Monday, September 1, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

How to define an American

navarrette column sig

By
From page A7 | June 26, 2014 |

SAN DIEGO — It’s a summer night in Washington. On the Mall, across from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, people are sitting on lawn chairs and huddled on blankets staring at a white screen. The feature: “Documented,” the new film by journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, one of most famous undocumented immigrants in the country – and one of the most outspoken.

It’s been three years since Vargas – who had worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post and other publications – “came out” as an illegal immigrant in a 4,600-word essay in The New York Times Magazine. Since then, he has earned a good living by speaking at more than 200 events and visiting 110 colleges and universities in 45 states. He has appeared on the cover of Time magazine, started a nonprofit organization called “Define American,” and shepherded a campaign to get newspapers to drop the term “illegal immigrant.” (He calls himself an “undocumented American.”)

Now, through more hard work and by paying half the production costs out of his pocket, he has become a filmmaker.

There’s a scene in the documentary, which has been playing in movie theaters around the country for the past few months and which will air June 29 on CNN, where Vargas is testifying before Congress. He makes it clear he’s not going to be judged by sanctimonious lawmakers. Instead, he puts them on the spot.

“What do you want to do with me?” he asks them on behalf of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. “What do you want to do with us?”

Vargas was there that night in Washington, watching as the scene flashed on the screen, a short walk from where he testified.
Only in America.

My favorite scene in the film comes near the end when Vargas, who came to the United States from the Philippines to live with his grandparents at the age of 12 and did not discover he was here illegally until he went to get a driver’s license as a teenager, shares a Skype call with his mother, who tried to follow him to America but was never able to leave the Philippines. For years, he felt abandoned. But, as we see, a mother’s love transcends international borders.

So does a son’s.

In fact, while the filmmaker calls the finished product “an act of artistic civil disobedience,” it is mainly a love letter from a son to his mother. It’s also a love letter to his adopted country.

“I have to say to America that I lied,” Vargas told me. “And that I’m sorry. You find peace when you find gratitude. I love America, like I love my mother.”

My relationship with Vargas has sometimes been frosty. In July 2011, just a few weeks after he revealed his status, I called him a “discredit to his profession” and someone who, through his deception, had “made an already tough job – that of being an ethnic journalist – more difficult.”

What should we do with him? Deport him, I said. “What are we supposed to do?” I asked. “Grant him a special dispensation because he’s a journalist and not a janitor? . . . That’s not what this country is about.”

I was wrong.

After watching this inspirational film, and interviewing Vargas on three different occasions, I now realize that this undocumented American has a better understanding than I do of what this country is about.

In speeches, I tell audiences that – while I’ve written about immigration for a quarter-century – I don’t really understand the topic. I was born in the United States, just like my parents and three of my four grandparents. You want to know about immigration? Talk to an immigrant.

Still, I’ll take up Vargas’ challenge. How do I define American? It’s someone with courage, ingenuity, perseverance, work ethic, love of freedom. It’s someone who raises issues, raises consciousness and – if needed – raises hell.

This film should be required viewing for anyone who wants to understand the human toll of a broken immigration system that likely won’t be fixed anytime soon. And yet, if anyone has earned through talent and tenacity the right to live here legally, and perhaps get on a plane to visit his mother while knowing that he’ll be welcomed back, it’s Vargas.

Not letting anyone else define you. Lending your voice to those who don’t have one. Striving for excellence and never giving up. That’s what this country is all about.

Ruben Navarrette is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Reach him at ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

Ruben Navarrette

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 8 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • 2realJune 26, 2014 - 5:34 pm

    An american is everything obama isnt.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Danny BuntinJune 26, 2014 - 6:48 pm

    Why did I know that only one nimrod would respond with a comment like that. You are to predictable "2real".

