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Full Q&A: ‘Dear America’ author Jose Antonio Vargas on Recode Decode

When he was 16, Vargas found out that he is an undocumented immigrant — and after years of secrecy, he decided to “come out.”

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Jose Antonio Vargas, author of “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen”
Jose Antonio Vargas, author of “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen”
Courtesy Define American

On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, Kara talks with Jose Antonio Vargas, the author of “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.” Born in the Philippines, Vargas came to the United States when he was 12 but didn’t find out that he was an undocumented immigrant until he was 16 and attempted to get a driver’s license.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has written for outlets like the New Yorker and the Washington Post, Vargas said he’s supportive of Silicon Valley’s efforts to advance immigration reform, but also raised some crucial qualifications: Reform can’t only be about so-called “high skill” tech workers, and it’s can’t only address the fate of people like him who were brought to the U.S. when they were minors.

“The DREAMers were really the first kind of social media-oriented young activists, meaning they were the ones who started going into those offices of the senators and the congressmen and the congresswomen saying, ‘What about my parents?’” Vargas said.

And, he pointed out, the tech community is far more accepting of porous borders when it comes to selling their products.

“This iPhone can be manufactured in China, delivered to Cupertino and end up in New York where I bought it on 5th Avenue,” Vargas added. “This iPhone can go to more places than I can as a human being. And given your audience, I wanted to make sure that I really say this. I think it’s really wonderful that tech optimists wanna open up the world and wanna connect and wanna provide tools for people to connect. Absolutely. But while we do that, can we also guarantee that people can actually have the natural right to move?”

You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Overcast.

Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Jose.

Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, editor at large of Recode. You may know me as someone who thinks we should send Jeff Sessions back home to the North Pole, but in my spare time I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode from the Vox Media Podcast Network.

Today in the red chair is Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker and now a book author. His new book is called “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.” Jose, welcome to Recode Decode.

Jose Antonio Vargas: Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you. We’ve had traffic problems here in New York, didn’t we?


Jeez, that’s how it goes. Anyway, I’m so excited to talk about this, but I want people to get a sense of who you are first, and I want to talk a little bit about your background, how you got to decide to write this, because you’ve been a journalist for much of your career.

Yeah. I found out I was here illegally when I was 16. This was in ’97. My English teacher, Mrs. Dewar, said I asked too many annoying questions and that I should do this thing called journalism. I had no idea what that was.

Where did you grow up?

Mountain View, like where Google is, on the other side of El Camino. But there’s no writers in my family, but then I found out that when you become a journalist, you get a thing called a byline. So your name would be on the paper. So my naïve self thought, “If I can’t be here because I don’t have the right papers, well, what if my name was on the paper?” That was literally the only reason why I became a journalist, just so my name could exist somewhere so I could say that I’m really here.


When I think of it now, how ironic that is that I’m supposed to hide because, you know, undocumented people like me are supposed to just kind of ...

Keep quiet.

... Keep quiet, but I was in a profession that was not quiet, but as a journalist it wasn’t me. I was writing other people’s stories. So that was kind of my out.


And that’s what I did for like, you know, from 16 until I was 30.

So you work for? Explain for the people who don’t know you.

So I work for the Mountain View Voice, which is a local community newspaper ...

Pulitzer Prize winner.

... That you get every Friday, and then at the San Francisco Chronicle all throughout college, and then the Washington Post. And then after that, I went to the Huffington Post, pre-AOL. So I launched the technology section and the college section. Then the New Yorker. I did a profile of Mark Zuckerberg, kind of the first.

And what was your focus then? It was a lot of tech stuff you did.

It was a lot of tech stuff. That, but really more ... I always considered technology as anthropology. I was always from that perspective of, how it’s changing culture and what it says about demographic change.

And what does it say?

Well, I mean, I think you hear the fact that it’s democratizing information.

Allegedly, yeah.

Allegedly, there’s that. But from the very beginning, I thought all the niche ... I think Ava Duvernay said, I heard her say something recently about how “the riches are in the niches.” Right? And so I think with the rise of ... I mean, even at the Washington Post, I made an entire beat about the marriage of politics and the internet.

Right. You’re one of the first who did that.

Yeah. I’ll never forget Len Downie, former editor of the Washington Post, come to my desk going like, “Are these Ron Paul people real?!”

Len Downie.

I’ll never forget this.

Try getting him to write about the internet in 1992.

But then I’ll never forget, I went to ...

That was at the Washington Post.

