Immigration has never been so hotly debated, especially with the Midterm Elections coming up. But now, Jose Antonio Vargas’ memoir has made that conversation all the more complicated. Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen (Dey Street Books) catalogs Jose’s life beginning with his smuggling into the United States and ending with the understanding of his privilege as a public figure.
This lyrical rendition of Vargas’ life is intuitive, questioning and honest. He understands the anger surrounding his undocumented status in the United States, but he was brought there as a child and lied to about his citizenship status. Once he discovered that he was an illegal citizen, he didn’t know what to do. He was 16 and had grown up in the states for years — how could he return to the Philippines when America was his home? That is only one of the many important questions Vargas poses in this achingly sincere memoir.
Vargas is not a Dreamer. He is not living off government assistance. He pays his taxes. He lives and learns like the next man – but his undocumented status plagues him every day. Upon learning he was living in the United States illegally, he was shocked, hurt and confused. But, he had to live his life. He was lucky enough to discover good and generous people who helped him get into college and eventually into a job at the Washington Post where he would later earn the Pulitzer Prize along with other journalists for their coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting. Not only does guilt follow him everywhere, but it gets worse with his success. Each time Vargas achieves something important — whether it’s a job, a prize or a byline in a newspaper — he feels immensely regretful that he could be taking the place of some other American citizen. He keeps himself under wraps at all times, refuses to get too close to anyone, and lives a transient lifestyle.
But he never hides from the United States government. He opens himself up to deportation with a New York Times Magazine article written by himself about himself. The profile was supposed to help relieve some of the guilt he still felt for existing on this particular piece of land. But it didn’t, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement never came for him.
In its essence, this book is the only way Vargas could validate his existence. He is an American citizen, though he lacks the proper paperwork to prove it. Being an undocumented immigrant is more than a lack of specific papers. It is more than feeling like an outcast. It’s more than deportation and borders. It’s about being homeless, being scared and feeling unwanted. It’s about humanity and what it means to be human.
If you are an American citizen, documented or undocumented, read this book. No matter which side of the aisle you sit on, read this book. Never before has there been such an honest and unpolitical novel concerning a person’s undocumented status in the United States. Not only will this memoir make you understand more about the plight of immigrants everywhere, but it will make you feel connected to the human race.
Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen is available for purchase.
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ABOUT JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS:
This Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, filmmaker and now memoirist is known as the most famous undocumented person in the United States. At age 12, he was smuggled out of the Phillipeans and brought to the United States where he would grow up with the fear of discovery by U.S. immigration officers, until one day he decided to stop hiding. He published an article in New York Magazine detailing his immigration status and from then on has worked as an advocate for immigration reform and immigrant rights.