Pulitzer Prize winner to speak on campus

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Bailey Adcock and Jozsef Papp

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and documentarian Jose Antonio Vargas will come to Georgia Southern on Tuesday, February 2 from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

Vargas will be speaking to attendees about immigration issues and his experiences as an undocumented immigrant living in America.

“We talked about Jose Antonio Vargas in one of my classes so I’m really excited to see him speak and hear his views on immigration,” MaKayla Hayes, freshman hospitality management major, said.

Vargas, a native of the Philippines, came to America at 12 years old seeking a better life, a similar story to many undocumented immigrants in the United States. He grew up with his grandparents in Silicon Valley and was unaware of his undocumented status until 16 years old, when he tried to get his driver’s license and was told his green card was fake.

He went on to hide his status and pursue every way possible to assimilate into American culture, focusing on reading, speaking, and writing English perfectly. This led to the development of a love for journalism.

After working for various local newspapers during high school and college, he was given the opportunity to work at The Washington Post.

While working there, Vargas won the Pulitzer Prize as part of a team which covered the Virginia Tech massacre. He has also written ground-breaking articles for various news outlets such as The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.

In 2011, Vargas wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine in which he came out as an undocumented immigrant and documented his experiences. Following this publication, he wrote a second story for TIME magazine and produced and directed a documentary entitled Documented.

“There are believed to be 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. We’re not always who you think we are. Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read,” Vargas wrote in his 2011 article My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.

Spurred by the need to make a difference in the country’s immigration system, Vargas founded Define American in April 2011 along with Jehmu Greene, Jake Brewer, and Alicia Menendez. This nonprofit organization aims to change the negativity surrounding immigrants through personal stories.

Vargas has also covered the issue of HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C. which led to him co-producing and writing for a documentary about the subject.

Along with being an undocumented immigrant, Vargas had to gain acceptance as a homosexual in his daily life.

Vargas’s documentary, ‘Documented’, will be shown on Thursday, January 28 at 7 p.m. in the Engineering and Information Technology Building, Room 1004 and on February 1 at 6 p.m. in the Russell Union in room 2047.

Admission to both the documentary showing and the speech is free.

Below is an interview with Jose Antonio Vargas.

What will your talk at Georgia Southern focus on?

“It will focus on immigration and race and the connection between the two.”

As a journalist, how would you characterize the media today compared to when you first started?

“The media is less diverse than when I started, which is ironic given that you have so many publishing tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. More people can tell their stories and it’s important for the media to try to synthesize and contextualize and make sense of what’s going on. Because the media doesn’t have enough Blacks, Latinos and Asians in it, I think it’s really missing the big story of what is happening to us, as a country.”

How has working on different major newspapers around the country influence your view on things and different aspects of your personal and professional life?

“It allowed me different experiences. I was one of the first mainstream reporters to leave an organization like, The Washington Post, to go to a digital organization like, The Huffington Post. It was really useful to understand the change in digital publishing. It just kind of depends on the people that I was surrounded by. What I really learned is that most of everything I learned from journalism, I’ve learned from my colleagues and the people I surrounded myself with. That is really important, to work with people that inspire you to be the best at what you do and challenges you. Not just that compliments you, but challenges you and makes you think sharper and try to do better.”

After a successful career in journalism, what made you decide to do different documentaries?

“I think the media and everything right now. The new media is in a state of transition and I think the way we think about the media is also changing. I think if you are a journalist, you should be interested in telling stories in all the ways you can tell it, in print, in video, through podcast, in photos and through graphics. I’m just trying to be a more well-rounded journalist, who knows how to tell stories in different platforms and different ways.”

How many documentaries have you produced? Where can people find them? Do you plan to do more?

“I have only done three. I’ve done one on AIDS in Washington D.C., I’ve done one on immigration and I’ve done one on white people. Yes, absolutely I will be doing more and it’s going to go on emergingus.com.”

What is #EmergingUS? What is the primary goal and purpose of this program?

“Emergingus.com is a mix of everything I’ve been doing. It’s the emerging American identity. So much of the way we know about America is mostly from the Black and White prism. This country is so much more Asian, is so much more Latino now, so how does that change the way you think of America? Why is it that white people just get to be white and they don’t have to explain where they come from? And immigrants always have to explain where they are from. EmergingUS is going to try to make sense of who we become as a country.”

As a fellow immigrant, how do you feel about the current immigration system in the United States?

“Clearly, it’s broken and is also outdated.”

Do you think it can be fixed?

“Absolutely, but it’s going to require our elected officials to actually confidentially work on compromising to work together. It’s going to require for the media to actually accurately report and actually find out what’s happening and humanizing an issue that people see in a very political way. It’s going to require the American public to understand and want to empathize on what is happening.”

As an undocumented immigrant, how would you describe your experience in the United States? There was a point last year when you were arrested for being an undocumented immigrant.

“I’m here as an undocumented immigrant. I have also now become an entrepreneur, which is something I never thought I could be, but being undocumented has forced me to become an entrepreneur.”

What is Define America? What is the primary goal and purpose of the program?

“The goal of Define America is for our country to better understand who these new Americans are in this country. A new country is being created. What does that look like?”

How can students, faculty, and staff at Georgia Southern get involved in Define America?

“It’s a question that every American must grapple with at this point in our history. In an era of Black Lives Matter, at a time which America is more Latino, more Asian, at a time in which white Americans are an emerging racial minority in many parts of the country. The question of how do you define America is in many ways the fundamental question.”

How can people get in contact with you? Do you prefer Twitter, E-mail, Facebook, or other form of communication?

“Twitter and Facebook are really the best ways.”