That was at the Washington Post. After Barack Obama announced he was running for president, he went to Iowa, and I went. It was the first trip right after he announced. I went because of all these kids using this thing called Facebook.

Mm-hmm. Right.

And I wanted to prove to my editor that these kids were real.

Right, right. You were early.

So that was my beat. So my beat was all these kids, this was early. I think it was the first time actually Facebook was on the front page of a newspaper about politics. And of course at that time, Don Graham was on the board of Facebook.

He was.

And so I would get like a little note saying, “Hey, that was an interesting article on this.” So I was just really interested in like, you know, especially back then, in ’07 and ’08, like I thought ...

Which is already late. It was already late because it was 10 years before it started.

Yes. But in terms of where D.C. was, it was ...

No, they were still using BlackBerrys.

They were still using BlackBerrys. They actually really thought these people were not real. And I thought it was so interesting in terms of thinking of the internet as like Walmart, right? And you had all the Latin people and the black people and the gay people. Like the fact that all those “niches” were really gathering around Obama ...

And I’ll never forget being in a meeting, in a political meeting, early morning, and saying to the people that I actually thought Barack Obama had a chance to win the primary. Everybody but David Broder thought I was nuts.


David Broder was the one who said, “There might be something there, young man.”


And then he gave me a copy of “The Boys on the Bus.” This was in ’08, and it was still pretty much boys on the bus.

Right, yes, absolutely. White boys on the bus, actually.

Mind you, while all this was happening, I lied to the Washington Post about getting the job. So there was only one person in the newsroom who knew that I was undocumented. Peter Perrot, he was part of the senior management.

When I got hired, four months after I got hired, I think by October 2004, I started freaking out. So I thought I had to tell somebody. So I picked this guy. He taught me the meaning of the word mensch. And I didn’t know what that was. And I told him, and I expected him to say, “Okay, we got to go tell Len Downie and we gotta go to HR.”


Instead — and I write this in the book — instead he says, “You make so much more sense now.” I can only imagine how I must have seemed. And then he goes, “Don’t tell anybody else.”


So whenever I was like, when I was in Iowa for the first time, driving, I didn’t really know how to drive. I had just gotten my license.


When I was on Sarah Palin covering her campaign in Indiana, I would just call Peter and Peter was like, “Jose, you worry too much, man. No one’s going to find out.”

Explain your undocumented status. Your parents? Explain.

Yeah, so my mom, one morning I woke up in the Philippines and my bag was packed and she sent me to the airport. I was going to live with her parents, my grandparents, who were naturalized U.S. citizens.

What ages?

I was 12 and my mom said she was going to follow. So that was the understanding. So I got to Mountain View when I was 12.

Why? What was the ...

The reason was a better life was here. My grandparents had been here since the mid-80s. They’re both naturalized U.S. citizens, as they said. A food server, my grandma at NASA, and then my grandfather was a security guard, all kind of those biotech companies in Mountain View.


So got here when I was 12, everything was fine. And it was 1993 when I got here. Although I have to tell you though, I thought I was in the wrong country when I landed, because America was like “Baywatch” and like “Oprah” and Michael Jackson. And then I landed at LAX and it was like, who are these people? They look like me. I didn’t know that America was Filipino and Asian and all that.

So then four years after getting here, I went to the DMV to get a driver’s license in Mountain View, right across from Target. And that’s how I found out. The woman at the DMV, she was really the first person to tell me that the green card was fake. And then she said, “Don’t come back here again.” And you know, the moment she said that, the first thought in my head was, “I’m not Mexican.”


Because back then, even when I was 16, everybody in the news, everybody said this was about Mexican people. It’s just my name is so Hispanic ‘cause of Spanish colonialism, I thought maybe she thought it was Mexican. So I said, “No, no, no.” And then I confronted my grandfather, of course, after I found this out and my grandfather said, “Yes, you’re not supposed to be here.” And so that’s how I found out.

And then I guess his plan was, I was going to marry, I was going to work under-the-table jobs, like his first plan was the flea market on Berryessa Road in San Jose. That was the first thing. His brother worked there as a janitor and he thought he could get me a job there. And then he thought that I would just marry a woman who is a U.S. citizen and, poof!

You’d become naturalized.

And then, of course, I told him at that time that I was gay.

That’s a big problem.

Right? Really, that was ... Right? I mean, when I think back on it now, it was really a way of declaring my sense of independence, right? Because basically what he wanted to do was have me lie again.

