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Undocumented Motherhood

Undocumented Motherhood
Conversations on Love, Trauma, and Border Crossing

An intimate portrayal of the hardships faced by an undocumented family navigating the medical and educational systems in the United States.

Series: Louann Atkins Temple Women and Culture Endowment

October 2022
Not yet published
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176 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 | 8 b&w illustrations |

Claudia Garcia crossed the border because her toddler, Natalia, could not hear. Leaving behind everything she knew in Mexico, Claudia recounts the terror of migrating alone with her toddler and the incredible challenges she faced advocating for her daughter’s health in the United States. When she arrived in Texas, Claudia discovered that being undocumented would mean more than just an immigration status—it would be a way of living, of mothering, and of being discarded by even those institutions we count on to care.

Elizabeth Farfán-Santos spent five years with Claudia. As she listened to Claudia’s experiences, she recalled her own mother’s story, another life molded by migration, the US-Mexico border, and the quest for a healthy future on either side. Witnessing Claudia’s struggles with doctors and teachers, we see how the education and medical systems enforce undocumented status and perpetuate disability. At one point, in the midst of advocating for her daughter, Claudia suddenly finds herself struck by debilitating pain. Claudia is lifted up by her comadres, sent to the doctor, and reminded why she must care for herself.

A braided narrative that speaks to the power of stories for creating connection, this book reveals what remains undocumented in the motherhood of Mexican women who find themselves making impossible decisions and multiple sacrifices as they build a future for their families.

  • Author’s Notes
  • Undocumented Moments
  • 1. Becoming an Undocumented Mother
  • 2. Falsas Esperanzas
  • 3. What Sickness?
  • 4. Comadres
  • 5. Natalia
  • Undocumented Stories
  • Afterword: La Última Rifa
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Selected Sources


Elizabeth Farfán-Santos is a medical anthropologist and the author of Black Bodies, Black Rights: The Politics of Quilombolismo in Contemporary Brazil.


"Farfan-Santos is a beautiful storyteller who weaves together two dynamic transborder migration stories to reveal how undocumented mothers navigate unjust state systems. Fear and sacrifice shape the maternal experience highlighted in this book but so do love, commitment, comadrazgo, and radical aguante. An important book for all readers to understand how immigration policy deeply impacts the everyday existence and mobility of families on either side of the US/Mexico border."

—Michelle Tellez University of Arizona, author of Border Women and the Community of Maclovio Rojas

"A beautiful gift of intimate, vulnerable, and compassionate ethnography where women's voices leap from the page, speaking truth to power boldly and deeply."

—Ruth Behar author of The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart