Pulitzer Prize-Winning Writer to Talk About Being Undocumented

Jose Antonio Vargas

Jose Antonio Vargas

Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas spent more than a decade of reporting the “truth” for some of the nation’s most prestigious news organizations, despite the fact that he himself was living a lie. Unbeknownst to his colleagues, Vargas was an undocumented immigrant.

Vargas will share his story—of moving to the United States as a child, learning that he was here illegally as a teen and hiding his status as he launched a successful journalism career—with students at California State University, Northridge on Tuesday, Feb. 26. His presentation, “Define American,” is scheduled to take place at 4 p.m. in the Northridge Center of the University Student Union on the east side of the campus off Zelzah Avenue.

“Jose’s story is one of courage and perseverance,” said Shannon Krajewski, associate director of marketing and programs for CSUN’s University Student Union. “We are so honored to have him here at CSUN and know that this will spark more conversations about immigration in this country.”

Since coming out as an undocumented immigrant in 2011, Vargas has lead the “Define American” campaign to draw attention to the issue of immigration.

“Our immigration system is broken and fixing it requires a conversation that’s bigger and more effective than the one that we’ve become accustomed to,” Vargas said. “Our request is simple: Let’s talk.”

Born in the Philippines, Vargas’ mother sent him as a young child to live with his grandparents in California in the hope of a better life for her son. Vargas believed he was here legally and immersed himself in American culture. He was startled to discover at age 16 that his green card was a fake. He realized he would have to hide his status to avoid deportation and to be able to pursue his dream of a career in journalism.

Vargas succeeded. Over the years, he has written for some of the nation’s leading media organizations, including the Philadelphia Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle, The New Yorker, Huffington Post, Rolling Stone and The New York Times Magazine. He was part of the Washington Post team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the massacre at Virginia Tech. His 2006 series for the Washington Post on HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C. inspired a feature-length documentary, “The Other City,” which he co-produced and wrote. The documentary premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and aired on Showtime.

Despite his accomplishments, Vargas’ status haunted him. In the summer of 2011, 18 years after he arrived in the United States, Vargas confessed his situation in an essay he wrote for The New York Times Magazine, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.”

Vargas today runs Define American, a nonprofit organization that seeks to elevate the conversation around immigration.

For more information about Vargas’ presentation, call (818) 677-4171 or visit the website http://usu.csun.edu.

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