Why not the process? Why not put into ...

Because there wasn’t one. But that’s the thing, though, I didn’t know that. So I was 16. Right?


I didn’t tell anybody. The only person I told was Arvin Murphy, who was my best friend from choir, because he was always the one driving. He was the one who said, “Get a freaking driver’s permit.”

“I’m sick of driving you.”

Right. “I’m sick of driving you in my Toyota Camry. Get a driver’s permit.” So I told him and you know, Arvin, Indian family, it was like, “What do we do?” I’m like, “I don’t know.”


So we didn’t tell anybody. By the time my high school principal found out, I was already a senior, and all of my teachers and the people who mentored me at Mountain View high school were wondering why I wasn’t applying for college. Because I couldn’t.

Because you were a good student?

I was okay, but there was no financial aid. I figured out that you need papers, you can’t get financial aid. So I thought, I’ll just work. At that time, I was already working at the Mountain View Voice as a City Hall reporter. I was making $10 an hour.


I figured, that was pretty good, right?

That’s very good.

I went from like $25 an article to like $10 an hour. Why not? And so then I told my principal that I’m not going to go to college. And then, “What are you talking about?” And then that’s when I told her. And then she told the superintendent, who then told the college counselor, and then everybody tried to adopt me because they thought, “Let’s just adopt this kid and we’ll figure this out.”

Because this was in 2000. There was no DREAM Act, there was nothing. And then their lawyers all told them, “He’s too old.” So if I hadn’t found out, if I had told people early enough when I was 16, it still could have been ... But you know, my grandparents are, they didn’t believe in lawyers.

They were hiding in plain sight. They were used to that.

Yeah, they were used to that. Even though they had papers, they didn’t trust the whole system.


So that’s why there’s no process. And grandparents, it’s not close enough of a relationship for a grandfather or grandmother to petition. And to this day, as a journalist who happens to be undocumented, the No. 1 question people ask me — from Bill Maher, everywhere — is, “Why don’t you just go fix this thing?” Like I’m supposed to like turn off a light switch and like, poof, I’m an American stealing your welfare.

But it’s incredible, though, how much we talk about this issue and yet how little people know about process. I think Silicon Valley, we know more because of H-1B visas and all that, but for the most part, the American public, even the media, has no idea how this works.

So your grandparents didn’t do anything at the time because they weren’t trusting the system.


Nobody in the schools could do something. So people increasingly found out, but nobody had a solution for you.

Nobody had a solution for me except ...

Getting married. Not a solution.

What was interesting there, though, I was lucky that I grew up south of San Francisco. All of those teachers and administrators were so welcoming of my being gay, because I ended up actually coming out as gay in high school, because I couldn’t be in two closets at once. I had to get out of one of them, so I figured get out of the gay one, you know?

Yeah, you’re out of all of them now.

But thankfully, I grew up in a community where I was supported because of being gay. And then, but this immigration thing, they were like, “We don’t know what this is.”

Yeah, yeah.

You know.

So you just continued on.

I just continued. Every step along the way, including ... In the book, I actually ended up explaining how I got a driver’s license, because I would not have had a career in journalism if I didn’t have a driver’s license. And at that time, there were only two states that allowed us to drive. I don’t know how this happened. I’m a journalist, I research every state’s requirement. It was Oregon and Tennessee. So Oregon’s closer to Mountain View, so I went to Oregon.

And you don’t wanna go to Tennessee.

And then every single mentor — my principal, my superintendent, the superintendent’s assistant — all helped me get the license, meaning they actually sent letters to Portland, Oregon, so I could have a proof of I.D.

Mind you, now, Oregon doesn’t let people like me drive anymore. In 2014, Oregon made marijuana legal and it took away the right of undocumented people to drive. There’s only 12 states that allow people like me to drive. New York is not one of them. Florida is not one of them. Texas, 1.8 million undocumented people, is not one of them.

Not one of them. They just drive anyway.

I’m sorry, is there a subway system everywhere in this country that we don’t know about?

No, they just drive anyway.

They just drive anyway, even though they’re not supposed to. And by the way, that’s how a lot of people ended up getting arrested, and before you know it, they’re detained.

So why would you?

For me, when people used to talk to me about immigration reform, I’m like, “Can we talk about driver’s licenses first?”

Or other things, other places, services.

Just basic services that like ...

Explain how your grandparents got you into school then.

