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Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

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Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, called “the most famous undocumented immigrant in America,” tackles one of the defining issues of our time in this explosive and deeply personal call to arms. “This is not a book about the politics of immigration. This book––at its core––is not about immigration at all. This book is about homelessness, not in a traditio Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, called “the most famous undocumented immigrant in America,” tackles one of the defining issues of our time in this explosive and deeply personal call to arms. “This is not a book about the politics of immigration. This book––at its core––is not about immigration at all. This book is about homelessness, not in a traditional sense, but in the unsettled, unmoored psychological state that undocumented immigrants like myself find ourselves in. This book is about lying and being forced to lie to get by; about passing as an American and as a contributing citizen; about families, keeping them together, and having to make new ones when you can’t. This book is about constantly hiding from the government and, in the process, hiding from ourselves. This book is about what it means to not have a home. After 25 years of living illegally in a country that does not consider me one of its own, this book is the closest thing I have to freedom.” —Jose Antonio Vargas, from Dear America


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Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, called “the most famous undocumented immigrant in America,” tackles one of the defining issues of our time in this explosive and deeply personal call to arms. “This is not a book about the politics of immigration. This book––at its core––is not about immigration at all. This book is about homelessness, not in a traditio Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, called “the most famous undocumented immigrant in America,” tackles one of the defining issues of our time in this explosive and deeply personal call to arms. “This is not a book about the politics of immigration. This book––at its core––is not about immigration at all. This book is about homelessness, not in a traditional sense, but in the unsettled, unmoored psychological state that undocumented immigrants like myself find ourselves in. This book is about lying and being forced to lie to get by; about passing as an American and as a contributing citizen; about families, keeping them together, and having to make new ones when you can’t. This book is about constantly hiding from the government and, in the process, hiding from ourselves. This book is about what it means to not have a home. After 25 years of living illegally in a country that does not consider me one of its own, this book is the closest thing I have to freedom.” —Jose Antonio Vargas, from Dear America

30 review for Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This book is at its best when it is an honest memoir, which is about 2/3rds of the book. He talks about the tensions in his Phillipino family between the "legal" and the "illegal" and then the shock when he finds out his greencard is fake. I wish people could understand when they talk about "illegals" that these are humans just like them. The later portion of the book was still good, but I wished he would stay with his own story as opposed to trying to respond to all his critics. Apparently, a l This book is at its best when it is an honest memoir, which is about 2/3rds of the book. He talks about the tensions in his Phillipino family between the "legal" and the "illegal" and then the shock when he finds out his greencard is fake. I wish people could understand when they talk about "illegals" that these are humans just like them. The later portion of the book was still good, but I wished he would stay with his own story as opposed to trying to respond to all his critics. Apparently, a lot of people from both sides of the immigration issue have criticized him for his advocacy. But let haters hate and tell your story. You don't need to tell everyone else's story. I, for one, will read anyone's story if it's honest.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    Would recommend this book to everyone for insight into our current immigration crisis. Vargas's name was vaguely familiar to me as a journalist when I first saw notices about this book's upcoming publication. He "outed" himself as undocumented several years ago through a dramatic NYT article in 2011; he wrote a cover story on undocumented immigrants (including himself) in 2012. But book isn't about legalities or politics, it is Vargas's own story. His mother put him on a plane as a child to joi Would recommend this book to everyone for insight into our current immigration crisis. Vargas's name was vaguely familiar to me as a journalist when I first saw notices about this book's upcoming publication. He "outed" himself as undocumented several years ago through a dramatic NYT article in 2011; he wrote a cover story on undocumented immigrants (including himself) in 2012. But book isn't about legalities or politics, it is Vargas's own story. His mother put him on a plane as a child to join his grandparents (naturalized American citizens) in California & that's where he grew up. He did not realize until he applied for a driver's license that the paperwork provided by his grandfather was fake. He was able to confide in a few school teachers/administrators who helped him to college and from there he was able to launch a very successful career. But after entering the country without documentation, it seems there's no practical way to get back on a path to legal residency and citizenship (that's something I did not understand before ). After more than 2/3rds of his life in America, Vargas is still in a state of "homelessness", even though he considers America his country. Book short and personal but does a good job of conveying the confusion and misperceptions about the current immigration policies in this country.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brad Bowman

