October 23, 2018

Documentary Recounts Journalist’s Immigration

Jose Antonio Vargas, the film director. Courtesy of MIT Media Lab.

By Vicki Franks ’20
Arts & Life Editor

Addressing a sensitive issue dominating the public sphere, the Social Work Student Advisory Committee (SWSAC) hosted a viewing of the film “Undocumented: a film by an undocumented American”.

The documentary told the story of Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and undocumented immigrant.

Originally from Manila, the capital of the Philippines, Vargas’s mother sent him to the United States illegally to live with his grandparents. Her hope, she said, was to give him a better life.

Vargas was unaware of his undocumented status until he tried to get his driver’s license at 16 years old. From then on, he lived in fear that someone might discover his secret. It was a secret he kept hidden until in 2011 he published an article in the New York Times titled “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.”

“I became a walking uncomfortable conversation,” Vargas said about the time surrounding the article coming out. Debates surrounding undocumented immigrants are just as heated now as they were in 2011.

The article sparked a movement which Vargas would called “Define American.” He became a leader in fighting for a secure path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as well as raising awareness for their cause.

“I had to join the fight,” Vargas said in the documentary. According to his statistics, there are currently around 11 million undocumented Americans living in the United States.

The SWSAC secured rights to the documentary last year. There were a number of factors as to why the club chose to show this video now. SWSAC member Gage McManus (‘20) shared that, “it is… a very interesting time and political climate to be exploring these questions [surrounding immigration]. It’s so important that we are informed and create our own informed views on these polarized issues. The current state of DACA and America’s immigration policies make this a very important issue to explore and we felt it was an opportune time to begin this dialogue.”

The members of SWSAC echoed this sentiment at the opening of the documentary viewing. Before the film began, senior member Elsie Johnson (‘18) reminded that audience that “we’re not here to force an opinion, just start a dialog.”

After the film, the audience was broken into small groups to discuss questions that had been handed out as people came in at the beginning of the event. Questions explored issues brought up in the film such as the difference between calling someone an “illegal alien” and an “undocumented American,” as well as what it means to be an American and what it means to be a Christian in relation to this topic.   

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