Secret Americans: The Uncomfortable Conversation on Immigration

Esmy Jimenez

Type the word ‘immigration’ into a mere search engine and national headlines appear. As of late, it seems to be the hot topic for politicians and the public alike. On Wednesday February 27th, USC had the opportunity to learn about the controversial conversation as renowned journalist Jose Antonio Vargas visited and spoke about his personal experience as an undocumented immigrant.

Brought to America from the Philippines at the age of 12, Vargas was not aware of his legal status until he attempted to get his driver’s license. Turned away and told to never return, a 16-year-old Vargas turned to writing. With the help of his high school, he secured a private scholarship and went on to attend San Francisco State University, interning for newspapers like The Washington Post during the summer. After nearly a decade of coverage on subjects ranging from the AIDS epidemic to video game development and even the Presidential elections, Vargas and his team were awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for their coverage on the Virginia Tech shooting.

It wasn’t until 2011, however, that Jose Antonio Vargas was honest about his status and ‘came out’ using The New York Times as his platform. Determined to create a discussion from the mess that is immigration, he also started Define American, a non-profit project aimed at furthering the conversation on the different aspects of immigration. During his speech he hit upon the economic benefits of passing comprehensive immigration reform while also explaining many common misconceptions surrounding the topic like the idea that undocumented immigrants do not pay taxes and are a burden on the economy.

Vargas also reached out to the IDEAS club on campus (the Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success Movement focused on creating a safe space for allies and undocumented students while promoting immigration reform), urging them to reach out to other student organizations like the Black and Latino Student Assemblies, the Asian Pacific Student Alliance and the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation to form a relationship between different organizations.

Through unity, he urged, a greater impact and a greater movement would be formed. Rather than think of the issue as a Mexico-US border dispute, he explained this affected more than just the stereotypical ‘brown’ immigrants. With estimates of nearly 1 million Asian Pacific undocumented immigrants and even 300,000 undocumented Europeans, Jose Antonio Vargas explained that immigration was a universal issue affecting us all whether directly or indirectly as consumers, tax payers and simple human beings.

“I’m an American. I’m just waiting for my country to recognize it.” Vargas ended. As the crowd erupted into cheers, we all imagined a stronger, more unified America. Now more than ever, we all need to have the uncomfortable conversation and let our secret Americans come forth and join us in the light.


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