Immigration is arguably the most polarized topic in the United States today. Journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas tackles this highly politicized issue in his autobiographical book, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen. Using the art of storytelling he breaks down immigration to make it more understandable. A starting point for civil discourse, the book isn’t some biased media coverage — it’s someone’s life story.
Indeed, publishing the truth of his illegal immigration status has put Vargas at risk for deportation, but bringing his views to the public was worth any potential consequences that may arise. For him, no subject is off limits — from privilege to politics to homelessness. Readers are captivated as Vargas attempts to deconstruct his identity which is largely attached to his immigration status.
Vargas’ story begins in the Philippines where he lived with his mother, until one day she unexpectedly put him on a flight to the United States with his “uncle” (a paid smuggler whose job it was to bring people into the US). Young Vargas was sent to live with his grandparents and extended family, and waited for his mother to arrive (spoiler alert: she never does).
From then on Vargas had a complicated relationship with America, which he details as he describes his pursuit to become as “American” as possible. At the time, these issues stemmed from the perceived differences he had with his American classmates. However, it wasn’t until he attempted to get a driver’s license at the age of 16 that he actually learned of his undocumented, illegal status.
From that point on, Vargas’ understanding of both himself and his future spiraled out of control. Through reflection, he highlights many of the daily difficulties immigrants have to face on a daily basis — like not being able to drive or apply to college. Through hard work, support, and a bit of luck, Vargas used the large community of supporters he had cultivated who did what they could to help him reach his full potential, eventually becoming an esteemed journalist for The Washington Post.
Vargas reflects: “The more stories I reported on, and the more people I interviewed, the more I realized that writing was the freest thing I could do, unencumbered by borders and legal documents and largely dependent on my skills and talent.”
This realization of freedom through writing led to the conception of Dear America, as he realized it was time to risk his privilege.
In sharing his story he reflects on belonging and security, humanizing the too-often elusive idea of an illegal immigrant.
The publishing of Dear America, mixed with his status of being a respected journalist, has put Vargas right smack in the limelight, causing him to facetiously call himself the “most famous undocumented immigrant in the US.” His story emphasizes the difficulties illegals face in trying to become citizens. Despite what he’s made of himself, he’s still illegal because there is no legal route he can take to mitigate circumstances.
Dear America is a must-read for anyone interested in immigration. Told from an insider’s perspective, it’s a story anyone can relate to as it revolves around the concept of belonging — which, immigrant or not, is what we all truly long for.