Pulitzer-prize winning Jose Antonio Vargas spoke at Georgia State University about his life as a working journalist and undocumented immigrant, highlighting the protests organized by undocumented students on the Georgia State campus earlier this month.
Vargas’ impassioned speech was centered upon the frustration of life in the United States as an undocumented immigrant and how he spent his whole life struggling with the concept that he did not “fit the narrative” people expected; the narrative being the negative image America has of undocumented immigrants today.
“As far as I’m concerned there are three questions that every American, documented or undocumented, must answer: Where did you come from? How did you get here? Who paid? … If you can’t answer those questions, then you can’t talk to me about being a criminal,” Vargas said.
Vargas mentioned the protest-turned-sit-in that happened on campus organized by students of Freedom University many times in his speech. According to a report by Georgia State’s newspaper, The Signal, these protests were not only an effort to gain recognition of the issue from Georgia State University President Mark Becker, but to bring more attention to the issue from the public as well.
Students from Freedom University who were at the event stood during the Q&A and thanked Vargas for his support during the sit-in and for posting bail money in response to eight of the protesters being arrested.
Despite his struggle with his identity, Vargas continued on to be a successful journalist. He said he ignored what every lawyer told him not to do and published an essay in The New York Times in which he revealed to the world that he was an undocumented immigrant. Out of all the responses Vargas prepared for when releasing the story, the one he didn’t expect was no response at all.
Even when he went as far as to call The Department of Homeland Security himself, the only comment he received was that they had no comment.
“They talk about us all day on television, but they don’t want to talk to us,” Vargas said.
Since then, Vargas has been the voice of the silenced. He shared bits and pieces of his numerous impressive projects to break down stereotypes against not just undocumented immigrants, but people of color as well. This is shown in the clips he presented from his project with MTV, a movie called “White People,” which dove into issues such as racism and white privilege.
His other project, called EmergingUS, is described on the official website as “a historic crowdfunding campaign to power a new media that reflects America’s diversity.” Vargas said the project was inspired by one of his favorite quotes from James Baldwin: “You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not its idea of you.”
According to the video shown during the event, which is also linked below, the campaign works to shed light on the wide spectrum of people in America. How do they identify? What are the stereotypes they struggle to overcome? It focuses on “us.” He encouraged students to get involved in the project, since they are offering paid internships.
Vargas’ projects mentioned in this article can be found here:
The article mentioned from Georgia State’s student newspaper The Signal can be found here:
Written: February 24, 2016
Feature image: Business Wire