Undocumented Writer's New Film Screens At San Diego Asian Film Festival
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am a Maureen Cavanaugh. Two years ago, JosÈ Antonio Vargas went public. Does that time he has been an activist of people living in the US without documentation. Was a has also made a documentary about what it is like to be an American without having the papers to prove it. The film is called documented and it is being featured now at the fourteenth annual San Diego Asian film of December festival. Welcome to the program. First I want to ask you about how the typhoon disaster in the Philippines might have affected you or your extended family? JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Thankfully my family lives in the northern part and were not as affected. Electricity was off for a while and it scared them. Apparently the roof was starting to peel off. It was heartbreaking to see all the photos and the footage. It really exposes this. I used to sleep in an air mattress when I was a kid and I remember floating because we got flooded. A lot of typhoons and a lot of flooding. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You've not been the back to the Philippines is your twelfth. Remind us of the story. JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Is worn in the Philippines. My mother sent me to live with her parents. But on twelve. And my parents got here legally. They petitioned for my grandparents. I arrived in 1993 and it was not until 1997 when I was sixteen and I tried to apply for a driver's license. Then I found out that the green card that my grand parents gave me was faked. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And that changed your way that you look to yourself. JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: This is before Google. You couldn't ñ what my earliest memories was thinking I'm not really Mexican. You associated illegal immigrants with Mexicans. I have a Latino name because the Philippines were colonized by the Spanish. I was thinking I was the only non-Mexican illegal immigrant. I didn't tell anybody. I didn't tell a single adult until my choir teacher wanted to go to Japan for spring tour. Had to tell her that I can't go to the store. I was forced to tell her and thankfully she did not talk to me. You imagine how many teachers, in the past decade or so here in California and across the country, how many teachers in this area deal with this. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what of your consequences was that you cannot go back to the Philippines. You could not go visit your mother. JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: There's a very sizable Filipino-American community in the San Diego area. The talk about maybe we can say that immigration report reform is about three quarters. It's about Republican or Democrat it's really about broken families. But for the film is coming about. The film travels in am of Alabama and Iowa and the film goes where I can go. I sent a film crew to film and mother this was on my original plan at all. Inevitably the film had to go there. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That he played clip from your film and then we will talk more about how this became such a personal film for you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Documented is playing at the San Diego Asian film Festival. Let's talk more about how this film switched from being a story of every man so to speak who is here illegally, but your story and your personal story about being separated from your family. JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: I'm a journalist that part. Journalism has been my church and by way of understanding everything and making sense of it. My original intention was to do an inconvenient truth meets waiting for Superman for input. I crashed or Mitt Romney rally and I like and of Alabama passed the most immigration law that country. Really getting to know the temperature of this. I stood there is a big misperception about what the reality is. About illegal immigration. I had not into the submitted that it's actually the ocean. The gap between what people think they know what the facts are, the gap is huge. Originally this was me about that. We had about 160 hours of footage and you look at it and my friends said how can you possibly do this film and not talk about your mom? As you can tell them that clip, how do you explain twenty years. I do not know how to explain that. That is something you have to show visually. When I sent a film crew to the shows Philippines to film her, about twenty hours of every interview just with her. Here's a woman that I haven't seen since I was twelve and we're say goodbye to the airport and I got on the plane and off I went. Now she she is staring at me and it was like seeing a ghost. I'm thirty-two, I felt like I was twelve Again. It's so important. I am very privileged. Every day about 1000 people get deported. People get deported and they are scared for their lives every day while I'm in a studio talking about my film here if I were to show people, and I'm also accountable as an undocumented immigrant. I need to show people how broken the system is, this is how but I knew the show. I needed to show the vulnerabilities. You can't fake this. This is ñ especially now giving what is happening ñ it is important that we set the framework as what were talking about. We humanize this issue as much as possible and this is what the from us. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How common is this experience. How common is this among people here illegally to have broken families like this. JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: I was at about 190 events in about forty states over nine years. People who have not been able to go to Mexico for the funeral of a dad or mom. This is where technology so useful. In a film, I Skype with my mother for the first time. That was the hardest scene to edit. Technology thankfully takes a role here and can help. There is just a lot of people who know each other only through computer screens. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm interested, what is your life been like since you've gone public with the fact that you're here without documentation? Is this ñ do you feel protected in any way? Are you constantly waiting for a knock on the door? What is that like? JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: I did. After I reported it and I decided that I was going to do this, the first thing he did was talk to lawyers. All but one said to me you can do this, this is crazy. More people that I should not do this. Leading up to this I prepared myself for saving enough money, because you're not allowed to be employed by had to leave for jobs as making a good living. As a journalist. That time I was writing for the New Yorker and the Huffington Post that I was living in New York. I made plans and what I did not anticipate was a stunning silence from the government. As his public as anyone could be and that was the plan. About five months into and after publicly disclosing this, I actually called the editor of Time magazine and said I wanted story about how I did not get deported. And he said okay. I actually called the government myself and this is a scene in the film. I called INS and asked them why had not heard from them. Obama has deported more than any other president history. The same president who got elected because of the Hispanic and Latino population in and the Asian population. A woman said off the record what you doing? And I said what are you doing. I'm on a deadline on I'm writing a story for time and I need a comment. And she said no comment. And I started thinking it's kind of a metaphor for how people in general in American public think of us. Y'all know we're here, you know we're driving down the freeway with you you know we go to your schools and your grocery stores, what you want to do with us? We cannot all babysit your kids and serve your drinks. Can we go to college to? Can please have full lives? Is a possible? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Emission Congress and it looks for a while that there is bipartisan support in the Senate for immigration reform. That seems to have dissolved at this point in the House of Representatives. But you think needs to happen before the lawmakers get their act together on this? JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: That is a hard question. It is also hard question not knowing that I'm not hard from the border that dominates the public confrontation about this issue. Nevermind that my border was the Pacific Ocean. That nearly 50% of undocumented workers came here legally. Nevermind that legal boarding illegal border crossing at their lowest level since Nixon was president. The media makes it seem ñ we're not on the same page. Maybe this is an opportunity that we get on the same page. Before we move on any piece of legislation we need to make sure that we actually know over talking about here we have an honest conversation with American public about cultural and economic and clinical impact of this. I hate to say this, we're looking at the headlines here. It's an election year. Our lives ñ as someone who is undocumented and also gay I am also that used to my life being played political football experience in fortune of this is been the case. It is so important that we get the politics out of this. But actually hopeful that after the shutdown maybe Boehner would be like alright let's prove to the country that we can actually pulse here that the American public wants a solution. I was hopeful. And now, I think that I am trying to be as optimistic as possible. Cannot get myself to down by what's happening. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Your film screens tomorrow at seven and 9:20 PM at the new downtown central library as part of the San Diego Asian film Festival. It's been my pleasure to speak with JosÈ Antonio Vargas.
Two years ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas first went public with his personal story about being born in the Philippines and living in the United States illegally.
Since that time, he's been an activist in support of people living in the U.S. without documentation.
Jose Vargas has now made a documentary about what it's like to be an American without having the papers to prove it.