    Utilizing his own experience, Vargas imbues discussions of displacement, residency, and identity with the utmost humanity. Most poignant are his reflections on his own belonging. “Trading a private life that was in limbo for a public life that is still in limbo...” (184) Vargas is most insightful when he’s looking inward and sharing his emotions of loss, losing, and being lost in his own American story. “Dear America” questions as much as it tries to answer, but importantly it’s a necessary narra Utilizing his own experience, Vargas imbues discussions of displacement, residency, and identity with the utmost humanity. Most poignant are his reflections on his own belonging. “Trading a private life that was in limbo for a public life that is still in limbo...” (184) Vargas is most insightful when he’s looking inward and sharing his emotions of loss, losing, and being lost in his own American story. “Dear America” questions as much as it tries to answer, but importantly it’s a necessary narrative that speaks to the dysphoria that is part of a larger immigrant experience. It’s a small portait of experience but one that fits into a larger, more contextual mosaic. These stories are imperative for rhetoric, statistics, and laws surrounding immigration because it grounds them with the lives and families they affect. Vargas, amongst others, is a testament to the many ways of being American.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Karyl

    I wanted to keep repeating: there is no line. I wanted to scream over and over again: THERE IS NO LINE! THERE IS NO LINE! THERE IS NO LINE! (p. 154) I sit here writing this the day after President Trump stated he wants to get rid of birthright citizenship, in which babies born on US soil are then considered citizens, regardless of the status of their parents. I sit here writing there as a caravan of migrants from central America are making their way through Mexico, headed to the US border, and dec I wanted to keep repeating: there is no line. I wanted to scream over and over again: THERE IS NO LINE! THERE IS NO LINE! THERE IS NO LINE! (p. 154) I sit here writing this the day after President Trump stated he wants to get rid of birthright citizenship, in which babies born on US soil are then considered citizens, regardless of the status of their parents. I sit here writing there as a caravan of migrants from central America are making their way through Mexico, headed to the US border, and decried by conservative talking heads as "invaders" and a "horde." I have friends who have immigrated to the US from other countries that insist that since they did it legally, there is no reason everyone else cannot do so as well. What these folks don't understand is that it's not that easy. NAFTA ruined Mexico's economy, and undocumented workers can make more money in the US to support their families than they can in Mexico. Many people are fleeing awful conditions in their home countries, where gangs threaten them or their family members. However, building a wall won't necessarily keep them out. Many undocumented people in the US have come here on an airplane and overstayed their tourist visas. Vargas was put on a plane by his mother in 1993 to join his grandmother and grandfather, legal residents of the US, in California. But his family didn't realize they could have adopted him and changed his status to legal, and he's been undocumented ever since. Even still, he's been a contributing member of society, even paying federal taxes. It puts paid to the lie that undocumented workers come here to "steal" our benefits and live off entitlements. Vargas paid taxes for years for benefits he couldn't claim, thanks to his inability to become a legal citizen. Even worse, there is no way for him to become legal. He came here without a choice, and as a result, there is no line for him to join to change his status. He's been undocumented for so long that if he left, he would be banned from the US, his home now, for ten years. Not only that, but as a gay man, he would endure terrible hardships under the rule of President Duterte in the Philippines. I would not wish that on anyone. This is a book that I feel that all Americans need to read with an open mind. Our immigration policies need reforming, and we need to figure out how to allow DREAMers to stay here legally.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Author Dawnette Brenner

    Finished this one in two days! I couldn’t put it down. It was as if my mother were reading to me about her life, supporting all people. She truly did, marching with Cesar Chavez, working on farms, so did I. We were never “too good” as ‘white people!’ This book though; amazing, horrific and brought me to tears. We must do something to end ALL FORMS of discrimination! This week I’ve spoken with several guests on my show about mental health & illness. While reading #Dearamerica I couldn’t help but Finished this one in two days! I couldn’t put it down. It was as if my mother were reading to me about her life, supporting all people. She truly did, marching with Cesar Chavez, working on farms, so did I. We were never “too good” as ‘white people!’ This book though; amazing, horrific and brought me to tears. We must do something to end ALL FORMS of discrimination! This week I’ve spoken with several guests on my show about mental health & illness. While reading #Dearamerica I couldn’t help but ponder the psychological affects on children that are being told their illegal, after being brought to America. They too are seeking the chance for a better life. Are we dehumanizing people? How can a person be “illegal” anyway? . My mother raised me to respect everyone, despite their religion, nationality, skin color, gender, sexual orientation or psychological state. Everyone should be treated with respect, decency and kindness. I looked up immigrant, it states: im·mi·grant ˈiməɡrənt/Submit noun a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. Everyone coming to this country immigrated. 70%+ of Americans are immigrants! Why are we treating people that call the USA their home, so poorly? Jose is innocent, he came here through no choice of his own. He is an upstanding citizen, and contributes to our economy and has made a positive contribution to the world of journalism. . #humanize #advocate #undocumented #redefineamerica #joseantoniovargas #journalism #pulitzer #mindfulness #filipinoamerican #borders

