Undocumented, a conversation with Jose Antonio Vargas

What is a home? Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas wrote about what it was like not to have one in his new book, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.” In 2011, Vargas revealed that he was an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times magazine.

On his website, Vargas wrote, “This is not a book about the politics of immigration. This book is not about immigration at all. This book is about homelessness.”

Vargas will be making a stop at Scripps College for his book tour Sept. 26. Hosted by Scripps Presents, the event will be held in Balch Auditorium from 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Vargas will be discussing his book with Leslie Berestein Rojas, an award-winning journalist who reports on immigration issues.

Chicano Latino Student Affairs, who is co-sponsoring this event, wrote in an email to TSL that there will also be a student session before the event. Students will have the opportunity to ask Vargas questions and discuss relevant topics in a more intimate setting.

Corrina Lesser, the director of public events and community programs at Scripps, hopes this event will instill a new perspective in people attending, and create a space to reflect on a shared human experience.

She wrote in an email to TSL that the aim of Scripps Presents, “is to provide a forum to discuss the most pertinent and topical issues of our time.” The Public Events Advisory Committee, which consists of students, faculty, and staff, all agreed that immigration fell into this category.

Lesser believes that America is synonymous with immigration. She also wrote that, “Undocumented immigrants may be the focus in the 21st century, but it’s part of a much longer story. That’s why it’s so essential that we keep talking about it.”

Vargas’ story began when his mother sent him from the Philippines to go live with her parents in the United States at the age of 12. He was presented with a green card and legal documents by his grandfather.

However, upon trying to get his driver’s license when he was 16, Vargas was told that his green card was fake. Vargas’ grandfather later admitted that Vargas did not possess any legal documents in the United States.

During Vargas’ journalism career, he had to lie in order to get certain jobs. But he reached a point in his life where he had to make a decision: should he keep hiding from the government? Or should he start to live a full life?

Vargas decided the latter. He wanted to change the conversation on immigration. He realized that most people have no idea what immigration is really about.

“My goal is to get people to understand immigration,” Vargas said in a phone interview. “We are actually talking about people’s lives; we are actually talking about families. The conversation is way bigger than immigration reform.”

For the event, his objective is not to have a conversation about immigration reform nor about DACA. “The politics or policies of immigration doesn’t really reflect the reality of how human beings lived their lives,” he said.

Instead, Vargas wants to have a conversation on the mental health crisis that is happening to immigrants, which is the subject of his book. It was also a way for Vargas to understand his own mental state and the actual emotional cost that he experienced.

“It would be a missed opportunity for us not to host someone who has contributed so much to the way people are thinking and talking about immigration here in Claremont,” Lesser said.

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