José Roach Orduña

He/him/his, Assistant Professor


José Roach Orduña received an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. His first book, The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement, published by Beacon Press, explores his experience as a Mexican immigrant in the United States. He works primarily in long-form literary essays that interrogate the entanglements between the human and the institution, and all the attendant violence. His work strives to contextualize Latin American immigration to the United States as a symptom of the US’ unrelenting economic and military predation, to capture how those histories are written not only in books but as lines in people’s faces, and to implicate readers in the systems of oppression that make children leave their homes and walk thousands of miles alone.

He is currently at work on a collection of essays that will take the reader to an immigrant led protest down the Las Vegas Strip, an act of mass civil disobedience at the US Capitol, and onto the back of a Harley Davidson as it rips through the colonias of Ciudad Juárez as part of an avant-garde theatrical performance that took place in the real homes of working people. Readers will follow the naming and renaming of an indigenous Mexican weed (first called Cuetlaxóchitl, now called Poinsettia) and in that trajectory see how domination in Latin America has been carried out from the mass genocide of the conquest to the austerity regimes and disarticulated Fordism of today. Readers will be forced to confront what they see and cannot see when they look at a published photograph of a drowned father, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria. They’ll be made to confront the limits of their own vision, their own interest, their own entertainment, and their own sense of outrage. And most of all readers will be implicated in the systems of surveillance, exclusion, labor stratification, and death that turn poor and working-class Latin Americans into immigrants. 

In his classes José likes to think about and explore the role literary nonfiction, essay film, visual autobiography, and art more broadly, can play in struggles for justice; how the essay form is particularly well suited for those “social” aims; and how we can make writing that contains information, analysis, and argumentation nevertheless evocative and aesthetically interesting. In his work and in his thinking he rejects the designations of “political writing” and “political art” because of how they imply an apolitical and ahistorical default position for writing and art.