forms and interactions entailed. Recollecting her emotive immigration history during this challenging moment in U.S. immigration history informed her acknowledgement of the feelings and silence with which students and friends pursue an undergraduate education, making ends meet, and caring for themselves and their immigrant family relatives and friends.

Writing and sharing their emotive immigration histories with each other also inspired UCI students to recognize the influence of formative people and moments that framed their understanding of the emotive configuration and impact of U.S. border enforcement measures and programs. Allocating time from their packed schedules to write on the emotional conditions, relationships, and weight that informs their understanding of border enforcement led these students to identify their recollecting, writing, and learning from their emotive immigration histories together as an invaluable learning experience, which had been rarely afforded to them (especially in the university), if at all. Embracing an emotive approach together resonated as decisive for many of these students towards their finally acknowledging their personal connection to the emotional intelligence they sought to enhance as an informed and humane response to the emotional grip of U.S. government border enforcement measures and programs.

Throughout the 2015-2016 academic year, UCI students continued to write and share emotive immigration histories that also centered on the destinations and people that most longed for the legal right to pursue an education, and to enjoy employment and a family. These rights were determined for countless immigrant students by the U.S. government. These students’ willingness to forge an emotional intelligence that valued the restorative potential of the diversity of destinations for framing people’s emotive immigration histories together encouraged students to write about their feelings of transnational longing and loss. Mariana Rodriguez was among the students who wrote an emotive immigration history steeped in her longing for Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. In “Gorditas de Nata,” (Patties made out of Cream) she explained the following:

Three weeks ago, when I had gorditas de nata again after 11 years, they tasted like everything that had been snatched away from me. In a few bites, I was reminded of all the memories that could have been mine, but were not. I was reminded that I could not be there for the warmth that vibrated through the music, tight hugs, and fireworks that set the sky on fire. More regrettably, I was not able to hold my uncle’s hand before he passed away.[11]

Rodriguez’s recollections of Tijuana as integral to her emotive immigration history made it possible for she and fellow students to discuss the revealing potential of yearning when developing a capacious emotional intelligence together. Her writing about her yearning for the food, sounds, feelings, celebration, and people that made Tijuana a uniquely invaluable connection to experiences and people that she is unable to enjoy in the U.S. alerted students to the reality of other students and friends shouldering intense transnational longing as part of their maturing into adulthood and navigating the rigors of U.S. border enforcement measures and programs on a daily basis. Rodriguez expanding on what is not possible in the U.S. resonated with students as an important intellectual move toward developing a kind of emotional intelligence that prioritizes recognizing that students cherish, miss, and worry about experiences and people who are not physically in the United States. Her transnational emotive immigration history presented students with the often undocumented social reality that young adults at our campus hold and care about a diversity of destinations, experiences, and people when coming to terms with their emotive immigration history and its influence on their response to U.S. border enforcement operatives.

Diego Hernandez was also among the students who wrote about his emotive ties to people beyond the U.S. when writing his emotive immigration history. Hernandez elaborated on the emotional impact of the transnational absence of his grandmother. In “Memories We Did Not Leave at the Border,” Hernandez focused on his devotion and undying love for her. He shared that upon separating from her in Guatemala to journey to the United States as an undocumented immigrant child in the mid-1990s, he clung to his emotional bond to her to weather his migration and settlement in the U.S. Hernandez identified memories of her love as most influential when implementing an emotional intelligence to face her absence and the social rejection, racial discrimination, and gender violence stemming from punitive and restrictive border enforcement measures. He wrote that his grandmother

was a stern woman, but her love for me melted like paletas de hielo con sabor de tamarindo (tamarind popsicles) in the sun. The sugary extract of her love made us inseparable. She was my first love, and until today at the age of 28, I long to return to her embrace. I long to return to those young days when the softness and creases of her aging skin enveloped me with care and tenderness.[12]

Hernandez also explained that upon separating from his grandmother, he clearly remembers,

That morning we left behind a woman whose love could never be taken from my heart, even by a border wall that separates us. In my recollection of her eyes I found love, and in her laughter I found the comfort of a child’s lullaby.[13]

The intellectual investment in developing a personally meaningful emotional intelligence as a shared priority encouraged Hernandez and fellow students to share emotive immigration histories inclusive of ongoing transnational emotional challenges.

Revisiting Revealing Relationships

By the 2016-2017 academic year, UCI students expanded the writing of their emotive immigration histories to include documentation that captured the influence of formative people and their recollections of their immigration histories developed from conversations, material culture items, and documents that influential family relatives shared with them. Stephanie Palomares excelled as a most committed student when writing her emotive immigration history. She visited her grandmother, Delfina Palomares, five times as she weathered a severe cold and flu to collect and learn from the material of the emotive immigration history they shared.[14]

During her visits Palomares learned that Delfina had been born and raised in Rancho el Rodeo, Jalisco, Mexico. As a young girl, she lived a middle-class lifestyle with loving parents. Enthusiastic in her approach to life, she enjoyed music and dancing; in fact, she met her husband, Efren Palomares, at a dance party in nearby Talpa de Allende, Jalisco. Shortly after having met, they married in 1962 and moved to the village of Yano Grande, Jalisco, to be closer to Efren’s workplace. Upon beginning their life together, Delfina transitioned into a financially precarious family situation. Ten years later (1972), and after the birth of their five children, Delfina and Efren’s employment conditions compelled them to raise their family in the United States.

