Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas spoke Wednesday night about the importance of broadening their definition of Americans to include immigrants and the need for immigration reform.
The event, sponsored by USC Spectrum and Undergraduate Student Government’s Program Board, had the support of Asian Pacific American Student Assembly, Queer & Ally Student Assembly and the Speakers Committee.
Vargas, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his team’s coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, is especially known for “coming out” as an undocumented immigrant in an article he wrote for the New York Times Magazine. Since then, he founded DefineAmerican, a campaign that discusses America’s immigration system.
“Immigration is more complicated than legal versus illegal,” Vargas said. “It’s not black and white. It’s living in limbo and living in a gray area, making difficult, sometimes impossible, choices.”
Vargas, who used the event to tell his story as an undocumented American and a gay man, encouraged students to speak out for reform in America because there is currently no line for immigrants to become legal citizens.
“Every 30 seconds, a Latino in America turns 18 years old and becomes an eligible voter — every 30 seconds. In 21st-century American politics, diversity is destiny,” Vargas said of the future of minorities and immigrants in America, which he compared to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Vargas said students can take a small step toward progressively is changing their terminology.
“To me, ‘illegal’ is such a slur,” Vargas said, “I already believed that, and then I went to the South, … where they have this crazy fear of something they can’t even tell you what it’s about.”
Director of USC Spectrum Dane Martens thought it was important to bring Vargas because of the relevance of immigration today.
“Immigration is something that’s on the top of everyone’s list nationally speaking and I think very much locally as well,” Martens said. “I think it’s going to speak to a lot of issues we’re trying to deal with in this country right now.”
Executive Director of Program Board Juan Espinoza agreed with Martens.
“It’s a pivotal time with immigration policy,” Espinoza said. “It’s something that Obama’s announced that he’s definitely put at the front of issues to deal with.”
Some students like Kevin Tsukii, a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism, found Vargas’ speech both educational and inspiring.
“I went in to it with this idea that, first, I didn’t know he was Filipino, I didn’t know he was gay, I didn’t know a lot of things about him,” Tsukii said. “I just knew that he came out as undocumented. I’m really glad I came and I’m really glad he’s here.”
Yvette Chua, a freshman majoring in international relations, praised Vargas for giving a voice to an underrepresented community.
“I thought it was really inspiring for an undocumented person to come out like that,” Chua said. “I think he’s just a public figure that the undocumented community needs because he gives the undocumented community a voice.”