The Experience: Cathartic Writing, Collectivity, and Care Among Undocumented Mexican Immigrants

Angela Garcia, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University

This talk draws from an ethnography of a little-known therapeutic community of undocumented Mexican immigrants living in the United States. The foundation of this community is a grueling three-day healing ritual called an experience (la experiencia). This talk describes one such experience that took place in the Northern California forest in 2019, focusing on its novel practice of cathartic writing. I argue that this writing practice is far more than a tool for self-care or self-expression; it is also a medium for collectivity and political critique, one that helps us examine the limits of the biomedical self. By writing a “self” that is never alone, the experience provides a mode of care and healing that enables immigrants to collectively weather and represent the myriad forms of violence that accompany undocumented life.