Author shadows immigrant Filipino family from Manila to Texas

A book about the ‘movement of people from poor to rich countries.’

In a work that gives new meaning to immersion journalism, Jason DeParle, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and veteran New York Times reporter, has spent a remarkable three decades following an extended family of Filipino immigrants, from the slums of Manila to the suburbs of Houston. Through their multigenerational saga, he tells in his latest book, “A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century,” the larger story of global migration, a force remaking economics, politics, and culture across the world.

As a young reporter in the 1980s, DeParle moved in with the family in a Manila shantytown and he has tracked their migrations ever since—to Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, as cruise ship workers, and finally to Texas.

At the heart of the story is an unlikely heroine, Rosalie Villanueva, whose sacrifices rescue the clan from abject poverty. A 15-year-old school girl when DeParle met her, she is now a 47-year-old nurse and mother of three Americanizing kids.

While the politics of immigration are broken, DeParle shows that immigration itself remains an under-appreciated American success. Weaving narrative and analysis, DeParle reports on migration from places as far flung as Ireland, Cape Verde, and Nepal, and traces its impact on events as disparate as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

In the vast literature on immigration, DeParle’s book stands alone. It is neither a knee-jerk defense of immigration or attack on it, but a deeply humanized portrait of its costs and rewards—much like his acclaimed poverty book, “American Dream.” Like the work of Alex Kotlowitz or Katherine Boo, it is a non-fiction novel with much to teach the expert and novice alike.

New York Times reporter Jason DeParle. Photo: Diana Walker

“A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves”explodes immigration stereotypes such as:

  • Immigrants are often portrayed as Latino; the majority of people now arriving in the U.S. are Asian, like Rosalie.
  • A migrant worker is often understood to be a man, but the majority of immigrants are women—and often mothers who are forced to leave their children behind, as Rosalie
  • Technology is an increasingly vital part of the immigration story. To stay in touch with their children, Rosalie, along with her cousin Tess, become Facebook Moms—mothering from thousands of miles away.
  • While illegal immigration dominates the news, three-quarters of immigrants, like Rosalie, are here legally.
  • Critics often say that immigrants no longer want to assimilate, but Rosalie’s family assimilates at break-neck speed, achieving in three years what once took three generations. DeParle followed them on a near-daily basis—shadowing Rosalie in the hospital and the kids at school.
  • While migration is often thought of as an individual decision, the Philippine government promotes migration as a solution to thecountry’s poverty—and now reaps $32 billion a year in remittances.
  • The Philippines supplies a quarter of the world’s seafarers, including Rosalie’s relative, Manu, who suffers a life-threatening injury that illuminates the erosion of worker’s rights in an age of globalized labor.

“This is epic reporting, nonfiction on a whole other level,” says Pulitzer Prize winner Matthew Desmond. “One of the nation’s most committed immersive journalists, Jason DeParle, spent 30 years with a single family whose lives were defined by immigration, traveling to several countries and seeing children grow up and have children of their own. No matter your politics or home country, ‘A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves’ will change how you think about the movement of people between poor and rich countries. Intimate narratives entwine with sweeping, global accounts to produce one of the best books on immigration written in a generation” – Penguin Random House

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