“Cartoneras” offer undocumented students a chance to speak out


GVL / Meghan Landgren

Melia Williams, Staff Writer

Grand Valley State University’s Undocumented and DACA Peer Support Group is collaborating with University Libraries on a project that captures the words and experiences of undocumented and DACA students. The Cartonera Collection will display these stories in the form of “cartoneras,” which are handmade books, in the Mary Idema Pew Library.

“Cartoneras” are a social and political medium that reuses cardboard for artistic purposes. The intricately designed booklets became popular in Latin America. Undocumented individuals who often feel overlooked at college can use them as a way to share their unique voices.

“Cartoneras are used to give a voice to the voiceless,” said Sheila Garcia Mazari, a GVSU library liaison librarian who is co-leading the Cartonera Collection project with the Undocumented and DACA Peer Support Group.

Undocumented students often have to be wary of sharing their stories for confidentiality reasons. This project is an opportunity for them to express themselves in art without worrying about potential repercussions due to their immigration status.

“They purposely want to be under the radar, so this is a way to be heard without their information being out there,” said Thalia Guerra, coordinator for Laker Familia and DACA/undocumented student advocate. “It empowers them to know that people want to know about their story and where they came from.”

The Cartonera Collection will be an eye-opening experience for a large majority of GVSU students that are traditional United States citizens, Guerra said. It’s common for most students to be unaware that some of their classmates may be undocumented or DACA students, so the collection will also bring awareness to that subject.

“Awareness (is a big factor),” Guerra said. “We as a society often don’t want to talk about things in an attempt to not offend anyone.”

While college is a place for students to be exposed to new kinds of cultures and people, students may finish their time at GVSU without coming into contact with some of the cultures that are represented on campus.

“We are all going to work in our careers when we graduate, it’s important to know and be educated (about undocumented individuals) for when you’re in the work world one day,” said Andrea, a student involved with the Peer Support Group. “If they miss a day of work or something, then you can know why that might happen.”

Many students creating “cartoneras” may be sharing deeply personal stories. The everyday fears that undocumented students have to deal with may seem surreal to most of the GVSU student population, but they are an unavoidable part of life for undocumented students.

“Hearing about this can take an emotional toll on you,” Andrea said. “There can be some pretty sad stories.”

A reception for the Cartonera Collection will take place in the multipurpose room of the Mary Idema Pew Library on April 14. Presenters will discuss the “cartoneras” on display, which will be preserved physically and digitally after the conclusion of the showcase.

“Once displayed, they will be placed in special selections so they can be reused for many years,” Garcia Mazari said. 

These “cartoneras” and the stories they hold will be used as a teaching tool for years to come at GVSU. For more information regarding the reception of the Cartoneras Collection, visit the GVSU events webpage at www.gvsu.edu/events