  6. 5 out of 5

    Shirley Freeman

    Here's another book every American should read. Not because it will cause us all to be of one mind concerning immigration but because it will give us all a starting point for civil discourse. It is the story of one real person behind the statistics. Many folks who are more in tune with current culture will know who Jose Antonio Vargas is but I had never heard of him. He's a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who discovered he was undocumented when he went to apply for a driver's license at age 16 Here's another book every American should read. Not because it will cause us all to be of one mind concerning immigration but because it will give us all a starting point for civil discourse. It is the story of one real person behind the statistics. Many folks who are more in tune with current culture will know who Jose Antonio Vargas is but I had never heard of him. He's a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who discovered he was undocumented when he went to apply for a driver's license at age 16. Originally from the Philipines, Vargas has lived in the U.S. for 25 years. He's now 37 and hasn't seen his mother since she put him on a plane when he was 12. His story is one of incredible resilience and bravery and also lying and homelessness (as in having no country he can call home). I feel called to become more educated about immigration and to become part of the solution to our current struggles. (to be published in September)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    Jose Antonio Vargas's story of "coming out" as undocumented is heartbreaking not only because of his personal experience but because of our collective unwillingness to find solutions that will help not only him but millions of others who have come here seeking opportunity and sometimes escaping unspeakable horror. I learned a lot from this book about how the immigration system actually works--or doesn't. We, as a society, don't do well with shades-of-gray issues, or problems with no easy solutio Jose Antonio Vargas's story of "coming out" as undocumented is heartbreaking not only because of his personal experience but because of our collective unwillingness to find solutions that will help not only him but millions of others who have come here seeking opportunity and sometimes escaping unspeakable horror. I learned a lot from this book about how the immigration system actually works--or doesn't. We, as a society, don't do well with shades-of-gray issues, or problems with no easy solutions, or issues that reach back into our history. I'm often tempted, as a second-/third-generation immigrant myself, to throw up my hands and say "it's not my fault!" Technically, that may be true, but in fact I am a citizen now, and that privilege demands that I acknowledge responsibility for fixing a broken system. I appreciated Vargas's tremendous courage and honesty in sharing all the details of his story, even when they weren't pretty. It made for compelling reading and an even stronger desire on my part to be part of a solution. My first step will be to check out his non-profit, Define American.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    Read this. Now.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    **I received an ARC of this book from my local bookstore in exchange for a review.** Jose Antonio Vargas, author of Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, was born in the Philippines. At age 12 his mother sent him to the United States to live with her parents. At sixteen Vargas discovers that his papers are fake. Still, decades later at the writing of this book, Vargas is still here illegally. In Dear America, Vargas chronicles his journey from leaving the Philippines at the age of 12 to **I received an ARC of this book from my local bookstore in exchange for a review.** Jose Antonio Vargas, author of Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, was born in the Philippines. At age 12 his mother sent him to the United States to live with her parents. At sixteen Vargas discovers that his papers are fake. Still, decades later at the writing of this book, Vargas is still here illegally. In Dear America, Vargas chronicles his journey from leaving the Philippines at the age of 12 to growing up with his mother's parents and discovering the fake papers. He gives credit to those who helped him as a high school student, as a young adult getting his first journalist job, and so on. Through all of this the reader is able to witness Vargas' struggles, his pain, and most of all his constant worry of what might happen to him if his secret is ever found out. This book is a call to arms. A whistle blowing on what it is like to live in fear every day as an undocumented individual. It is also posing the question of what does it mean to be American? How does our country and its leaders define "American," provided they even give any thought to it. This is one of the many questions Vargas asks over and over again throughout the course of the book. This is a book about lying to get by, about families, and about what it means to not really have a home. Even though this is an ARC the errors in this book were numerous, and were sometimes distracting from the narrative. I hope that the published copy does more justice in this area to Vargas' story.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brian Kovesci