Oh, it was immunization card and a birth certificate. In this country, public schools is actually ... The Supreme Court has decided that people like me can go to school and people don’t ask questions. Although, there’s now some state measures that are trying to prevent that. Of course in California, Prop 187 ...

To catch people.

Prop 187 in California, right, in the mid ’90s, was an attempt but that failed.


So that’s how ... But at that time though, this was again late ’90s, early 2000s, there was no other kind of services.

So the Post never found out about this?

And that’s what was astounding to me.

Just for listeners, how did they pay you?

Oh no, no. They paid me like they would pay me. So I use ... My grandfather ended up getting me a Social Security number that wasn’t valid for employment. It’s says very clearly “not valid for employment.” And then he took photocopies of it, and the photocopied version is what I always gave employers, and they never checked.

They never checked, right.

That’s why for me, part of my kind of coming out and talking about this was like, wait a second. If we’re actually serious about knowing who’s here, don’t you really want to know? So why was I ... In the book, I ended up structuring the book kind of “lying, passing and hiding.” Those are like three stages, right? So how are we able to just pass? I don’t know.

Well, it happens.

And throughout the whole time, I remember when I first got a letter from the Social Security Administration. I was like, “Wait, how do they know that I’m ...” ... Right? I mean, they knew my address and then they told me that I had paid like $30,000 into the system. And I’m thinking, “Isn’t the number not valid for work? So how did they ...”

They got paid.

But again, the IRS ...

Doesn’t know what ...

They don’t care whether or not you’re here legally. They just want your taxes. I have paid so much taxes, I should be a Republican. I have. By the way, I’m totally fine paying taxes.

Yeah, but you’re not getting them back the way you’re supposed to.

No, you’re not. But I’m a product of public school, I love public libraries, so I’m more than happy to pay the taxes.

You’re taking your money out.

But can you at least not ...

But you won’t be getting Social Security.

No, I won’t. I won’t be getting any of that out.

Right, because you put it in.

But think about it for a second. So the IRS and the Social Security Administration know that this is happening. So are they talking to anybody else in the government?

No, they’re taking the money.

They’re just taking the money.

They’re taking the money.

So again, let’s be honest about all of this, right? Again, I’m happy to pay the money, but can you not call us like we’re insect off your backs? Can you acknowledge the fact that we actually have families we have to support? Can you at least let us drive?

Are contributing ...

And are contributing.

So you get to, you move on to the Huffington Post. Same thing.

The same thing, and then no one caught me. And then for me though, the biggest deadline was the driver’s license, that Oregon license. So it was valid from 2003 until 2011.


So it was this ticking time, me knowing that, okay, this thing’s expiring. It’s expiring, it’s expiring. So at the time I got at the Huffington Post, I was already like 29. So I knew that it was almost over, and then I had to make a decision. Do I stay? Because at that time it’s not like no one, it’s not like anybody was threatening me or anybody was finding out. It was all inside.


So it was either I keep lying or I leave. I actually thought about that for awhile. I thought, why not just ...

Going back to the Philippines?

Yeah, because I haven’t seen my mom since I left. She can’t even come in on a tourist visa. She’s been denied three times now.


Because she doesn’t own property and she’s not a college graduate. What does that tell you about class, right?

Yeah, right.

Mind you, if she were a French woman and she wanted to go see “Hamilton” over the weekend, she would just buy a plane ticket and poof, she’s in New York. And if she wanted, she can overstay her visa. I can’t tell you how many undocumented white people greet me at Starbucks. No, usually it’s like, “Hey, you know, just, we’re the same.” And I’m like, “What?” It’s usually French, British, German people who feel really guilty.

But safe.

Safe but guilty that whenever this issue comes up, it’s not about them.

Right, because it isn’t.

Because it isn’t.

Because it isn’t. So your mom’s not allowed to come here. You can’t leave the country.

Well, I can, but if I leave, there’s no guarantee I’d be allowed back.

That’s what I mean.

So that’s a question that I have to really consider, and I bring that up in the book, right?


I mean, I’ve been here 25 years. That’s a long-ass time.

Right. And so you consider going back and what else?

I considered, but you know, this is where I’m from.


I’m not sure I’m ready. I haven’t seen Mississippi and Alaska yet. Those are the last two states I got to go see. I’m seeing Mississippi next month. Alaska, I think I’m going to try to figure out what to do with Sarah Palin.

When did you decide at the Huffington Post that you’re just going to reveal this? You’ve been passing, lying.

