Jose Antonio's Open Road

  • INTERVIEWED BY:

    Dreamers

  • INTERVIEW LOCATION:

    Los Angeles, CA

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS

Journalist / Activist / Founder
Define American

“Once I start being afraid, then I’ve lost whatever power I had.”

INTERESTS:

Journalism Non-Profit Organizations

THEMES DISCUSSED:

Community Societal Pressures Struggle Individualism Support & Encouragement Culture Fear Negativity Education Fulfillment Experience Desire Passion Self-Reflection Success

FOUNDATION:

Communicating / Sharing Stories

TAGS:

assumptions, authentic, being yourself, change, connection, controversy, expectations, identity, immigration, journalism, judgement, knowledge, leadership, nonprofit, Philanthropy, political issues, responsibilities, sharing stories, skills, undocumented

BIOGRAPHY:

  • Immigrated to America from the Philippines at the age of 12; his parents sent him on a plane with a coyote (or, illegal smuggler) to go live with his grandparents in Northern California.
  • He didn’t realize he was in the country illegally until he attempted to get a driver’s license at age 16 and realized he didn’t have the correct paperwork.
  • One of his teachers introduced him to journalism and he began interning at a local paper called the Mountain View Voice; after that, he got an entry-level job at the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • Despite his lack of papers, he managed to get through college at San Francisco State University, majoring in political science and Black Studies.
  • His contributions to the Washington Post’s coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting won him and his colleagues the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.
  • But as he rose through the ranks of the world of journalism, he always felt like he was running from something; he ultimately decided to pen a piece called “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.”
  • His story was widely covered by national news outlets, as he was one of the most high-profile people ever to publicly come out as an undocumented citizen.
  • Decided to found Define American—a nonprofit built around sharing immigrant stories—so he could “take immigration out the box people put it in, make it accessible, and make it human.”

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