    This book needs to be read. "There comes a moment in each of our lives when we must confront the central truth in order for life to go on." (p. 110)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Megan Sanks

    I loved how Vargas wrote this book and the pacing of the chapters. Also, I definitely cried during a particular airport scene.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    The best--and most harrowing--parts of this book were the most personal bits. Vargas writes matter-of-factly about life as an undocumented citizen, and it's all the ordinary things that undocumented people simply cannot take for granted that drives home how deep and far-reaching and life-threatening this country's problems with immigration are. It brings into stark relief just how terrifying and complicated life can be for people who live, work, and raise families in this country, but who the go The best--and most harrowing--parts of this book were the most personal bits. Vargas writes matter-of-factly about life as an undocumented citizen, and it's all the ordinary things that undocumented people simply cannot take for granted that drives home how deep and far-reaching and life-threatening this country's problems with immigration are. It brings into stark relief just how terrifying and complicated life can be for people who live, work, and raise families in this country, but who the government refuses to protect or serve (despite being happy to take their money). Vargas's account is raw, honest, and nuanced. It's a powerful piece of writing about a deeply unjust system, and the cost that system has on ordinary lives. Highly recommended, and the audiobook, which Vargas narrates, is fantastic.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Megan Lawson

    Every single person in America should read this book. Jose Antonio Vargas tells his story, his experiences, his how, and his why of being an undocumented citizen of the United States. If you want to change opinions, if you want to help people understand other cultures, other lives, the best way is through stories and personal connections. Obviously, I don't know Vargas personally but I have taught many students who have had similar experiences. What would you do if you suddenly found out at 16 th Every single person in America should read this book. Jose Antonio Vargas tells his story, his experiences, his how, and his why of being an undocumented citizen of the United States. If you want to change opinions, if you want to help people understand other cultures, other lives, the best way is through stories and personal connections. Obviously, I don't know Vargas personally but I have taught many students who have had similar experiences. What would you do if you suddenly found out at 16 that you had no legal documentation for the country that you had come to call home? What would you do if, despite what the news media likes to expel, there is no real "path" for citizenship or a "line" to get into without completely destroying the entire life you have lived or waiting in a broken land for decades? What would you do if your home wasn't safe and your children were dying? "Inside the cell I came to the conclusion that we do not have a broken immigration system. We don't. What we're doing - waving a "Keep Out!" flag at the Mexican border while holding up a Help Wanted sign a hundred yards in - is deliberate. Spending billions building fences and walls, locking people up like livestock, deporting people to keep the people we don't want out, tearing families apart, breaking spirits - all of that serves a purpose. People are forced to lie, people spend years if not decades passing in some kind of purgatory. And step by step, this immigration system is set up to do exactly what it does. Dear America, is this what you really want? Do you even know what is happening in your name? I don't know what else you want from us. I don't know what else you need us to do."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Pauline

    A fascinating story of an undocumented immigrant, one who came as a child, not even knowing his paperwork was fake until he tried to apply for a driver's license. A prize-winning journalist, Vargas is a good storyteller, and it is both enjoyable and educational reading, seeing how our country and our culture appear to an outsider who is trying to fit in. Mostly it is his own story, but he also discusses immigration issues, including his frustration at being told to "get in line" to become a citi A fascinating story of an undocumented immigrant, one who came as a child, not even knowing his paperwork was fake until he tried to apply for a driver's license. A prize-winning journalist, Vargas is a good storyteller, and it is both enjoyable and educational reading, seeing how our country and our culture appear to an outsider who is trying to fit in. Mostly it is his own story, but he also discusses immigration issues, including his frustration at being told to "get in line" to become a citizen when there is no pathway to citizenship for him, other than leaving the country for ten years for just the possibility that he will then be able to return. He gives some facts and figures related to the economic impact of illegal immigration, but I don't know how to evaluate this information because there are plenty of conflicting "facts" and figures on this subject. I have long thought that serious immigration reform is needed to make it easier to immigrate legally, and I hope this book will provide some measure of impetus for that.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    If nothing else this remarkable and well written memoir serve to put a human face on the immigration issue in our nation. It is a quick and insightful read, that caused me to pause along the way and think hard about what it means to be an citizen of America. We are after all save for the Native Americans, and African Americans--- a country made up of immigrants. Some of have been fortunate enough to have our path to citizenship given to us by nature of our birth doing nothing to earn it. our pat If nothing else this remarkable and well written memoir serve to put a human face on the immigration issue in our nation. It is a quick and insightful read, that caused me to pause along the way and think hard about what it means to be an citizen of America. We are after all save for the Native Americans, and African Americans--- a country made up of immigrants. Some of have been fortunate enough to have our path to citizenship given to us by nature of our birth doing nothing to earn it. our path to citizenship given to us by our ancestors. The book served for me to frame the issues in a human way and it was enough for me. I will hope to learn more

