In A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves (Viking, Aug.), journalist DeParle follows a family from the Philippines as its members are scattered to multiple continents by economic pressure.
The book is a multigenerational saga about family ties and life in an age of global migration. What was it about Rosalie’s story that made you decide to place it at the book’s heart?
I’d been reporting on poverty for almost four decades, and I’d never seen anyone who has so decisively escaped poverty as she has. She was born in a one-room shanty without running water, and the story ends with her buying a house outside of Houston. The transformation in her life is profound, and I got to witness it as it unfolded for 30 years, having met her when she was a shy 15-year-old schoolgirl. The most remarkable
thing about Rosalie’s high school transcript wasn’t her grades—they were Cs and Bs—but that during high school she was facing not only poverty but a political revolution in her country, and she never missed a day of school. But she’s a very approachable hero, I think—she got into a lot of credit card debt when she was first in Abu Dhabi, and it took her 20 years to get the visa to the U.S.—because it’s not that she’s immune to discouragement or bad judgment; it’s that she always found, in time, the way to overcome that.
Migration and asylum have become hot-button political issues in the past few years. How do you think that a reader, a politician, or an everyday person might approach these topics differently, having read your book?
I didn’t write the book to champion a view, pro or con, of immigration. I wrote it because I was fascinated with the family and I wanted to portray their experience. So I hope readers get a nuanced sense of what migrants’ lives are like: what they go through, the pains, joys, sacrifices. What I personally took away from it is that immigration is actually working better than we give it credit for. When I was growing up, Houston was a rodeo and honky-tonk town. And now it’s got Hindu temples rising in the suburbs, and it’s the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the country, bar none, greater than New York or L.A. And it’s all happened quite noncontroversially; Houston is a pro-immigrant place. They have NASA, huge medical complexes, the oil industry; they want immigrant engineers, health care workers, and so on. We’ve incorporated more people from more places more successfully than I think we would have guessed 50 years ago. The politics of immigration is certainly broken, and there are a lot of problems remaining, but I think that immigration at the community level, at the human level, is working.