“Which box would you check? What have you done to earn your box?”
These are questions Jose Antonio Vargas, in his memoir, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, presents to the reader. At twelve years of age, he was flown from the Philippines to California to live with grandparents. At sixteen years of age, he found out, by accident, he was illegal. He’s been trying to make sense of his circumstances ever since that moment.
Our review isn’t really about Vargas’ book. It’s a “review” of immigration policies of this great nation of which Vargas points out most of us have little understanding. From Congress’s first legal action–The Naturalization Act of 1790, which gave people (free, white, of “good character”) living in the US for a minimum of two years the chance to apply for citizenship–to the proposed immigration plan Trump hopes to roll out in 2020, there have been waves of inclusion and waves of exclusion.
Consider Vargas’ questions, which we’ve used for this entry’s title. What has any of us done to earn her/his box? Reading through the US Immigration Timeline on History.com, we can clearly see that war and persecution and poverty are driving forces which encourage people to flee to the US. From all my (Michele) research in writing my book, there’s another apparent fact: People DON’T WANT TO FLEE their home countries; they yearn for peace in their home countries. The peace of another country is a second-best circumstance. Most refugees would prefer to return to their home countries–if peace were available there.
Both of us have read many immigration stories as we’ve been writing on this subject (Ninah, for her memoir; Michele with her writing with young adult refugees). All the narratives discuss horrors people have fled, then show us challenges they have had to overcome in the countries to which they fled. Seriously, does no one in Washington get this either?
Our review of this great nation and current immigration practices? The US leaves much to be desired. The general citizenry has yet to see each of us as deserving citizenship for the sole reason that each of us is a human being.
Michele & Ninah Nova
Note: If this were a review of Vargas’ memoir–five stars, plus then some. It’s a must-read for those who want to understand immigration by someone who has lived its effects and has a greater understanding than do most.