Friday, March 2, 2012

Jose Antonio Vargas – The Restless Warrior

It was through the wonders of twitter that I found out that Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer award winner and immigration activist would have a Q&A at his former high school located in Mountain View, California (45 minutes south of San Francisco).

I could not hide how ecstatic I was to know that I would be able to be in the same room as Jose, whom I have been following on twitter for almost a year now. Jose Antonio Vargas recently “came out” as undocumented, and ever since doing so he has been working towards creating awareness towards the sensitive topic that is immigration. In the months that follow after his announcement as an undocumented American and with the help of friends, he created the website Define American.

I arrived at the High School auditorium anxious to get seated and excited because I would hopefully have the chance to meet Jose. I wanted to let him know what an honor it has been to follow his courageous battle with this whole immigration mess that our political leaders, and those affected have been debating. It was overwhelming to see the amount of followers, friends, former teachers, locals and curious who showed up to hear Jose discuss immigration.

Jose took to the podium and looked nervous; here he was back at his former HS, ready to speak about what is like being undocumented, ready to take questions from the audience and twitter. Perhaps his knowledge and personal tie to the subject would enlighten some who have a negative stance about immigration. His battle to bring awareness and understanding about the undocumented population who currently resides in the United States seems never ending.

Jose’s speech was heart-felt, sincere and brave; his story resonates with those kids and young adults, who like Jose have no legal status, but yet, belong in this country that they call home. Jose mentioned  how all these undocumented people contribute by paying towards social security, and because they lack a valid social security, the money gets into the “pool” of social security funds. They could have been working their entire life, and when it is time for them to retire, they will not see a dime from all of the money that has been deducted from their paychecks.

Another very valid point that Jose brought up was how a broken immigration system affects us all; cheap labor has been taken by undocumented people (agriculture, cleaning amongst others). If it were not for those people who are willing to work for very low wages and no benefits, there would be no successful agriculture or booming cleaning services in the United States - No American citizen would be willing to take on such jobs.

Jose spoke candidly about how his life turned around after he revealed his legal status. He lost his job, and his driver's license revoked. The very same journalist who has interviewed politicians and celebrities was now in the midst of covering the biggest story of his journalistic career, his life out of the shadows and how he could help others in his very same situation. Rich Fischer (who has become a father figure for Jose) asked why was it that he decided to reveal this very personal secret. Jose said that he had been following the stories of thousands of “dreamers” who have been traveling across the country fighting towards the approval of an immigration reform. He said that he felt like a coward for not joining the fight, with those who like him do not have a legal status.

He also asked from all of us, what would you do if you found out that someone you know is undocumented? If someone is undocumented, a friend, someone from church, your neighbor, a co-worker – would you think less of them? I answered the question in silence, an undocumented person who contributes to society, pays taxes, has good morals, contribute to make this a better world. Well, that person is not less or more an American than you or I. In my eyes, that is exactly what defines being an American.

The hour and forty five minutes that Jose spoke to the audience was not enough, there was so much more to be discussed, so many more questions to be answered. When the Q&A ended, he received a standing ovation, the love and admiration that the people in attendance felt for Jose were palpable. He is a local hero. Jose gave a heart-felt hug to Rich Fischer and waved to the audience. A lot of people stayed behind, wanting to tell him how much they admire him, wanting to take a picture, or simply (like a young man did) tell Jose that he was undocumented just like him.  Jose’s journey will take him to five states over the course of next week; his battle (and that of many) is just getting started.

If you have a question for Jose, email it to, and if you get a chance, visit Define American’s website and upload your video telling “How Do You Define American?
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