Student Activity

“Every Day We Get More Illegal” by Juan Felipe Herrera

"Every Day We Get More Illegal," by Juan Felipe Herrera

Activity 1: Experiencing a Visual Image

  • Observe this photograph, by Sandy Horvath-Dori. Write down what you see, starting with details before interpreting those details. For example, instead of, “I see a dandelion growing out of a crack in a rock,” write something such as, “I see some red with a line running through it and something green and yellow.” Then proceed with your interpretations—“The red might be a rock, or maybe dry earth with a crack, and the green and yellow object looks like a flower.”
  • Reflect on and discuss the following questions:
    • What do you think the photograph is telling us about the flower? How do you know?
    • What is the evidence in the photograph for your interpretation?
    • How does the photograph make you feel? Why?

Activity 2. Reading Herrera’s Poem

In this activity, you will conduct a close reading of the poem “Every Day We Get More Illegal,” by Juan Felipe Herrera.

  • Read Herrera’s poem, available from
  • As you read, write down words, images, and phrases that jump out at you, including those you don’t know. What do you notice about the way the words are placed on the page and the punctuation? Write down words that are placed in positions that seem unexpected.
  • Read the poem aloud. Think about how the placement of the words might influence how you pause when reading out loud.
  • Listen to someone else read the poem aloud. What do you notice when the poem is read that adds to what you noticed when you read the poem silently?

Activity 3. Watching Juan Felipe Herrera Read “Every Day We Get More Illegal”

In this activity, you will listen to the poem’s author, Juan Felipe Herrera, read the poem.

  • Watch the video of Herrera’s reading.
  • As you watch, record what you notice. What is new or different? What else have you learned?

Activity 4. Small-Group Discussion

Working in a small group, share what you have noticed about the poem. Compile a group account of what you feel are the most important things you have recorded about the written poem and the video. Do your earlier observations of the photograph relate to what jumped out at you in the poem? If so, how?

Activity 5. Gleaning Meaning from Poetic Structure and Content of “Every Day We Get More Illegal”

In this activity, you will use the details you have noticed in the poem to interpret the poem’s meaning. Strong interpretations of the poem’s meaning will be based on specific pieces of evidence. The following questions may serve as prompts for a discussion about the poem:

  • With what do you associate the image of the peach tree? The birds? The desert?
  • Is there a pattern to where the extra spaces and lines are in the poem? Why do you think they are placed where they are?
  • What do you think Juan Felipe Herrera is saying in this poem? Explain your ideas using evidence from the poem and no other source.