There’s a scene in the new documentary Documented when former Washington Post reporter turned immigration reform advocate Jose Antonio Vargas goes to see Mitt Romney speak before the Iowa caucus. Four years before, Vargas had covered the caucus for the Post, but this time around he stood on the side of a townhall-style event in Cedar Rapids, holding a sign that read “I AM AN AMERICAN W/O PAPERS.” Ever since his blockbuster New York Times Magazine article, “My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant,” came out in 2011, Vargas has become, in his words, “a walking uncomfortable conversation,” and his presence at the Romney talk was, well, sort of awkward.
Eventually, the local police came at the behest of the event’s host and asked him to leave. (Read more…) On his way to the exit, Vargas turned to an officer and asked if he was being arrested. “No—oh, no,” replied the cop. Sensing an opportunity, Vargas pushed further: What do Iowa police do after stumbling upon an undocumented person? Identify the person, replied the cop, and call the proper federal authorities. “Are you going to do that?” Vargas asked. The officer’s response was almost embarrassed: “No, sir.”
Telling his personal story has in many ways become Vargas’ work, starting with the Times Magazine piece and continuing with a Time cover story a year later. (And, as he freely admits, it likely has protected him from immigration enforcement.) Now, two years after he outed himself as undocumented, he’s back with a new chapter, writing and codirecting a film that centers on his relationship with his mother, Emelie Salinas, whom he hasn’t seen since leaving the Philippines 20 years ago.
Documented‘s premiere last Friday at Washington, DC’s AFI Docs Film Festival—just as the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill gains steam in the Senate—was timed for maximum exposure and influence. So what do Vargas and his advocacy group, Define American, have up their sleeves for this time next year? “I don’t know what I’m going to do for the third anniversary,” he told me last week. “I want by the third anniversary to have a green card.”
Mother Jones: If I understand correctly, this wasn’t exactly your initial plan for this film.
Jose Antonio Vargas: The original plan was I was going to make a film that was like Waiting for “Superman” meets the DREAM Act. I figured I had come out in the New York Times and was in a very privileged position to do that, right? After that piece I was like: I’m done, I don’t have to tell you about me anymore—now I can go out there and be an undocumented journalist filmmaker and then tell the stories of other DREAMers. So that was my original conception. And then I started filming, that’s why I went to Alabama, I went to Iowa, and I started finding DREAMers, mostly online, to do a film on how undocumented people are using social media to tell their own stories. Social media has been in many ways the backbone of the DREAMer movement; the DREAMer movement would not have happened if Twitter and Facebook and YouTube did not exist. I mean this is how people were literally able to find each other, form listservs, all that kind of stuff.
[VIA MoJo Blogs and Articles | Mother Jones]