Living the American Dream — in Hiding

By | 2019-09-25 | including 1 item |
Jose Antonio Vargas comes from a family of gamblers, and in his new book, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” he’s upping the ante — or maybe, given the current executive’s predilection for travel bans and family separations, he’s going all in. Vargas recalls the enormous wager his family made 25 years ago, when his mother brought him to Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila and put him on a flight to California. He was 12 years old, and he would go to America first. Mama, as he calls her throughout his memoir, promised to follow. Twenty-five years later, Mama is still in the Philippines, and Jose is still in the United States — no longer based in Mountain View, Calif., where he was sent to live with his maternal grandparents, but traveling around the country as an activist filmmaker and a writer, without a fixed address where he might be apprehended. In 2011, he was a young journalist with an enviable résumé when he published an essay in The New York Times Magazine that revealed his undocumented status. Immigration lawyers warned him against going public; one called it “legal suicide.” In “Dear America,” Vargas writes that talking to lawyers “made me feel like I was carrying an incurable disease.” Filipinos living in the United States have a Tagalog term for the undocumented immigrants who go to their churches, live in their communities or reside in their homes: tago ng tago, “hiding and hiding” — T.N.T. for short, like a secret waiting to explode. Vargas’s grandparents, both of them naturalized citizens, expected him to keep hiding until he didn’t have to. The plan was for Jose to find under-the-table work, like cleaning bathrooms at the flea market, so he could save enough money to pay an American woman to marry him. Maybe, his grandmother hoped, he wouldn’t even need to pay anyone, because he would fall in love.