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The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Jose Antonio Vargas

  • Define American
  • Date: March 4, 2013 7:30pm
  • Location: The Englert Theater
  • Cost: Free Admission

A journalist for over a decade writing for some of the most prestigious news organizations in the country, Jose Antonio Vargas’ personal journey contends with some of the most fascinating stories he’s covered, living a double life since he was 16 years old.

After being born and reared in the Philippines, his mother, wanting to give her son a better life, sent him to live with his grandparents in Silicon Valley in 1993.

Vargas loved his new homeland and immersed himself in American culture, spoke the language perfectly, studied hard in school and loved writing for the school paper. However, at 16 years old when applying for his Learner’s permit at the DMV, he discovered his green card was a fake, which was later confirmed by his grandfather. Vargas then realized he needed to continue hiding his true identity to avoid deportation and be able to pursue his American dream ­– a career in journalism.

And succeed he did. Vargas wrote a widely circulated profile of Mark Zuckerberg for The New Yorker. He also served as a senior contributing editor at the Huffington Post, where he launched the Technology and College sections and created the Technology as Anthropology blog, which focuses on tech’s impact on people and how they behave. He covered the tech and video fame culture, HIV/AIDS, and the 2008 presidential campaign for the Washington Post, and was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for covering the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. His 2006 series on HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C. inspired a feature-length documentary -– The Other City -- which he co-produced and wrote. The documentary premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and aired on Showtime. In 2007, the daily journal Politico named him one of the 50 Politicos To Watch.

He’s written for daily newspapers (Philadelphia Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle) and national magazines (Rolling Stone and New York) and has appeared on CNN, ABC News and PBS NewsHour. He taught “Storytelling 2.0” at Georgetown University and served on the advisory board for the Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism, housed at American University.

However despite all his achievements, the dark shadow of Vargas’ true identity continued to haunt him, as he frequently lied to friends and colleagues, avoided close relationships so no one would ask too many questions, and didn’t travel abroad due to his illegal passport. Finally in the summer of 2011, 18 years after arriving in America he decided he was done running. Vargas exposed his story in his groundbreaking essay, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” for the New York Times Magazine, stunning the media and political circles and attracting worldwide coverage.

Today Vargas runs Define American, a non-profit organization that seeks to elevate the conversation around immigration. He is a very proud alumnus of Mountain View High School and San Francisco State University, loves jazz, can’t get enough of Ben & Jerry’s and worships at the alters of Altman, Almodovar, Didion, Baldwin and Orwell.

He lives in New York City.

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