Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Jose Antonio Vargas. A Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Vargas recently outed himself as an undocumented immigrant. You probably recognize Vargas’ name; he was a former reporter for The Washington Post and shared a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.
TSM has addressed the issues of inequities before in how we treat undocumented youth. Vargas came to the United States as a young boy from the Philippines. At age 16, Vargas realized, quite by accident, that the documentation he had been given by his grandfather (green card) was fake. Not wanting to hurt or betray his grandfather:
I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it…But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.
Vargas started working on what would be an amazing career at Mountain View High School, joining the choir and the speech and debate team while keeping the secret that his social security card was a fake and photocopied at the local Kinkos. Being an undocumented immigrant was not the only secret Vargas was carrying:
Later that school year, my history class watched a documentary on Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco city official who was assassinated. This was 1999, just six months after Matthew Shepard’s body was found tied to a fence in Wyoming. During the discussion, I raised my hand and said something like: “I’m sorry Harvey Milk got killed for being gay. . . . I’ve been meaning to say this. . . . I’m gay.”
Being openly gay just added to the enormity of being in the country without documentation. He was unable to accept an internship with the Seattle Times and endured a struggle to work within the system and lawyers to make him a citizen all to find out, “My only solution, the lawyer said, was to go back to the Philippines and accept a 10-year ban before I could apply to return legally.” Consequently, Vargas decided to keep under the radar and continue to pursue a career in journalism.
Finally, after acquiring the needed documentation, Vargas was able to secure a position with the Washington Post. I celebrate Vargas today as a part of LGBTQ History month for his courage and perseverance. He told NPR that refused to marry a woman so that he could stay in the country legally, “Living with one lie is enough.” I will be eagerly awaiting to see what happens to Jose Antonio Vargas. Click here to read the NYT Article.