Jose Antonio Vargas, critically-acclaimed author and winner of the Pulitzer prize, began his lecture at the Washtenaw Reads event put on by Ann Arbor District’s Library this past week by saying, “If you want to call ICE on me, please wait ‘til after the lecture.” The annual event in Michigan is designed to “promote reading and civic dialogue through the shared experience of reading and discussing a common book.”

Vargas has been increasingly present in the public eye since 2011, when he–against advice from 26 immigration lawyers–opened up about his immigration status on the New York Times’ front cover. Featured at the 2020 Washtenaw Reads event, his book, “Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” tells of Vargas’ discovery of being in the US illegally. He was brought here from the Philippines to live with his grandparents when he was 12, not realizing that his green card was fake until he applied for a driver’s permit four years later. Throughout his story, Vargas reflects on how 20+ years later, he is still living in America illegally, with no clear path to citizenship.

Vargas would not define his book as being about the “politics of immigration,” but instead the “unsettled, unmoored psychological state in which undocumented immigrant find themselves…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 what it means to not have a home.”

During the event, Vargas spoke of his personal experience as well as the nonprofit group he started, Define American. “We are the stories we tell,” Vargas said, a mindset he keeps throughout each of his experiences. As the event came to a close, Vargas finally reflected on freedom, and what it means to undocumented immigrants in the United States.  Before ending, he left the audience with several questions: “What are you willing to do? What are you willing to risk? If the freedom that we, as human beings enjoy can’t come from this government, then in some ways it has to come from you.” His nationally acclaimed book is available online and in stores.

Sources: Washtenaw Voices 02/11/2020; Washtenaw Reads 2020; Michigan Live 01/30/2020; Amazon 2020

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