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Non-fiction Review: Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

Title: Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen
Author: Jose Antonio Vargas
Year Published: 2018

Genre: Adult non-fiction (memoir)
Pages: 230
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map): USA (TX, DC, CA, NY, OR, WA)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): 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.”

Review: I don't remember who recommended this book to me--perhaps someone in our Ethnic Studies cadre or another blogger--but thank you! I have been struggling to read ever since this pandemic broke out and this book flowed for me, captured my attention and interest, and I highly recommend it.

Jose Antonio Vargas is a journalist (Washington Post, New Yorker, Seattle Chronicle,  and others) so his writing is accessible, well-edited, and his chapters are short so it's easy to pick up and put down the book if necessary. Vargas' story is interesting as he moves through the three parts of this memoir: Lying, where he learns he is undocumented at 16; Passing, in which he lives as an "American" for over a decade, keeping his secret from even his closest friends; and Hiding, where he realizes he needs to be public about his situation and that of 11 million others in the US. 

Vargas doesn't ask that readers feel sorry for him, excuse his behavior/status, but rather that we understand how someone can end up as undocumented. He wants us to see that there is no avenue to get citizenship if one is undocumented, that all workers contributed to our economy without receiving many of its benefits. He wants us to see them as humans. And he does this with a story well-told.

To learn more about his work, check out Define America, the non-profit he formed.

Challenges for which this counts: 

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