Dear America: The Story of an Undocumented Citizen: Young Readers' Edition

Book review by
Maria Peña, Common Sense Media
Dear America: The Story of an Undocumented Citizen: Young Readers' Edition Book Poster Image
Gripping biography of undocumented prize-winning journalist.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The reader gets an honest and vivid account of what it's like to grow up in the United States as an undocumented immigrant. The book opens the door to understanding immigrants: who they really are, the circumstances of their arrival, how they see themselves as part of the fabric of American, how they're contributing members of society. It also makes readers think about what we could do to help them, as well as the ramifications of current immigration laws and policies.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about an immigrant's love for his adopted country, strong family bonds and friendships, hope and success in spite of adversity. You can face the fear of deportation with with bravery. You can give a voice to a significant part of a population that lives in the shadows. Education is a key to moving forward.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jose Antonio Vargas tells an honest story of arriving in the United States as a young boy who doesn't know the language. His mother loved him very much and wanted to give him a better future by sending him to the United States. His family in California is close and lives in a supportive, tight-knit community. He immerses himself in his education so he can fit in as soon as possible. The teachers he encounters are positive and supportive. Friends step up to be mentors and provide financial support so he can go to college. He emerges from his fear of living a double life to become a prominent, outspoken, award-winning journalist, filmmaker, and activist. 

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dear America: Young Readers’ Edition: The Story of an Undocumented Citizen, by Pulitzer Prize-Winning author and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, is a personal account of the circumstances of his arrival to the United States as an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines when he was 12 years old. His mother sent him to live with her parents in Northern California so he could have a better life and live the "American dream." When Jose Antonio came to the United States, he didn't know that he had been sent illegally until the day he applied for a driver's license learner’s permit. From that moment on, having learned the truth of his undocumented status, he kept his immigration status secret, living what he calls a double life and hiding in plain sight until one day he decides to face his fears and tell his truth. Jose vividly describes how, despite being an undocumented immigrant, he calls himself a “citizen” of the United States because he feels like one, he loves this country, and he wants to be a part of it. But he has no legal documents to help him do that. Jose Antonio Vargas is a journalist, filmmaker, and immigration rights activist, and has worked and written for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, Time magazine and more.

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What's the story?

IN DEAR AMERICA: YOUNG READERS' EDITION: THE STORY OF AN UNDOCUMENTED CITIZEN, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas tells his story of how, when he was only 12 years old, was brought to the United States from the Philippines to live with his grandparents without the knowledge that he was sent to the U.S. illegally. The author tells a touching and important story of what it is to be an undocumented immigrant, about the struggles, the fear of living in hiding and a double life.

Is it any good?

Jose Antonio's story is honest and poignant. His story represents the same trials and tribulations of countless undocumented immigrants living in this country from all over the world, shedding light on one of the most current and relevant issues in United States. The author, through his personal experiences, seeks to educate the public about who undocumented immigrants really are, the circumstances of how they got here, their contributions to our society, and to find out how to help them.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what  it mans to be undocumented immigrants in Dear America:  Do you know anyone who's undocumented? How would you react if a close friend revealed being in the country illegally?

  • What does it mean to be an American? Does being undocumented make you less of a citizen that Americans who were born here or who earned legal citizenship? 

  • Immigrants contribute to society in many ways. What do you consider to be their greatest contributions? Do you think U.S. immigration laws are fair?

Book details

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