I was honored and excited to interview José Antonio Vargas about his memoir, Dear America for CSPAN's book TV. We seem to be in a golden age of excellent memoirs by activists and organizers from all walks of life, which makes me very happy.
A writing teacher once told me that autobiography is about famous, unusual people, but memoir is about everyday people and often about very ordinary things. The main thing a great memoir should do is help the reader feel less alone. José is an excellent writer, and the book is crisply written and easily understood. But it is also a remarkably close look at the life of an undocumented child immigrant who grew up and did good things. Even though some of those doings were quite remarkable, for example writing a Pulitzer Prize winning story for the Washington Post, Dear America reflects so many of the ordinary experiences in the lives of people who don't have papers. We see how much José relied on the kindness of other ordinary people, and the hard emotional toll of lying, passing and hiding every day of your life.
During our interview, I spoke to José about what it's like not to see his mother for 30 years, the people who helped him while he was a teenager, what immigrants owe Black communities and his writing process, among other things. We packed it in. Take a look at the whole interview and please share.