Tell Me How It Ends

Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico and grew up in South Africa, she is award-winning writer of the novels “The Story Of My Teeth” and “Faces In The Crowd”, her work has been translated in to many languages and has appeared in highly recognized publications such as New York Times. Another equally successful work by Valleria Luiselli “Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions” is the book that was born from the immigration crisis announced in 2014. In the time when information is filtered through the media and new arrivals are handled by overburdened bureaucratic government, the clear understanding of the crisis becomes more faint. This is why Valeria Luiselli’s “Tell Me How It Ends” is so urgent, she presents a story of the treatment of the undocumented children which is provoking and deeply personal. Using the intake questionnaire provided by the Immigration Services she uncovers the bureaucratic process of the system, exposes its failings and cruelties handling immigration crisis, but most importantly introduces us to children themselves.

“Why did you come to the United States?” is the first question on intake questionnaire and that is how the first chapter “Border” begins. Valeria Luiselli working as an interpreter for the undocumented children who is in need of pro bono legal aid to take their most of the time tragic case. During her career as an interpret Luiselli learners the heartbreaking stories from adults and children, which brings her attention to 2014 immigration crisis in the United States. Her work responsibilities was interview unknown amount of unaccompanied children, document their answers and translate their responses to the lawyers who willing to take the case. The children’s cases are build directly on their answers to the questionnaire so the “wrong” answers are discouraging the lawyers to accept the case even if they wish a child to succeed. Lawyers who decides to fight the case must achieve some immigration relief or their client will be deported back to Central America. Although, no matter how hard Luiselli and lawyers reach out to help the children, the difficulty of obtaining the clear answer from confused children makes her feel powerless. Later, she includes us in the family trip they took towards the U.S-Mexico border while waiting on the immigration status. Luiselli shares this event in details as an example of the cruel treatment and humiliating language used to describe immigrants that she witnessed. On their way driving from Harlem to Cochise County, Arizona in the summer of 2014, Luiselli remembers the offensive way in which undocumented people were treated. She often heard the words such as “illegal” and “immigrant” aggressively used instead “undocumented” or “refugee,” reinforcing the culture gap between neighbor countries and the cruel behavior towards undocumented children.

Chapter 2, “Court,” continues on the concept of mistreatment. Luiselli starts with her first day working as a translator in New York immigration court. In details she precisely describes the architecture of the Court building and compares it to the U.S immigration system. After the short introduction to lawyers, Luiselli had to start the intake questionnaire unsupervised since it was unexpected numbers of children arrived that day. She continues on revealing questions from the interview when noticing how most of the undocumented children had fled from extreme gang violence in Northern Triangle countries. More than 102,000 children were held at the southern US border between the summer of 2014 and beginning of 2015. Hearing the tragic stories told by the children, Luiselli and her niece decided to help by working with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, where they met attorneys from the nonprofit organization called The Door. Working together Luiselli and organizations such as the Door desperately trying to speed up the process of screening undocumented children to prepare their answers for the lawyers in order to fit in juvenile docket. The priority juvenile docket is the law that allows to minors seeking immigration relief to find a lawyer to represent their case only in twenty-one days. Luiselli also explains that when the children arrive they are usually hoping to find a family member who immigrated to the U.S. some time before them. This usually gives a better chance of staying in the country because they will have a legal guardian. At the end of the chapter, the author introduces the provoking amendment that takes away all the legal rights from the immigrants to protect themselves, followed by only one criteria, being a Mexican.

In chapter 3, “Home,” The author introduces a difficult case involving two sisters. Since they first language was Spanish, conducting a clear interview was nearly impossible. Luiselli was forced to ask their mother to complete the story, she learned that the mother left her two daughters in her home country when the eldest was two years old, then she migrated to Long Island, remarried, and had another child. Finally after saving enough money, the mother sent a “coyote” to bring her daughters through Mexico, and across the US border just as she was brought a years back. Same as many immigrants who turn themselves to a Border Patrol seeking for asylum, it was a plan for the girls as well, but instead, the girls were detained and placed in the Ice Box before being further instruction. Luiselli explains how the two sisters are not giving the “correct” answer that would help them in court, the reader can see the sadness and concern in her words. Politically, she writes how the president’s Bush and Obama administrations promote ruthless policies that rejected undocumented children in good care and how this anti-immigration spirit has been encouraged by the Trump administration.

Chapter 4, “Community,” gives a small glance in Luiselli’s experience teaching at Hofstra University. Instead of creating a specific rubric, she develops her course on free thinking towards the immigration issues for her students. Luiselli focuses on how the law determine that every single child who live the U.S has the right to free education. However, even in big cities such as New York, many schools are refuse to provide undocumented children in education, illegally asking for official immigration paperwork. As an example, Luiselli introducing the story of a boy named Manu, who has faced same problems being placed in school because of the documentation. Luiselli inspiringly shares the idea that her students came up with, they decided to stop talking about the community issues and take real action to help migrated children to adopt in a new environment. At the end of the book, in a chain of postscripts, she leaves an update on her immigration saying in 2017 she is finally granted a green card. In spite of sometimes disappointing treatment of undocumented children and adutls in the U.S., Luiselli notes, “once you’re here, you’re ready to give everything, or almost everything, to stay and play a part in the great theater of belonging”(Luiselli 98).

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Tell Me How It Ends. (2022, Sep 28). Retrieved from