Loyola University Maryland

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Common Text Study Guide

Book Cover Picture of Dear America by Jose Antonio Vargas

Each year, Loyola chooses a Common Text for all first-year students to read before arriving on campus. During Fall Welcome Week, the Class of 2024 will convene and you will discuss this text with your academic advisor and your fellow students in your Messina group. It is important that you read the text with care and come prepared to discuss the ideas presented in this study guide. The Common Text is considered “common reading” and may be included in Messina course discussions, tests, or assignments. Messina will also sponsor events throughout the year to address themes raised in the text.  

INTRODUCTION

The Loyola University Strategic Plan, 2017-2022 describes Ignatian citizens as people who "think of themselves as part of something larger, as responsible for the betterment of our shared world…. who think and act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed.” As Ignatian Citizens living in the United States during a presidential election year, we must recognize that the electorate is polarized by a range of political, economic and humanitarian issues. Perhaps no other issue in the United States has been more of a touchstone for debate over the last century as immigration. To better understand the complexities of immigration, we have selected Jose Antonio Vargas’ Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen as the 2020 Loyola Common Text.

From Harper Collins Publishers:
Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen is an urgent, provocative and deeply personal account from Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who happens to be the most well-known undocumented immigrant in the United States. Born in the Philippines and brought to the U.S. illegally as a 12-year-old, Vargas hid in plain-sight for years, and went on to write for some of the most prestigious news organizations in the country while lying about where he came from and how he got here. After publicly admitting his undocumented status—risking his career and personal safety—Vargas has challenged the definition of what it means to be an American. Both a letter to and a window into Vargas’s America, Dear America is a transformative argument about migration and citizenship, and an intimate, searing exploration on what it means when the country you call your home doesn’t consider you one of its own.

ACCESSING THE BOOK

Students will receive an individual code for Dear America via e-mail on June 29, 2020.  You will redeem the code through the Glose Education website: https://glose.education/code.  

You are also encouraged to download the Glose Education app (not the Glose app) so that you can read the book on phones, Ipads and other e-reader devices. 

Please contact messina@loyola.edu if you are unable to access the e-book or require a different book format. Accommodations will be made upon request. 

PART I: LYING

  • Jose writes that Lolo’s definition of America was “something you wear, something you buy, something you eat […] It was consumption all around” (9). How do you think Lolo comes to understanding America this way?
  • Why is acceptance in school something important for Jose to achieve? What does it mean to him?
  • What is colorism? In what ways does colorism affect Jose growing up?
  • Jose learns the truth about his green card from Lolo. What are the ways in which learning the truth prompts Jose to question feelings of belonging, trust, and security he’s found in his life?

PART II: PASSING

  • How does the library help Jose create a “masked” identity?
  • What are some attitudes and behaviors Jose adopts to survive? Do you feel compartmentalizing his various relationships is extreme or is necessary to his day-to-day survival?
  • Jose writes, “If I was not considered an American because I didn’t have the right papers, then practicing journalism—writing in English, interviewing Americans, making sense of the people and places around me—was my way of writing myself into America” (58). How does writing create a way of being for Jose that makes him feel productive and like he belongs?
  • Jose writes about Toni Morrison’s idea of the master narrative, that the stories of those in power dominate the culture and make it harder for others to see themselves in the fabric of American culture. As a young adult, he saw America’s master narrative as being white or black, and that anything out of the margins of this view was not easily seen or understood by a mass audience. Do you think Jose’s story and that of others have changed the master narrative overtime? Do you face versions of a master narrative of American culture in your own life?
  • Throughout his life, various communities help Jose when he confides in them about his immigration status: from applying to college and receiving financial aid, to getting jobs, to, essentially, passing as an American citizen. Why do you think they help Jose and not report him or his family?
  • For his 30th birthday, Jose decides to introduce the various parts of his life to each other: his family, his friends, coworkers, and mentors. Why is uniting all the parts of himself so important to him?

PART III: HIDING

  • ICE tells him that they will not comment on his immigration case, even after he has publicly revealed his immigration status. If you made this call, what would you have preferred to hear? A verdict of impending deportation, or “no comment”?
  • Do you think Jose has made any peace with his mother’s decision to send him to America, knowing he would be in the United States illegally?
  • For a book that involves so much truth-telling, no matter how painful some memories are to bring up, Jose acknowledges that he didn’t want to learn the truth of why he was released from detention in McAllen, Texas after only 8 hours. In broad terms, he talks about the connections and help from which he may have benefited through actions and connections of his friends. Why do you think these circumstances and this truth were difficult for him to confront?
  • Jose discusses how national media has often used dehumanizing language of undocumented people. Do you think words matter in how Americans perceive immigrants?
  • Jose discusses how anti-immigrant hate groups have utilized media to mainstream their agenda using national cable networks. Should journalists work harder to verify the comments made by their sources? Do sources matter when discussing immigration by national news organizations?

REFLECTIONS ON IMMIGRATION, RACE AND AMERICA

  • America once prided itself on being “a nation of immigrants.” How has the national view of immigrants and immigration changed since the founding of the nation, and especially over the past fifty years, since the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act? Do you believe that America is (still) a nation of immigrants? Why or why not?
  • What does it mean to be an American? What makes an individual a citizen? Who should get to choose who is allowed to become an American and live here and who is not? In learning about Jose, is he any less an American than those who are born here? Why or why not?
  • Jose explains that the book is not about immigration, but about homelessness. How does he separate the two? What makes a place a home for someone? What does it mean not to have a home? Do you think you could endure living in limbo—choosing not to put down roots, moving from place to place, fearing that you will be arrested?
  • Jose touches on race in the book. Why is race a charged issue for Americans? Why do many Americans feel the need to identify foremost by race? How do race, nationality, and immigration influence each other?

RESOURCES

QUESTIONS

Contact the Messina Office at 410-617-2669 or by e-mail at messina@loyola.edu or visit www.loyola.edu/messina for a list of academic and support services available to Loyola students, including helping you make the transition to campus and college life.

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