  16. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    This is a tough but necessary read. There's so much I didn't know about immigration and this shines light on some of that. For a nation made of immigrants, the US is currently making it difficult to continue to be such a nation. Can you imagine growing up and finding out you're here illegally and not having any recourse to really change that?

  17. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who founded Define American, a “nonprofit media and culture organization that uses the power of story to transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America.” He was born in the Philippines but has lived in the U.S. since he was 12 years old. After finding his out papers were fake while applying for a driver’s permit, he spent several years navigating a sense of homelessness in Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who founded Define American, a “nonprofit media and culture organization that uses the power of story to transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America.” He was born in the Philippines but has lived in the U.S. since he was 12 years old. After finding his out papers were fake while applying for a driver’s permit, he spent several years navigating a sense of homelessness in the place he calls home. In 2011, he wrote an essay for The New York Times Magazine and publicly “came out” as undocumented. DEAR AMERICA: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen is Vargas’ story of “lying, passing, and hiding.” It’s a small book that asks big questions about what it means to be “American” as an individual and in terms of national identity. He explores a lot a themes, from the personal to the big picture. On a personal level, Vargas honestly discusses the psychological effects of family separation and not being able to “settle down.” With the threat of deportation looming, being in-limbo prevents him from staying present. Even though his undocumented status isn’t a secret, that doesn’t mean the feelings of uncertainty disappear. Vargas' internal journey also meant questioning America and looking at the country's policies. He doesn’t ask the reader to side with a political party or to look at him as an the “good immigrant," but to be critical of the perception of the U.S. as a "nation of immigrants" by presenting revelatory facts and thoughtful perspectives on how much race, class, and immigration are intertwined and embedded in the fabric of the U.S. A few of the points that stayed with me: - Media portrayals and rhetoric that criminalize and commodify the immigrant experience. - Being asked to “get in line” to become a citizen when “THERE IS NO LINE.” There’s no clear path to citizenship. - The idea of “earning” citizenship. Vargas asks what have you done to earn your box as “a citizen or national of the United States” besides being born at a certain place in a certain time? As someone born and raised in the U.S, this made me think about my own place here. Later, Vargas says home shouldn't be something you have to earn. I approached this book with loosely formed opinions about the about the current immigration situation, but after reading, I realized how much I don’t know about U.S. immigration policy or the lives of undocumented citizens. And, amidst the current anti-immigration climate, the United States is at a critical point in how it wants to shape itself as a nation. The immigrant experience can’t be dismissed as something happening to “those people” and it’s important to read personal narratives as a way of humanization. Vargas’ story is a good place to start.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I stumbled upon this book while looking for another book at the library, and the title immediately caught my attention. I don't pretend to be well-informed politically, but I really appreciated the perspective this book gives me on a topic that is so much in the news right now. I was especially interested in the response Vargas gets from other immigrants, both positive and negative, since coming forward about his undocumented status. I definitely think this is a book worth reading because it giv I stumbled upon this book while looking for another book at the library, and the title immediately caught my attention. I don't pretend to be well-informed politically, but I really appreciated the perspective this book gives me on a topic that is so much in the news right now. I was especially interested in the response Vargas gets from other immigrants, both positive and negative, since coming forward about his undocumented status. I definitely think this is a book worth reading because it gives a face to a news issue.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Justyna Burek

    I desperately need everyone I know to read this.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    After all, if Americans could come and claim the Philippines, why can’t Filipinos move to America? This probably wouldn't have hit me as hard as it did if Vargas wasn't Filipino, but since he is, I saw so many of my loved ones in his story, from my mother and my countless aunties who did everything they could to get here to my family back in the Philippines who will never be allowed to come. This was the most difficult book I've ever read and I cried the whole time but it was 100% worth it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Urbandale Library

