Celebrated Journalist Comes Out as Undocumented Immigrant
Jose Antonio Vargas dropped a bombshell on the political and media worlds this morning when he acknowledged publicly that he is an illegal immigrant.
The journalist has done work for The New Yorker and The Washington Post, amongst other publications, and this week began a campaign to redefine what it means to be American.
His story, published on his new website as well as in The New York Times Magazine is worth the read, but below are some of the key graphs:
“One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver’s permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. ‘‘This is fake,’’ she whispered. ‘‘Don’t come back here again.’’
Confused and scared, I pedaled home and confronted Lolo. I remember him sitting in the garage, cutting coupons. I dropped my bike and ran over to him, showing him the green card. ‘‘Peke ba ito?’’ I asked in Tagalog. (‘‘Is this fake?’’) My grandparents were naturalized American citizens — he worked as a security guard, she as a food server — and they had begun supporting my mother and me financially when I was 3, after my father’s wandering eye and inability to properly provide for us led to my parents’ separation. Lolo was a proud man, and I saw the shame on his face as he told me he purchased the card, along with other fake documents, for me. ‘‘Don’t show it to other people,’’ he warned.
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.
I’ve tried. Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.
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.”
We can expect this one to garner lots of thoughtful coverage, not least because most of those writing about it will consider Vargas one of their own.