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • The SugarJarJune 26, 2014 - 7:20 pm

    Real Americans, real Christians, real men, real women. It does get real old, real fast.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • rlw895June 26, 2014 - 9:17 pm

    Well said. I don't get this "real" stuff either.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • 2realJune 26, 2014 - 9:04 pm

    How bout you quit swinging from obamas nuts and open your eyes. Hes sorry and so are you

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • The SugarJarJune 26, 2014 - 9:32 pm

    @2real, using the pronoun "you" -- which you are you, "2real," referring to?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • The SugarJarJune 26, 2014 - 9:37 pm

    @2real, there is nothing wrong with being a Christian, Muslim, being Jewish, Hindu, or any denomination. Or bring Atheist and so on. Nothing wrong with being American, and with loving your country. There is something terribly wrong with swinging any of it around like a 4x4.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • 2realJune 26, 2014 - 9:08 pm

    What gets old about being a christian and loving the U.S.A. ? Two things that dump of a president knows nothing about. Now THATS 2real. God bless and goodnight

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

 
Highway 12 project nears completion

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1 | Gallery

‘Snail mail’ still kinda cool

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

 
 
Car club raises funds, supplies for SPCA

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A3

 
Democrats plan candidates meet, greet

By Glen Faison | From Page: A3

Stand Up 2 Cancer Viewing party set in Vacaville

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Senior center schedules discussion on senior travel

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

Local government schedule meetings

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Il Fiorello to host jazz event

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7

 
Partnership HealthPlan releases survey results

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7

New doctors join NorthBay

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7

 
Goodwill opens Outlet Store in Fairfield

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7 | Gallery

Fairfield economic team announces addition

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7

 
Premier post details of new lease

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7

Small earthquakes shake Solano

By Glen Faison | From Page: A9

 
.

Opinion

Dollars and sense: The politics of division

By Earl Heal | From Page: A8

 
Whopper of a tax dodge for Burger King

By Mike Kirchubel | From Page: A8

 
Is social media enlarging or stifling democracy?

By Cynthia M. Allen | From Page: A8

Compromise on Cordelia Road rail crossing costs

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

 
Justice for all

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

Good job, Susan Winlow

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8

 
Editorial Cartoon: Sept. 1, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

.

Living

Community Calendar: Sept. 1, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Sept. 1, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Is my husband right when he says men aren’t made for monogamy?

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B5

 
Horoscopes: Sept. 1, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
Horoscopes: Sept. 2, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A5

 
5 takeaways from a punch-less summer box office

By Jake Coyle | From Page: A11

Joan Rivers’ daughter: I’m keeping fingers crossed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

.

Sports

Source: 49ers OL Boone agrees to new 2-yr deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
49er Ray McDonald accused of domestic violence

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Kahne holds off Kenseth to win Atlanta shootout

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Wozniacki outlasts Sharapova, in US Open quarters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Falcons looking to be defensive

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Henley takes a 1-shot lead at Deutsche Bank

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Dunn dealt to A’s, could be his last shot playoffs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Fred Couples wins Champions Tour event

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
A’s frustrated after 8-1 loss caps sweep by Angels

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Ernst wins LPGA’s Portland Classic in playoff

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Giants power past Brewers 15-5 for 3-game sweep

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Down at half, US beats Turkey in basketball worlds

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Source: Chiefs’ Smith agrees to 4-yr extension

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Tony Stewart’s return to race track ends early

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Sam clears waivers, meets with Fisher

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

FC Kansas City wins NWSL title over Seattle, 2-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Raiders claim DE Mayowa off waivers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Jensen waived after Jaguars awarded TE Shuler

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Otto wins Italian Open; Gallacher comes up short

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Weather for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

 
This date in sports history for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

Laurie Danielson Bailey

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Hazel Gertrude Wamsley

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Jerry Lee Trammell

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 6 Comments

 
.

Comics

Wizard of Id Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Garfield Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
For Better or Worse Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baby Blues Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Peanuts Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Blondie Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Rose is Rose Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baldo Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Beetle Bailey Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

B.C. Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Get Fuzzy Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Frank and Ernest Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Dilbert Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Zits Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Pickles Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sudoku Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Crossword Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Cryptoquote Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Word Sleuth Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Get Fuzzy Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
B.C. Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baldo Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Garfield Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Frank and Ernest Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Zits Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Dilbert Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Wizard of Id Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

For Better or Worse Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Sally Forth Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Peanuts Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Blondie Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Rose is Rose Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Sudoku Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Bridge Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Word Sleuth Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Crossword Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Cryptoquote Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7