    Jose Antonio Vargas, winner of the Pulitzer Prize as part of a reporting team with the Washington Post, was born and raised in the Philippines. At the age of 12, his mother sent him to live with her parents in the United States. This book was eye-opening in relation to being an undocumented, lying, trying to pass as an American, and what it means to not have a home. At present, there are approximately 11 million people with this uncertain fate.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Everyone should read this book. I grew up in El Paso, Texas, so "border issues" are woven into my personal history. That's why I shudder that fear-mongering is taking place today over immigration issues. I have known, loved and worked closely with DACA individuals--some of the finest people America is lucky to have. As Jose says, our immigration system is not "broken." It is exactly what our country has demanded for decades--cheap labor while avoiding the homelessness of its laborers.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Mishap

    A beautiful and searing memoir, confessional, and demand that reveals the pain caused by being undocumented; from being "othered" and treated as an outsider, an invader, as not a real American. Absolutely necessary for everyone to read--I'm sad that those in this country who hate or disparage immigrants probably don't read books, and, if they do, they probably won't read this one.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Brandt

    I want to make one thing clear before we get started--I think the idea of borders are absolutely ridiculous. The fact that someone can draw a box around themselves and claim that they have the right to be inside the box simply because they were inside the box before the person outside of the box is unadulterated bullshit (especially if you take into account all of the people the person in the box forced out of the box to make that claim, but that's another story.) If this belief of mine automati I want to make one thing clear before we get started--I think the idea of borders are absolutely ridiculous. The fact that someone can draw a box around themselves and claim that they have the right to be inside the box simply because they were inside the box before the person outside of the box is unadulterated bullshit (especially if you take into account all of the people the person in the box forced out of the box to make that claim, but that's another story.) If this belief of mine automatically disqualifies my reading of Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen in your eyes because of my preexisting bias, you can go elsewhere. The likelihood is that you are just the sort of asshole who doesn't have a problem dehumanizing undocumented immigrants, and this book won't cut through your racism and fear as it is. Now that that is out of the way... One of the risks we run when we are bombarded with news stories about hot button issues is that unless the issue really affects us personally it is difficult to not to tone down the signal boost on that issue and make it less than what it really is. I always get jacked up when I hear about autism issues, since I have two sons on the autism spectrum. But over the last 18 year of our military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it becomes very easy to not think of the soldier that is blown up by a roadside bomb as a real person. You don't know them and unless you are at ground zero you can't devote your energy to thinking of each injured and killed soldier and the impact it has on the survivors, their families and so on. We just don't have the emotional capacity to absorb it all. Unfortunately, this leaves spaces for us to make sweeping generalizations, often times to fit our own worldview so we can feel safe and secure in that worldview. This is the primary conceit of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte (which I read and reviewed earlier this month)--her disdain for J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy and others who attempt to cast the denizens of Appalachia into a particular silo for their own political ends is so acute that she felt the need to write a response. As someone who has never lived in Appalachia, until I read Catte, I was guilty of accepting the stereotypical notion of what Appalachia was all about--I was guilty of "getting it wrong." I have also not been personally affected by immigration issues in this country--I am at least a third generation "native" on both sides of my family, and thus can lay a claim to being "legally" inside the box having been born into it. In addition, I am also white skinned and male, which gives me even more advantages. Jose Antonio Vargas had none of these advantages. As one learns in Dear America, Jose Antonio Vargas was sent to the United States in 1993 at the age of 12 from the Philippines to live with his grandparents, who were naturalized citizens. What he does not know is that his grandparents had him smuggled into the US and created fake documentation for him--something he learns when he attempts to get a drivers license. While Vargas' journey as an "undocumented immigrant" holds the book together, this book as its best when Vargas questions the notions of being labelled an "illegal." "How can someone who is a human being be illegal?" is a question Vargas asks throughout the book. And Vargas remains an "illegal" despite his own efforts to "fix" his status through "legal" means. What he learns is that given the complex and draconian nature of U.S. Immigration law, there is no way for Vargas to fix it--late in the book he has an encounter with a "legal" immigrant who chides him for not making his own status right, only to learn that his critic is an immigration lawyer! Vargas is despondent--if an immigration attorney doesn't know how the law works, what chance do undocumented immigrants have? Eventually, Vargas has no choice but to admit that U.S. immigration law is set up the way it is on purpose. Undocumented immigrants are a commodity, not only physically but in the battle over who is "allowed" inside the box and who is not at an ideological level. While I can't remember if Vargas is explicit in this, he essentially asserts that undocumented workers serve a purpose--not only as cheap, off the books labor, but to drive down the wages of "legal" citizens. In addition, on an ideological level, Vargas sees villains on both sides of the political spectrum--the fear of the dangerous, unknown "other" (most famously seen as Trump vilifying Mexicans and criminals and rapists, all the while ignoring the fact that men like Bret Kavanaugh exist) on the right, while the left has an even more insidious view: either Vargas is an attention whore or he isn't using his celebrity enough in pursuing the goal of making this right for undocumented immigrants. Vargas, unfortunately, takes heat on both counts. The subtle subtext of Dear America is that in an America where white people hold so dearly to the privilege that they are unwilling to acknowledge, the "illegal immigrant" is a construct that helps to keep them down. The irony here is that privileged whites love to play the victim--what they learn is that when it comes to corporate interests in this country, white privilege will only get them so far--being arrogant, lazy, stupid or usually a combination of all three won't help those interests make more profits. What they don't realize is that when they find a job beneath them or too hard to do, that opens the door for the undocumented immigrant to step into the breach. Privileged whites don't want to work in the field picking cucumbers, nor do they wish to apply themselves and work in technology related fields. Vargas himself is a journalist, which also requires a level of skill that someone who thinks they are owed something just because of their white skin or penis just can't seem to fathom putting forth the effort to do. Vargas points out two facts in this regard--the the majority of undocumented immigrants are people who overstayed their visas, and that undocumented immigrants also contribute to the tax base and social security--things that, as undocumented immigrants, they have no access to, regardless of what the frothing anti-immigration demagogue would have you believe. At the end of the book, Vargas decides to visit "the Border" which has all the foreboding of something in a post-apocalyptic novel. I will not go into what he sees, but the fact of the matter, at the end of the book we learn that Jose Antonio Vargas is the wrong kind of undocumented immigrant--one that doesn't fit the narrative that our political leaders would have when it comes to immigration and borders. He's the living embodiment of what we're getting wrong about immigration--I just hope, like with Appalachia, it's a lesson I won't forget.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    A very humanizing look at immigration in the US, as well as the psychological effects of living in fear. In terms of writing, some of the chapters were better than others, however I would recommend this to anyone.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lainey

