The “Most Famous Undocumented Immigrant” Tells His Story

Jose Antonio Vargas recognizes that he's often viewed as a voice for millions.

undocumented immigrant
Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas speaks onstage during "I Am An Immigrant: A Celebration Of Our Stories" a live performance celebrating immigrants and the immigrant heritage of the United States. (Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SOZE)
Vivien Killilea

Jose Antonio Vargas recently released his memoir, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, in an attempt to tell the story of his own life, while recognizing that he is often viewed as a voice for millions.

“I swallowed American culture before I learned how to chew it,” he says in the book, according to The Atlantic. At 16, Vargas discovered that he’d been smuggled from the Philippines into the United States, so, equipped with two different public-library cards, he feasted on newspapers, magazines, books, music, TV shows, and films that he hoped would teach him how to “pass as an American.”

At the time, Vargas was living in the Bay Area with fake residency documents. His mission was to acquire a citizen’s cultural fluency. His heightened attention to the powers of perspective heavily informs the book, which looks at the last 25 years of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s life, writes The Atlantic. Vargas notes that he’s often regarded as the “most famous undocumented immigrant in America” and this book is his first attempt to distinguish his private self from his public persona.

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