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I am an American without Papers: Jose Antonio Vargas Credit: Tiffany Pham , Tiffany Pham

Jose Antonio Vargas is out to redefine what it means to be American.

On Monday, the Penn Philippine Association, Penn for Immigrant Rights, Social Planning and Events Committee Connaissance, Queer People of Color and Penn Queer and Asian hosted “I am an American Without Papers,” a talk by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas, who recounted his immigration to the United States and discussed questions of undocumented immigration and race.

Vargas was born in the Philippines and was sent by his mother to live with his grandparents illegally when he was 12 years old. He kept his immigration status a secret until 2011 when, against the advice of around 30 lawyers, he wrote an essay in the New York Times about the lengths he was forced to go to over the years to stay in the U.S.

On June 25, 2012 he wrote a follow-up article in Time Magazine called “Not Legal, Not Leaving” in response to the lack of response to his public “coming out” from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is responsible for deporting illegal immigrants.

“Now I’m un-deportable,” Vargas said. But for the last three years, he has dedicated his career to raising awareness about undocumented Americans and “taking immigration out of this Mexico-Latino box that we’ve placed it in,” he said.

He founded Define American in 2011, which he defined as a “media and culture organization that changes how we talk about race and citizenship in a changing America.”

In 2014, Vargas wrote, produced and directed “Documented,” a documentary which was broadcasted by CNN Films.

“We look for a diverse variety of speakers and we look to disrupt the discourse on campus,” College senior and Director of SPEC Connaissance Gabriel Jimenez said regarding the decision to bring Vargas to campus.

President of the Penn Philippine Association and College senior Kanad Ghosh added that Vargas “really represents such a rich intersection of queer, Asian-American and undocumented, making him a powerful voice.”

“It’s really important to engage young people,” Vargas said of deciding to speak at college campuses. He stated that he wants to create a culture of awareness about immigration rights, just like the developing culture of LBGT awareness that has led to Gay-Straight Alliances in high schools.

Next month, Vargas will begin filming a documentary for MTV about what it means to be young and white in America, and will travel to 10 — so far undecided — college campuses across the country to interview students.

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