Jose Vargas talks about immigration

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.

Dream on · Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas speaks to students Wednesday night in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center. - Priyanka Patel | Daily Trojan

Dream on · Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas speaks to students Wednesday night in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center. – Priyanka Patel | Daily Trojan


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.”


8 replies
  1. George
    George says:

    According to the article, Mr. Vargas is an “undocumented” Filipino.
    What that means is that he is residing in the U.S. in violation of US immigration laws, and that is why the correct team is “illegal alien.”

    Illegal immigration has repercussions. For example, my wife and I are supporting the studies of a bright young scholar in the Philippines, who is also the president of her class. We invited her to come to LA for one month of her summer vacation.

    But her application for a tourist visa was denied, for the following reason:
    “There are so many Filipinos who in the past were give tourist visas but who then failed to honor their promise to return to the Philippines.

    “In other words, their refusal to follow our immigration laws has taken away the opportunity for their law-biding countrymen to visit the US”

  2. Isabel
    Isabel says:

    Great event.
    Amy, I agree; USC Spectrum did a great job in bringing in this speaker. The conversation has been brought up.
    That’s only the first step though. Considering the way USC defines what is important and what should be prioritized, this topic and conversation is a big step on our campus.
    We should continue the conversation to get it in the minds of others who do not think the way that Jose A Vargas does. Not everyone is educated about the issue and after becoming so moved by this event, so inspired to do many things at once, I think we need to fan the flames that sparked in us during this event and encourage the conversation. Its preservation is necessary in order for farther actions, changes, and steps to improvement to happen.

  3. Amy
    Amy says:

    It was truly amazing. He is a great speaker and storyteller. I’m proud of USC for allowing speakers like Jose Antonio Vargas to come talk to us about a rather controversial topic. As an undocumented student, his stories touched me personally and I felt like for once my voice was heard to the greater community of USC. USC boasts about their diversity efforts. But is it really? Accepting international students is only a small part of creating a diverse community. I believe it’s about creating a safe environment for anyone to question and discuss about differing ideas that are sometimes controversial. Let’s create a campus that allows conversations between people of differing cultural background and ideas. There must be more dialogues that challenges our way of thinking and sometimes make us feel uncomfortable because it’s so different from our beliefs. Although this event highlighted on undocumented individuals, it’s beyond this single issue. It encompasses all the different issues that many of our organizations are trying to advocate for. Great job USC Spectrum! Hope there is more to come!

  4. Amy
    Amy says:

    It was truly inspirational. I’m proud to see that USC has taken steps to allow speakers like Jose Antonio Vargas to come and talk about a topic that is controversial. At USC, we talk about diversity. However in what context? Creating a diverse student body is more than accepting international students. Rather, I believe it’s creating a safe environment for anyone to talk about these differing and sometimes controversial topics that gets formed due to our diverse background. Immigration reform is one of many things. Let’s create a campus that engages in conversations that challenges us to see things in different ways and sometimes make us uncomfortable due to our differing opinions. I really hope to see more events like this. Great job USC Spectrum!

  5. David Francis
    David Francis says:

    Democrats are blaming Republicans for the “Sequester” when it was President Obama signed it into law. Now he is using intimidation by alarming the American people, about the outcome of this law. All but in secrecy Homeland Security sent an interoffice memo to release up to 10,000 illegal aliens back on the streets. The 40 million Tea Party members are watching carefully the Liberal-Democrats and the Socialist Czars who craft most of the laws, designed to cripple the America we know. Democrats are issuing more freebies to the unknown numbers of majority groups, the poor and the freeloaders. Food stamps are more or less being passed out on a “Carte Blanche” basis and even free cell phones to anybody who applies. Some GOP Senators and Congressional leaders are running scared, because of the loss of the general election, when the truth is slowly emerging of giant irregularities of non-citizens voting. Now we have legislators as John McCain and others cringing to the demand that 20 to 30 million foreigners gain immediate legal status.
    Next on the Democrats list is passing another illegal Alien amnesty that was poorly organized and full of fraudulent application and yet 6 million illegal migrants and immigrants were awarded a Path to Citizenship in 1986. What did it bring us, millions of more procuring citizenship welfare and an intensification to encourage even more foreigners skirting our borders, smuggled children and families? The country is in a dire emergency with a 17 trillion dollar debt, with Obama’s minions spending and spending and demanding more taxes to pay for another amnesty if it is enacted. The last Amnesty is still being paid for in illegal municipal ordinances as Sanctuary Cities, and federal pushes as the Dream Act, crucifying the taxpayer with Family Unification Chain Migration adding even more millions of people who will need Social Security and money to live on when retired? Petition your Representative in Washington at NumbersUSA or make the effort to call them through the main government switchboard at 202) 224-3121. There are an estimated 23 million Americans either not working, but with pressing demand of big businesses their advocates that roam the halls of Congress still are gaining favors. The E-Verify provision of THE LEGAL WORKFORCE ACT must find passage in Congress, before any new immigration laws are given priority, also to include the 2006Secure Fence Act. Not one fence but at least two, stretching from Texas to California. In addition THE BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP ACT to be voted on to stop the intentional smuggling of children into our nation from across the world, to gain immediate citizenship. These laws will draw to a close the hundreds of billions of dollars collected by people of foreign status.

