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.