I had recently said this to Mark because he didn’t know, to Zuckerberg. So when I did that profile with him, I ended up convincing him to just do just the two of us, because usually he has like a handler. I’m like, “Let’s just take a walk.”

He loves to walk.

We were taking a walk on California Avenue in Palo Alto, and he asked me where I was from, which is a very simple question.


I could’ve just said Mountain View, which is true, but at that moment, where I’m from is that I’m not supposed to tell you where I’m from. I’m supposed to just kind of lie.

Gloss it over.

Yeah, gloss it over. Here I am asking Mark pretty hard questions about Facebook and where it was going. And I couldn’t even answer that simple question. And that was when I was like, “Okay, I have to stop.” I have to stop. And then I started planning, if I were to do this publicly, what would it mean, legally?

So as any good reporter, I spoke to like 20 lawyers and tried to figure out how much trouble I was in. And they’re like, “You’re in a lot of trouble and you’re crazy. You should not think about divulging your immigration status. The moment you do that, we can’t help you.” Because the moment I do it, I actually admit to everything I did, commit fraud, break laws. But again, as a journalist, if I’m not going to tell the truth, then why do it?

So was there any other thing to do? There was no legal thing.

No. Well, I mean, there were so many different options in terms of, if I’d left. Right?


Because I think a lot of lawyers were just thinking, “Why don’t you just leave, and you can just come out when you’re in the Philippines. You could do a book.” Clearly, I didn’t do that.

What about staying and becoming an American citizen?

Right now, there’s no ... Outside of asking the president for a pardon, aside from asking Congress to pass a private bill for me ...

Right, to absolve, yeah.

You’re already looking at probably the most privileged undocumented immigrant in this country. Really, let’s be honest.

And there was no DREAM Act.

Right, there was no DREAM Act.

Explain the DREAM Act for people.

The DREAM Act was introduced in 2001. Actually, the first hearing was supposed to be on September 11, 2001. They canceled it, of course, because 9/11. It was supposed to give permanent legal status to people like me who were brought here as children. Right?


It was a bipartisan bill, Orrin Hatch and the senator from Illinois. I’m blacking out on his name. It’s gonna come to me pretty soon. That was introduced, and it never went anywhere. Right now, there’s no DREAM Act. Right?


Since 2001, this has been introduced. Right now, we have this thing called DACA, which is what President Obama did in 2012.

By executive order.

By executive order, which is temporary. I have probably heard from ...

Which is what’s being batted about.

Which has been batted about.

Over the wall.

Over the wall. But here’s what I find really ironic about this, the DACA solution or the DREAM Act solution is supposed to be “the most palatable thing.” The narrative was, these are our kids. They went to school here. If we can’t even figure out what to do with them, how are we gonna address their parents?

Right, and this would’ve given broad immunity to them and a pathway to American citizenship.

Yes, a pathway. Although, that’s always been, is it just legality or is it also citizenship? Because there’s some proposals out there just like, “Let’s just make them legal, but let’s never make them citizens.”

Citizens. Right, or never ...

Which is why the title of the book has the word “citizen” on it. So we have been in this ...

And you did not qualify for this?

Well, the DACA thing, I was four months too old. I was four months too old. I know, I know, I know. I’m like, “I’m Asian, we age well. Can’t that count for anything?”

They couldn’t adopt you, you couldn’t get into DACA.

Yeah. But look, for me though ...

When you decided to just be public, you went to all these lawyers.

We went to all these lawyers. And for me ...

They said nothing.

They said nothing was gonna do it.

DACA doesn’t work.

And for me though, from the very beginning, it was like, how do we change the way we talk about this issue? I remember when I was in high school, Ellen DeGeneres and the cover of Time Magazine-

“I’m gay.”

Yeah, that cover was big deal.

I think it was Newsweek, wasn’t it?

It was Time. It was Time.

It was Time, okay.

And then two years later, “Will and Grace,” the No. 1 show on television. To me, the work that GLAAD has done is like, how do you change this issue that is so ... I remember back then in 2004, 2003 when gay marriage was still “just a political issue.” It wasn’t a cultural conversation. So when I came out, I started this organization called Define American, and the whole goal is, how do we humanize this thing and make it actually about people?

Right, exactly. Right.

But again, that’s a tough thing to do.


Especially because everybody just wants to talk about partisan. Everybody just wants to talk about policy and politics.

And it’s all different kinds of immigrants from different countries, like you were talking about. The British are palatable, versus the Mexican who are not.

The Mandarin and Spanish and Tagalog isn’t viewed quite as sexy as French and German.

