Vargas’ book is...powerful ... But it’s also an engaging read, and a deeply moving memoir of coming of age with the odds stacked against you and not only forging a remarkable life for yourself, but becoming a voice for transformation and cultural change. In short, piercing chapters, Vargas transports us back to his childhood in the Philippines, and the morning his mother rushed him to the airport and said goodbye ... Dear America combines the best of the memoir genre with sociocultural commentary and a fierce commitment to awakening ... He deftly weaves together the personal and the political, and allows us into deeply painful, vulnerable moments that speak to a shared humanity, but also serve a larger story that desperately needs to be heard. He lays bare wrenching intimate details; traces the contours of personal triumphs; invites the reader to consider the facts; and exposes the holes and paradoxes in U.S. racial thinking and histories ... It’s to our great collective benefit that Vargas has brought such voice, uplift and vision to the pages of Dear America, for all to see.
The moments when Vargas describes how profoundly alienated he feels from his own family are the most candid and crushing parts of the book ... Dear America covers some of the same ground as Vargas’s essay for The Times Magazine, as well as his 2013 film, Documented. The weakest parts of the book have him proclaiming a humble altruism that simply doesn’t jibe with the more complicated (and, frankly, more interesting) person he otherwise reveals himself to be ... It was brave for him to come forward as he did, but the motivations for putting one’s name to such an attention-getting, incendiary article are rarely so selfless and pristine. For one thing, by making himself so visible he was not only notifying the authorities of his existence; he was also gaining a form of protection by making himself known. This isn’t to begrudge him any of it. Dear America is a potent rejoinder to those who tell Vargas he’s supposed to 'get in line' for citizenship, as if there were a line instead of a confounding jumble of vague statutes and executive orders—not to mention the life-upending prospect of getting deported to a country he barely remembers.
Dear America serves as the most comprehensive follow-up to three works in particular: Vargas’s 2011 New York Times Magazine essay, 'My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant'; his 2012 Time cover story, 'Not Legal Not Leaving'; and his 2013 film, Documented. More notably, the book is Vargas’s first long-form piece of writing that tries, through the use of vignettes, to distinguish his private self from his public persona ... The book seems to follow in the footsteps of Vargas’s literary idol James Baldwin ... The memoir form, however, allows for pockets of fresh details ... Vargas’s candid prose is inviting to readers who are new to his story, as well as to those who might be unfamiliar with the complexities of U.S. immigration policy ... Vargas’s attempt to answer all relevant questions...is where the book gets bogged down. The memoir, as it veers into reportage, loses Vargas in the multitudes. His justified exhaustion at having to continually explain his and others’ predicaments to people across the political spectrum is palpable ... Dear America is significant for its expression of individual difference within the overlapping experiences of undocumented people.
Dear America, is a clarion call for humanity in a time of unprecedented focus on the 11 million people living in America without a clear path to citizenship. Vargas writes passionately about the undeniable intersection between race, class and immigration and traces the bitter history of American immigration policy. He speaks on behalf of our neighbors, our colleagues, those undocumented humans we interact with every day—often unknowingly—who are part of our community while always standing on the outside.
Although this book mimics a straightforward memoir, it is couched in questions vital for every reader’s consideration: Who 'deserves' citizenship? Why is migration considered historically courageous for white people but a crime for people of color? ... Vargas’ frank and fearless voice thoughtfully and intentionally challenges readers to confront the call for action at the heart of this book: the urgent need for 'a new language around migration and the meaning of citizenship.'
Dear America, is a sweeping, well-researched story of the plight of undocumented immigrants like Vargas, who work, pay taxes, form families, and live for years in America fearful of deportation ... Vargas' eloquent and emotional narrative in Dear America makes the larger immigrant story personal and relevant. It is a tale of courage, persistence, and candor. It reveals the author's confusion and frustration for the plight of others who live an invisible existence, while longing to contribute to a country that provides no legal access to citizenship ... Elegantly persuasive, Vargas calls for a new language around immigration and the meaning of citizenship. He speaks as one man for many.
While Vargas tells his story with great emotion and feeling, he also carefully illustrates how our immigration policy works and how undocumented people live ... Eleven million of our neighbors, co-workers, church members and schoolmates are living with the terror and loneliness that Vargas describes so vividly. Isn’t it time our elected officials reflected and acted upon the will and wisdom of the American people?
Those opposed to immigration, illegal and legal, will dismiss his pleas, and those for it will share his indignation. Of more interest to readers on the middle ground, if there are any, is the author’s account of how few and technically complex the supposed paths for legal immigration are these days—and how easy it is to be deported ... An unusual firsthand report from the immigration wars.