“Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen”: The Raw, Unapologetic Candor of Jose Antonio Vargas

The journalist and activist explores the meaning of home, internal identity struggles and the power of speaking up in new memoir “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen”

Two things happened to Jose Antonio Vargas after Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States of America.

First, he found himself without a permanent residence. On the day after the election, on Nov. 9, 2016, Vargas was living in an upscale apartment building in Downtown Los Angeles. The building’s manager, with whom Vargas had a friendly acquaintance, texted him saying “I’m not sure what we could do if you showed back up here,” suggesting the likelihood that Vargas would be apprehended under Trump’s stringent immigration reforms.

“[James] Baldwin once said, ‘All safety is an illusion,’ and that never felt more real than that day,” Vargas told this writer in a recent phone interview. Vargas proceeded to move out of that apartment building.

The second thing that happened was a sudden flood of emails, tweets and messages from young, undocumented immigrants to Vargas, who for the last decade has become a reverberating voice in the fight for immigration reform and immigrants’ rights.

Across the country, the undocumented community feared for their futures in the U.S. and turned to the strong-willed, defying voice that Vargas lent in the national dialogue on these issues, and the 37-year-old writer and activist wanted to deliver in the form of a book.

Originally, he had planned on an issue-based book of the global impact of immigration policy, but his editor, instead, asked him to list out the top 10 most painful experiences of his life, “all of which had to do with lying, passing or hiding,” Vargas said in the interview.

This became the foundation of his newly-released first book, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” a powerful, unmitigated memoir which has less to do with immigration policy and the politics surrounding it, but more to do with the psychological and emotional implications of living in America as an undocumented person.

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