In 1973, Efren followed Delfina’s advice and departed to the United States to earn the wages necessary for their family to live together. In 1976, Delfina and their children reunited with Efren in Orange County. They worked hard together, and endured the hardships of immigration patiently. Over the years, they dedicated themselves to raising their family in Santa Ana. In 1981, the couple bought their first home in Anaheim, cementing their personal investment in documenting the love and moments—the emotive immigration history—that connected their family together.

Among the material culture items that Palomares’ grandmother shared with her was a gold medallion of the Virgin Mary. Delfina had worn and derived much peace from the religious protection and spiritual energy that this medallion bestowed upon her. Delfina recollected holding on to this medallion tightly while praying in silence for spiritual courage and protection as she shouldered much uncertainty. Photographs of Delfina alongside her five sons, daughter, and Efren as they celebrated her birthday and successful battle with cancer were also part of the documentation that she shared with Stephanie to convey the significant moments that bound them together. Delfina explained to Palomares the importance for the undocumented to personally document meaningful relationships through taking and preserving photographs that bring to life the moments in which being together was a fruitful emotional investment. She insisted on sharing that it was important to create and inherit an emotive history that prioritized documenting the act of living together, smiling together, and reveling in the power of having endured together. These were not to be treated as one of many moments but rather as important moments in the trajectory of their family’s emotive immigration history. Delfina’s words infused into our class’s collective consideration of this history the value of documenting elderly immigrant relatives’ places when confronted with worrisome U.S. governmental approaches and further outlooks on undocumented immigration.

The power of documentation was also evident in Esmeralda Hic’s emotive immigration history. She prioritized sharing how her mother, Juanita Magdalena Garza’s documentation of her coming of age through photographs of her Quinceañera had been formative to her upbringing .[15] Juanita used photographs of this celebration to not lose sight of her life being comprised of moments where she enjoyed herself alongside childhood friends and with a heart full of hope for the future. She explained that this is why forty years later on 27 April 2013 she had persevered to finance the documentation and celebration of Esmeralda’s Quinceañera in a similar fashion. Like her parents, she had invested herself in making sure that Esmeralda had an archive of moments she could turn to as a source from which to derive inner strength when confronted with difficult situations at whatever age and wherever she found herself. The preservation and recollection of the milestones achieved and documented by these women allowed students to travel back and forth through time.

Similarly, by the end of the 2016-2017 academic year the interest of my students and myself led us to encourage as many other UCI students as possible to consider the productive qualities of developing an emotional intelligence as an intellectual priority together. This resulted in a workshop collaboration at our campus, called “Revisiting Immigration History.” This workshop served as a productive intellectual space and community from which to learn from each other as a community of learners. Our forging an emotional intelligence together through this workshop made it easier for students to understand and cope with their feelings on undocumented immigration and immigration history.

Each student participating in the workshop submitted a photograph that captured an undocumented emotive dimension of immigration history and/or the undocumented immigrant experience that they welcomed discussing as part of this workshop. This approach to coming together allowed students to use their presentation of their photograph submission as a way of introducing themselves and their intellectual imaginaries to students that they were often meeting for the first time without augmenting their emotional exhaustion. The presentation of these photographs allowed students to consider undocumented immigration as an expansive, continuous, and diverse process and experience. Developing and applying this intellectual sensibility together made it accessible for reflecting on how we each are impacted by and invested in the future of undocumented immigration with documentation that students generated on their own and for the sake of us learning from each other and together with our humanity front and center. This workshop experience resulted in a careful consideration of the modalities that came into focus and grew in value because of the influential absence or decline in emotional intelligence evident in the U.S. government’s attitude towards immigration, undocumented immigrants, and immigration policy in the form of U.S. border enforcement measures and programs.

Participating in this workshop energized Andres Oceguera Pinedo to share a family photograph that his mother, Mercedes Pinedo, had shared with him.[16] Oceguera Pinedo explained that in the midst of fellow students working tirelessly to contribute to the emotional and financial welfare of their mixed status immigrant families, as they pursued their undergraduate education at our campus, his mother’s rationale for taking and sharing this photograph with him resonated differently. He explained that his mother’s photograph featured her surrounded by his older sisters. It was taken by a family friend, so that his mother documented being able to labor and care for his sisters during the summer of 1975 as an agricultural laborer at the John Pryor Farms in Soledad. His mother shared that this photograph captured what people in our contemporary moment rarely dare to acknowledge or document with care: the emotional intelligence of immigrants. Ocegueda Pinedo elaborated that his mother cherished this photograph, because it did not allow her to forget the hard earned privilege of being in one place together and as a family as she labored to ensure that they had the right to do so as an immigrant family in the United States. Like herself, Andres’s mother wanted him to understand and appreciate their family photograph as her documentation of the undocumented value immigrants place on doing everything possible to derive strength from simply being still and together after a hard week’s work. Such words and documentation and discussing them together paved the way for students to learn from Ocegueda Pinedo the importance of pausing regularly to take inventory and to document in ways that we deem comforting and humane—the hard earned privilege and value of being still and alongside those we care about and love.

