DOWNEY − Author Eric Z. Weintraub always knew he wanted to tell stories, but when the Downey resident signed up for a college course on immigrant America, he surprisingly found his voice.
"We learned about Ellis Island and current events, basically the rough stuff our country has done to undocumented immigrants," Weintraub said.
"I wanted to write a book that showed undocumented Americans aren't a political issue, but people trying to build a life like everyone else."
After years of research, travel, and plenty of creative writing, 25-year-old Weintraub has released his first novella "Dreams of an American Exile," a fictional tale that follows the fate of undocumented immigrants who are deported back to Mexico.
"Dreams of an American Exile" primarily tells the story Rose Quintero, an undocumented college senior who is deported to the Mexican border town of Nogales from Tucson, Arizona. Now back in the country her parents once fled when she was a baby, Quintero seeks for a way to survive the streets and return to the U.S.
Weintraub believes the character is relatable and portrays the insecurities, fears, and harsh repercussions undocumented Americans endure.
"She had to be Latina and I wanted her to be a college student," he said. "With an audience, you want to give people things they can latch on to as quickly as possible -- as a girl, Rose, would have a few more vulnerabilities as opposed to a male protagonist."
Although the novella may be fictional, the stories detailed in Weintraub's book are not fairy tales.
In 2012, he began a three-year-long process of researching and writing the short story. With a $3,000 grant from the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund at his alma mater the University of Southern California, Weintraub traveled to Tijuana and Nogales in Mexico and Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona to speak with undocumented workers, deportees, border patrol agents, and humanitarians.
Speaking with people on both sides of the debate, Weintraub crafted a series of short stories.
"Writing a fiction was best for me and actually there's not a lot of fiction on this topic," he said. "I wanted to write something I would want to read."
"Dreams of an American Exile" won the inaugural Plaza Literary Prize and was awarded publishing by the Orange County-based company 1888 Center this fall, but the project hasn't been Weintraub's only passion.
The son of an award-winning TV news cameraman and an accomplished freelance producer, Weintraub's first love was filmmaking. Currently, he assists his mother as producer of The Storyboard Project, a web-based series that tells the stories of Los Angeles youth in homeless.
"The stories -- that's what draws me into it," he said.
With buzz around his book increasing, Weintraub isn't slowing down, but is now working on his second book, a collection of short stories on illegal immigration and undocumented workers.
"I hope people learn something out of it -- there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country -- these are real people," he said. "Go on Rose's journey. It's an intimate view of something that isn't just a Latino issue, it's an American issue."