Jose Antonio Vargas on TIME

Jose Antonio Vargas on TIME Magazine cover

As a follow-up essay to his NY Times Magazine article last year

By Momar G. Visaya (Asian Journal)

Image by TIME Magazine

It is safe to say that every journalist worth his (or her) salt here in the United States dreams of seeing his byline on Washington Post, New York Times and TIME. As a young journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas entertained those dreams.

Through some strange twist of fate, Vargas achieved those dreams, and more.

This week, the 31-year old advocate, along with 35 other undocumented people from 15 different countries share the cover of TIME, essentially becoming the faces of America’s undocumented immigrants.

The magazine teased its readers a day earlier by releasing a photo of the cover — which immediately went viral on social networking sites such as Facebook, getting more than 500 comments, almost 1,500 “shares” and more than 2,000 “likes” in less than 24 hours. On that same day, Vargas started what would be a similar media blitz by guesting on CBS’ Charlie Rose and CNN, among others.

“Déjà vu,” Vargas quipped, as he welcomed us to his apartment on June 14.

Last year, he welcomed us to his place for an interview a couple of days after his coming out as an undocumented immigrant in an article published on the New York Times Magazine. He was quite different then, his demeanor, the manner in which he spoke and the general feeling surrounding him.

Indeed, what a difference a year makes.

It was around late March this year when Vargas approached TIME and proposed an article about the first anniversary of his coming out as undocumented in America. Rich Stengel, TIME’s managing editor thought it was a good idea for Vargas to share his experience of criss-crossing the United States to talk about immigration.

“Professionally, this is the best thing I have ever done. The photo shoot was probably one of the best days of my life. I was very, very happy with it,” Vargas told the Asian Journal.

All in all, they were able to gather 36 undocumented people on the cover.

“If you really want to know immigration in America today, this is what it looks like. The fact that TIME Magazine just said we are Americans,” Vargas said. “This is way beyond me. There are 11.5 million of us.  It is astounding that TIME calls us Americans.”

The article takes the readers to the process of becoming a green card holder. It is structured by the questions that people ask him. The essay is filled with conversations that Vargas says we in America are not having.

“Why don’t you just make yourself legal,” someone in Iowa asked him.

“People don’t understand. What do they think, that I’d walk inside a store somewhere and wait for 20 minutes and get a visa? Some people think that that is how it works. It just speaks to the deep level of ignorance and misinformation about it,” he said.

In his hometown of Mountain View, California, a Republican asked him if he belongs to a special class of people who can break any law he wants.

“He asked in such a polite and curious way and I am sure many people don’t think that but they are not sure how to ask it. It was a real question and I didn’t know how to answer. I looked at him straight in the eye and I said, ‘No, I don’t think I belong in a special class of people,’” Vargas shared.

In his essay’s ending, Vargas presented two questions: What exactly do you want to do with people like us? When are you going to realize that we are one of you?

“We’re not creating enough spaces for these conversations to happen. Before we talk about any piece of legislation, I think it is imperative that we do that first: let’s look each other in the eye and say this is where I am coming from, that is where you are coming from, how do we meet halfway?” Vargas added.

The Pulitzer prize-winning journalist knows that immigration is one of the top issues faced by the Filipino community in America today and he hopes that through his advocacy and Define American, he is able to elevate the conversation on the topic.

“This is for all of us. Your picture may not be here but if you are in this situation or you are a TNT as we call it in the Philippines, you are here, you’re in this photo somewhere,” he said as he looked at his copy of the magazine.

He also asked Filipinos in the United States today to get more involved, particularly in politics.

“All Filipinos here in America I beg of you, if you are qualified to vote, please register. This is going to be a really close election. I don’t care if you support Obama or Romney — although I think you must read between the lines to figure out who’s more forward-thinking than the other. It is your responsibility to be registered to vote,” he said.