In 2011, Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning filmmaker and journalist, made a risky decision—he came out as an undocumented immigrant.
He made this decision not only to liberate himself, but also use his status in media to make an impact on the immigration debate.
“I am really tired of being the minority, and I would argue that there is a new majority, a new mainstream. All of these people that we think are minority are moving together into a mainstream,” Vargas said.
Vargas spoke April 13 at Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library 230 about this and other immigration issues in the United States.
Vargas talked about his bitter, personal experience as an undocumented Filipino immigrant living in the U.S. and how the country is unable to deal with its changing demographics.
“I fly all over the country to remind people that immigration is far more complicated than ‘illegal’ in our minds and the U.S.-Mexican border,” Vargas said.
Vargas not only writes for publications like The New Yorker and Rolling Stone, but also founded Define American, a non-profit media and cultural organization, and #EmergingUS, a multimedia news platform. He also made a documentary called “White People,” later nominated for a Daytime Emmy.
With #EmergingUS created earlier this year, the outlet provides essays, photos and videos on race, immigration and the complexity of multi-culturalism. Vargas hoped this would unite and represent racial and cultural groups to change the media’s language on race.
“I can’t talk to you about immigrants’ rights and not talk about women’s rights, LGBT rights, Black Lives Matter and income inequality among all races,” he said. “The media doesn’t do that, so I decided to start my own media company.”
But Vargas also noted the power of the youth in changing perspectives on immigrants.
“Nothing changes in this country unless young people are involved,” he said. “When it comes to immigration, I don’t think we have really engaged young people.”
The 2016 presidential election was also on Vargas’ mind. Despite feeling that immigration as an issue is becoming too political, Vargas praised the efforts of undocumented immigrations in campaigns, including Erika Andiola, the outreach director for the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Vargas said. “It’s a testament to the growing power of the undocumented community.”
Vargas viewed Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican Party, as a person evoking activism among people.
“I’m actually grateful that Donald Trump is showing us that,” Vargas said. “If he makes you uncomfortable, say it. If you think it’s unacceptable, say it. Silence is no longer an option, and it’s important that everybody speak out.”
Vargas concluded his talk by talking about citizenship in the U.S. and his view of it.
“I am here illegally, without authorization, but I, as a person, am not illegal,” Vargas said. “I am already in America. I don’t need the piece of paper, the passport to tell me that. I am just waiting for my own country to recognize it.”
Raquel Matias, a senior majoring in mathematics and president of the DREAM Team, felt that Vargas helped bring more attention to undocumented immigrants.
“Sometimes, if the situation doesn’t affect college students, they won’t be interested. If they aren’t interested, they won’t use their power on behalf of the undocumented community,” Matias said.