This article examines the public essays of the immigrant activist Jose Antonio Vargas. It situates his 2011 New York Times Magazine essay “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” and his 2012 Time magazine essay “Not Legal, Not Leaving” in the larger historical context of the undocumented youth movement in the United States. More specifically, this article identifies how the national comprehensive immigration reform movement created a political genre known as the Dreamer narrative that undocumented youth were trained to produce. By examining the ways Vargas performs these genre expectations, with a particular interest in revising their affective dimensions, the article exposes Vargas’s approach to political engagement, one that derives from the emotional work undocumented migrants undertake to narrate themselves into hostile and vitriolic discourses of belonging.

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