    • USCstudent
      USCstudent says:

      To: David Francis
      Non-citizens voting? The reality is my friend, that people now are not afraid to vote against big corporations who plan on maintaining the poor, poor and against those who plan on pushing America backwards not forward. I am PROUD that 71% Latinos and 70% of Asians voted for Obama. The minority of yesterday are no longer the minority but rather the majority believe it or not. This country is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-racial. In fact, that is how it got started. So don’t go blaming or calling every brown, Asian, or middle eastern who Voted a non-citizen.
      Second of all, you say that 20 to 30 million foreigners are gaining legal status? Since when? last time I heard that our immigration system was so broken people who applied for residency through LEGAL TERMS in year 1995 are still in line waiting. Plus we still have millions who are undocumented and they have not received that memo that it was so EASY, according to you to gain legal status. Wouldn’t that solve our problem right? You are wrong once again.
      Third of all, Ronald Reagan a REPUBLICAN president signed the law and it was a bi-partisan legislation by both REPUBLICANS and DEMOCRATS. The DREAM Act is not another form of amnesty, since it is a legislation intended to provide young children brought here illegally by their parents who are college students and who are the next generation of teachers, doctors, engineers, and lawyers. It does not provide a path to citizenship to all immigrants but specifically to students who will be and are the next contributors to our society. Then you say, they will end up relying on social security?Do you see doctors, teachers, engineers relying on that? Ask yourself that question. These students are ambitious, educated individuals in search of careers that will benefit the U.S economy and our nation. Maybe you should read more on what the DREAM Act truly is, and get better facts. You really believe that another fence is going to fix our broken immigration system? Really? Wow, its like having an infected wound and yet just putting a band aid on it. So no, a fence is not the answer and will not stop immigration. What needs to be done is fix our internal immigration issues since here in the united states we have millions of undocumented immigrants. Deportation is not the answer, especially since it affects taxpayers more than it does resolving a new Legislation for immigration reform. The DREAM Act is simply providing immigration relief to a fraction of that million. These undocumented students are hardworking individuals, TAXPAYERS, and citizens of the U.S. How can you say that someone who was raised here all their life, sat next to you in class, grew up in your town, or graduated at your school does not belong here due to their birth certificate? How can you say this is not their home? In fact, who are you to say such claims? Immigration is an issue that need to be dealt with now, not tomorrow or next year. Reform Immigration now!

  6. USCstudent
    USCstudent says:

    Truly inspirational speaker and amazing. I was inspired, motivated, encouraged, and amazed. Thank USC Spectrum and the other organizations for bringing such an amazing speaker. He really brought the issue of immigration to our USC campus. He inspired me in so many ways, especially since I am also an undocumented student at USC. He provided me a better perspective on what it means to be undocumented and to continue telling my story. Its not about “coming out, but letting people in.” Loved that. Thank you.

    Trojan/American/Citizen by heart and soul.

  7. Rosie
    Rosie says:

    Truly inspirational and amazing speaker. He has really brought the topic of immigration to USC. I am really grateful that USC Spectrum and the other organizations gathered to bring such an important and inspirational speaker. I would like to see more speakers like Jose Antonio Vargas come to USC. I am an undocumented student myself and a student at USC. He has really broaden my perspective on what it means to be undocumented and how I can continue to tell my story. Thank you for bringing such a great speaker.

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