Latin America: An Institutional and Cultural Survey

Ground Zero- Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Entry Question

What topics from the second half of the semester would you like to engage with for the final project? Do you want to propose a question?

Brief Biographical Introduction

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is an Ecuadorian-American writer and the author of The Undocumented Americans, published in 2020 and shortlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction. She has written about immigration, music, beauty, and mental illness

A common story among Latinx migrants

She was born in Ecuador in 1989. When she was a year and a half old, her parents immigrated to the US, leaving her with family. A few years later, her parents brought her to the US. 

A rare story among Latinx migrants

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 2011 and believes that she is one of the first undocumented immigrants to do so. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Yale. She is also currently serving as Baruch College’s very own Harman Writer-in-Residence for the fall of 2021.

Recommended Student-led Interview

Oral/slide presentations





Group Discussion

In groups of five discuss ONE of the following topics. Expand on both Cornejo Villavicencio’s text and your classmates’ reflections.



This text made sure to highlight how much many of these undocumented Latin Americans were affected by 9/11 because they were first responders and had to deal with poor working conditions mostly due to them being undocumented… I also thought it was really sad to see how much these Latin Americans went through from the working conditions, being heckled by some of the public, and then after all that many of them contracting illnesses and diseases both physical and mental.

-Logan Santin

The text shares Milton’s story, “I tried to take my life. A psychiatrist…talked him down from overdosing on pills. A psychiatrist… talked him down from throwing himself onto the train tracks” (37). This topic really resonated with me because of the parallels between the text and my family. My parents are from Latin America and seem to not truly understand why mental health is so important. They tend to brush off a lot of situations and deal with their issues by themselves. Mental health needs to be discussed more openly without judgment in Latin American communities. Without proper conversations, there are many people who are suffering in silence.

-Thiare Garcia

“Other Latinx people do not believe in therapy and commonly say that “therapy isn’t for us.” But the truth is that often therapy isn’t an option as undocumented Latin Americans or children of immigrants do not have the money for therapy. As a result, thousands of Latin Americans do not receive proper health and suffer in silence… The Latinx community must start to destigmatize mental health. There need to be more public resources regarding mental health and affordable access to mental help. If we don’t fix this, it may cost people their lives.”

-Laura Portillo Carrillo

This topic resonated with me as a teenager, because adults would think that children are just ignorant, and they will heal automatically when they grow up, but without good treatment in between, how can children get rid of the pain of childhood.

-Zhiqing Jiang

The topic of mental health and migration resonates with me because I have a relative who is also suffering from mental illness, which causes pain and despair for herself and her family. Mental illness should not be discriminated against. Mental illness is similar to a cold, one is sick in the body, the other is sick in the heart.

-Lacy Lin

This topic really did resonate with me because some of my friends parents would think that their mental health problems would automatically be fixed if they just gave it time. These problems are not a joke and should be treated seriously.

-Madison Russo


“people like Paloma explain the exploitation of the workers, stating how she and others would have never taken the job had there been a sign detailing the immense risks and health consequences, and how access to the subsequent funds came with many restrictions for the undocumented workers.”


The undocumented immigrants working in ground zero weren’t made aware of the conditions they were working in and had to suffer health conditions because of it. Not only that but they couldn’t even get properly compensated as their checks would bounce or they weren’t able to prove that they worked in ground zero. A lot of the immigrants affected were Latin who migrated to America for a better life but ended up suffering here. Again exploited and mistreated when working in ground zero many also gained mental health effects PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc.

-Nelly Ferol


“The poor conditions Milton Vallejo was working in during the cleanup had an effect on both his mental and physical state. Moreover, Vallejo was only receiving $60 for a 12-hour working day. Yet after his and many others Latinx massive contributions to the community and reconstruction they were viewed as slaves, as they weren’t allowed to talk or work when the white contractor came in to check on them.”

-Fedir Usmanov

“They had to deal with the dangerous work. They also had zero to no safety/protection that they would get injured from the work or sick from the dust. I think this is very important as this could be considered slave work. It is basically inhumane.”


Extra-credit opportunity with 250-word reflection