How American could you be if you’re a Filipino illegal immigrant?

I’ve kept tabs on the career of Washington Post/Huffington Post journalist Jose Antonio Vargas ever since he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 (as it turns out, the first Filipino to win the Pulitzer since Carlos P. Romulo). My interest was especially piqued by his unique status as perhaps the most prominent Filipino-American journalist in the United States, and sustained by the fact that he does write very well. His revelation today in the New York Times Magazine that he is in fact an undocumented immigrant (or, in Pinoy parlance, TNT), had the element of surprise for me, as opposed to the many Filipinos who will, in the next few days, be introduced to Mr. Vargas for the first time.

The human interest aspect of Mr. Vargas’s story will lend it resonance, even if the reader is unfamiliar with the thorny debate in the United States on illegal immigration and on whether undocumented immigrants should be extended a path towards legalizing their status. Filipinos in particular though will latch on those grace notes in the story that are distinctly Pinoy, particularly the brazenness of Mr. Vargas’s lolo in skirting (and ultimately defying) U.S. immigration law so that his apo would have a secure future in America as a low-income menial laborer.

It is striking that in his piece, Vargas is making an emphatic declaration that he, legalities aside, an American; the tacit corollary being that he rejects being a Filipino. It is not evident from the article how much Vargas currently embraces the cultural trappings of his Philippine heritage, though there is a passage on how he consciously shed his Pinoy accent through Frasier marathons that should make many a Filipino wince. (He still likes his adobo though) For many of us who whole-heartedly embrace our Filipino identity with a no-matter-what chauvinism, the Vargas story may pose some moral difficulty. My own set of principles though still lead me to trust in one’s right to self-determination even if it that involves the rejection of choices which I would have made for myself.


Photo: Jose Antonio Vargas, all rights reserved.

The Age of Brillig

Metro Manila based blogger, logophiliac, lawyer, professional straight face. Contributor, UNO Magazine.

  • Thai anton

    ICE will be after him soon.

    • Karen Ang

      Probably not. He has a Pulitzer after all 😀

  • edl

    I don’t think JAV mentioned anything in his article that should make us think he’s rejecting being Pinoy. Sure, he mentioned trying to shed his Pinoy accent, but I think that was typical for a young Filipino living in the US. (I read in his article that he could still speak and understand Filipino. That’s a good thing. Some of my cousins who were born and who grew up here but are now in the US can’t/don’t speak the language) It’s just that, I think, JAV relates more to the American experience now rather than the Filipino experience. Living in the US for almost 20 years would do that to you.

    Besides, the focus of his article was on his being an illegal US alien, not about being Filipino. If he focused too much on how he missed the Philippines and his mother, and not on the issue of immigration, the point would be lost.

    • GabbyD

      his political goal is to support the dream act.

      that means he wants to be an american.

  • GabbyD
    • UP nn grad

      Apparently WashPost killed the story because of one more lie — Jose Vargas withheld one more detail from the Post (Jose obtaining an Oregon driver’s license).

      Brings to mind this Bise Binay recommending military honors for Ferdie Marcos despite fake medals. And the fake medals is not an issue to Malacanang. If Ferdie has already been given military honors, then no more — but if there is no duplication, then Malacanang will give the military honors, isn’t this what Valte says that Presidente Noynoy had decided?

  • Bert

    Well, Mr. Vargas is a coconut, white inside, brown outside. That’s a bit better than some Pinoys who preferred to stay here but loved deriding/insulting anything/everything Philippines but enjoying the graces and the perks found in his homeland.

  • UP nn grad

    Of course, there is the romantic words of “… Parting is sweet sorrow” and Jose years without seeing his mother.

    Just 3 weeks ago a Chinese (Beijing-Chinese, not Makati Chinese) was telling the sorrow of the parting. There are years between obtaining the “green card” and becoming a citizen. She did not ask for parole during those years. Missed it by 3 months. Three months before she obtained US citizenship, the grandfather who raised her in Beijing died. Parting — sorrow. Price to pay. Life is cool! Courage a necessary ingredient.

  • UP nn grad

    Just like Green Lantern — leaving behind girlfriend because “Greater” is probably out there somewhere else.

  • UP nn grad

    moral choice… would you wince when a Payatas- or even a Quezon-city-mother/father allows their child to be adopted and to be whisked away to Australia or Ireland or US-of-A?

  • UP nn grad

    That’s actually a very good read. Jose Vargas would make a good American. He’d make a good British, he’d make a good Australlian, too. The guy works hard! The gay-thing says he’ll do badly in Pakistan or in Saudi Arabia.

    His lolo is a character, too. Maabilidad not to do damage to another human being but maabilidad to help (in this case, the immediate bloodline). Too bad they didn’t think of having Jose Vargas adopted much earlier in Jose Vargas years — he got too old before the item got mentioned as a path.

    Among the best things Jose Vargas has done (in addition to being an accomplished professional) — no felonies. Being convicted of a felony felony would have the immediate consequence of deportation (and maybe jail time before deportation).

    • UP nn grad

      On second thought, maybe he has committed at least one felony.

  • GabbyD

    “Is a Filipino illegal immigrant, an American?” –> he wants to be one. but technically, no.