    Book 114. Dear America by @joseiswriting. This familiar story is heartbreaking. Mixed status families is all too familiar to me. Hearing how someone offered to marry him was also a very familiar moment. So many people fail to understand how hard it is to become a citizen. How there is no line to get in for children who were brought here and did not know what was going on. How it is a privilege to never have to worry about your citizenship. Thank you Jose for sharing your story.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    from my review submitted to Indie Next: The first thing you should know about this book is that it is not arsenal for current political debate. It is coincidentally a very timely memoir of a young Filipino boy sent to America as a child who remains unaware of his legal status until he became a teenager and attempted to get a driver's license. As he ages and continues to wrestle with what it means to be simultaneously American yet un-American, Vargas challenges the reader to "Define American" and from my review submitted to Indie Next: The first thing you should know about this book is that it is not arsenal for current political debate. It is coincidentally a very timely memoir of a young Filipino boy sent to America as a child who remains unaware of his legal status until he became a teenager and attempted to get a driver's license. As he ages and continues to wrestle with what it means to be simultaneously American yet un-American, Vargas challenges the reader to "Define American" and enlightens us on the condition of our bipartisan-broken immigration system. Dear America is a fascinating, eye-opening, important read I would recommend to everyone.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Georgette

    Excellent. Everyone in the United States should be reading this book in light of what's going on in this country.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    3.5 stars, rounded down because the last portion feels like Vargas lost his way and tried to be everything for everyone. His story is frustrating and sad and infuriating and you dont know whether to empathize with him (he had no hand in his arrival or his false papers) or excoriate him for all the lies. At the same time, it highlights the fact that the U.S. immigration system put him in this limbo once he found out. He's condemned to be a cipher in his own world. Worth a read and discussion.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Serina

    A must read for anyone who is a resident of the U.S., anyone interested in the U.S, and anyone who wants to claim some sense of understanding of the U.S.'s political stance on immigration. Vargas provides a new perspective as an undocumented Filipino immigrant and as a member of the LGBTQA community.

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