Marleni Flores was also among the students who shared that the current uncertainty undocumented immigrant families face in the United States had deepened the appreciation of her mother, Jesuita Sanchez, for a family photograph taken of her alongside her family in 1974 by a fellow town resident as they came of age and enjoyed town life in Tzicatlan, Puebla together.[17] Flores described this family photograph featuring her mother’s cousin, siblings, and herself as among the few times in their lives in which they were able to enjoy time together as a family, in the same location, and in a situation in which they could afford to take a photograph.  Preserving this trace of a moment in which they were not pressured to migrate within and beyond Mexico continuously or worry about U.S. border enforcement measures had proven emotionally helpful to both her mother and Flores. She shared that it had prevented her mother from losing sight of the entirety of her family’s history, most specifically unforgettably joyful moments.

Upon concluding this workshop, students shared that it had been restorative to consider and discuss how the people we care about have preserved and discussed their emotive immigration histories. It resonated as a generative approach to considering the undocumented dimensions of immigration, the immigrant experience, and immigration history together and at our campus. Our focusing on the documentation and rationales behind emotive immigration histories resonated as productive vantage points towards identifying how a diversity of generations of immigrants with varying immigration statuses and perspectives on immigration have responded to the US government’s enforcement of its borders. Discussing the forethought, care, and resourcefulness with which their own immigrant family relatives and friends had invested in documenting and learning from their emotional intelligence for their and their family’s sake allowed students to not lose sight of the attentiveness and dedication with which older generations of immigrants had faced the pressures of US border enforcement measures and programs. Such sensibility deepened students’ appreciation for having invested in enriching their emotional intelligence together via this workshop. Moreover, I hope that it serves as an example of what we can achieve and share when we embrace emotive immigration history as a seminal pathway towards facing our feelings concerning immigration, most especially US border enforcement measures and programs within and beyond California together.


[1] Writing assignment submitted to the author by Adelaida Gutierrez, University of California, Irvine, June 2016. “Adelaida Gutierrez” is a pseudonym I gave the student to protect she and her family’s confidentiality.

[2] The author will reflect on student course assignments and discussions undertaken in her course offerings, exhibition project, and workshop on immigration history and the Chicana/o-Latina/o experience at UC Irvine during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years.

[3]  Priya Krishnakumar, Joe Fox, and Ally Levine, “What’s next for DACA and the nearly 800,000 people protected by it,” Los Angeles Times, 6 September 2017,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Teresa Watanabe, “UC President Janet Napolitano blasts Trump’s DACA decision,” Los Angeles Times, 5 September 2017,

[7] Krishnakumar, Fox, and Levine, “What’s Next for DACA.”

[8] This article is informed by and attempts to build on the scholarship of Roberto G. Gonzalez, Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017).

[9] Adelaida Gutierrez.

[10] Ibid.

[11] This quote is a part of “Gorditas de Nata,” a writing assignment submitted to the author by Mariana Rodriguez, University of California, Irvine, June 2016. “Mariana Rodriguez” is a pseudonym I gave the student to protect the student and her family’s confidentiality.

[12] This quote is a part of “Memories We Did Not Leave at the Border,” a writing assignment submitted to the author by Diego Hernandez, at the University of California, Irvine, June 2016. “Diego Hernandez” is a pseudonym I gave the student to protect the student and his family’s confidentiality.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Information about Delfina Palomares’ emotive immigration history and thoughts about the promise of The Material of Memory were collected and provided as part of conversations with and a course assignment submitted to the author by Stephanie Palomares, University of California, Irvine, December 2016.

[15] Information about Juanita Magdalena Garza’s emotive immigration history and thoughts about the promise of The Material of Memory were collected and provided as part of conversations with and a course assignment submitted to the author by Esmeralda Hic, University of California, Irvine, December 2016.

[16] Information about Mercedes Pinedo’s emotive immigration history were submitted and provided as part of the Revisiting Immigration History workshop group by Andres Oceguera Pinedo to the author, University of California, Irvine, March 2017.

[17] Information about Jesuita Sanchez emotive immigration history were submitted and provided as part of the Revisiting Immigration History workshop group by Marleni Flores to the author, University of California, Irvine, March 2017.


Ana Elizabeth Rosas is an associate professor of history and Chicano/Latino Studies at UC Irvine. She is the author of Abrazando El Espiritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border (UC Press, 2014), which received the Immigration and Ethnic History Society’s Theodore Soloutos Memorial Book Award for the best book on immigration history.


Copyright: © 2017 Ana Marie Rosas. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See

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