Should Jose Antonio Vargas Have Come Out of the Immigration Closet?

6 years ago

The first time I met Pulitzer Prize-winner Jose Antonio Vargas, I was reminded of my sons. "Jose's such a Californian," I thought, listening to his enthusiastic and constant commentary at a bookstore near The Huffington Post's old offices in downtown Manhattan. He was putting together a tech section for HuffPo, so we started talking shop about BlogHer's publishing model for paying writers, and Jose's interest in the voices of geeks who also happen to be mothers. He listened hard. And then Jose talked emotionally about his grandma, hislola, and how much he loved her, and how he would do anything, anything for her, because she raised him after he left the Philippines, and I was a goner.

Last week Jose came out of the closet as an "undocumented immigrant." Typical of this guy, who chased his Pulitzer with an award-winning documentary on HIV/AIDS, he published his story in The New York Times Magazine while simultaneously launching a site, Define American. On the site, his NYT byline is paired with a video he recorded to share how he learned as a child that he was not in the United States legally, how he confronted his grandparents, and the double life he's lived since high school as a result.

At the end of the video, Jose asks:;

"What would you do if you were a high school principal and you found out that one of your students couldn't apply for financial aid?"

"What would you do if your child's best friend didn't have papers?"

He's going for it: The site is a project of the Tides Center, a nonprofit that has supported projects ranging from Eve Ensler's V-Day to the Pew Internet and American Life project. Note the donation button - this is a movement.

What do I think? Well, you know me: First, my inner journalist and media strategist thought, "Jose may win more than one Pulitzer in his lifetime." The "Define American" site is gorgeous, the video production values incredible, the name moving, the tone appropriate, and indeed I think Jose Antonio Vargas will help define the immigration issue and become an oft-mentioned case study in the 2012 presidential election. The guy's got genius.

What I thought second? I have to say, I am completely undone by his questions about children and immigration -- the ultimate in powerlessness and the leading victims in this issue, undocumented children are in a devastating position and I saw it weekly as a reporter in California in the 1990s. I think I'd do anything to help if one of my son's friends came to me, because I don't think this country has an effective solution for children in the position Jose was in.

What does this mean for Jose the man, instead of Jose the child? I'm still digging into Julie Godar's terrific round-up of blogger reactions to this story -- some are furious and see Jose as an "illegal alien." Others praise him as courageous for taking a personal and potentially dangerous stand on an issue that stands to be huge again in the 2012 presidential election.

What do you think? I'd love to know here or here on Julie's post. Thanks.

Lisa Stone, BlogHer Co-founder

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