Right, and especially that’s what Trump is using, is these horrible terms.

And the only thing ... not the only thing, but to me at least, I ...

When he says “shithole countries,” everything, it’s been creating as ...

It’s so overt. It’s so open. So now the question is, where do we go from here? Where do we go? What are we actually doing?

Right, right. So where do you go? You did this. You said, “Forget it, lawyers. It doesn’t matter. I’ve already done the crime.” Right?

Well, I’ve already broken those laws that I wasn’t supposed to break in terms of employment and fraud. That’s the other thing, by the way, is telling people that being here illegally, it’s not a crime. It’s a misdemeanor offense. But we are so used to tying criminality with this issue, which is why I remember when I got ...

In the book, I ended up talking about what it was like to be detained in Texas. I’ll never forget sitting on the cement floor of this jail cell, looking at these boys from Central America, and thinking, “This is how morally corrupt we are. We actually think these kids are illegal. We have put them in jail because they walked to come here.”

Now mind you, if they had walked from Canada, it would’ve been a humanitarian ... Disney would’ve given them free Disneyland trips, right?

Right, right.

I just think the whole ... the way we think about this is all really screwed up.

So what has happened recently in that regard?

Well, I remember when Trump got elected.

Is it just Trump? Or he’s just articulating?

Well, I think from a problem ...

Because Laura Ingraham’s been banging away on her racist drum for a long time.

Banging ... But I think from a policy standpoint, this is as worse as it’s gonna get.

Because it’d been going backwards, especially tech people, Mark included, have been trying.

Have been trying when Obama was still in office. But this has been a bipartisan mess. Let me explain something really, really important here. In the mid ’90s, when Bill Clinton was fighting the war against welfare, was the same time we started fighting the war against “illegals.” Around that time in the mid ’90s, he signed immigration bills.

So for example, if I were to leave this country, I would face, it’s called a 10-year bar. That’s because of what President Clinton signed into law. We have met at Define American so many husbands and wives, wives who were married to Mexican immigrants who have crossed the border more than twice, so therefore they’re banned for life. So even though they’re married, they can’t adjust their status.

So meaning, this has been from a policy standpoint, from Clinton to Bush to Obama to Trump. So Trump is the manifestation of all of these policies that have really made no sense of all.

Right, which have gone back and forth, but never have had the pathway to citizenship.

Never had the pathway to citizenship, which again tells us, what constitutes citizenship? I’ll never forget, I did this event in North Carolina, and this elderly black woman came to the event. I guess she saw me on PBS or something. And so, she brought this old piece of paper, and after the event she came over to me and she said, “Mr. Vargas, I’m not an immigrant. My ancestors were brought here.” Slavery. And then she opened a piece of paper. It was a bill of sale. I had never seen one before.

Oh my God.

And you know what she said to me? She goes, “Can you connect the piece of paper that my great-great-grandmother got to the pieces of papers that you and your people can’t seem to get? This is not about papers, young man.”

Or, I had this young man from San Juan, Puerto Rico, a few months ago when I was writing the book, he emailed me and said, “Hey, I know that you’re not a citizen, Jose, but I’m a citizen. I’m Puerto Rican, but it doesn’t mean everything, man. Look at how they’re treating us.”

Right, right, right. What is a citizen? And what level of citizenship do you get?

At what level? And to me, which therefore means what? It means legality has always been about power. It has always been about ...

Right, right. 100 percent.

It has always been about, who gets to define what for whom? And so, of course I applaud all of these organizations. It’s not just Mark, it’s Michael Bloomberg, it’s all these tech people who are like, “Let’s just pass immigration reform and this will solve itself.” I would certainly hope that the Trump era is showing them that passing a bill and passing a law is not enough.

No, no. We gotta change the face of what people ...

We have in this country right now, we have 43 million immigrants in this country, 11 million of whom are here undocumented. Right?


43 million. According to Pew, in the next 50 years, 88 percent of the total US population growth is gonna come from those 43 million people.

Right, right.

So you have a country that has a panic attack whenever Black Lives Matter is brought up, that’s always been black and white. That is now way more complicated. And that’s for me ...

Explain why the immigration reform, the tech people tried, what didn’t work? That was the last go around, I think.

That was the last, but I think a lot of it has to do with how willing ... there is now the tension between not just tech groups, but what a lot of advocates and lobbyists want versus what the undocumented community actually want. Because guess what the X factor is? Social media.

Explain that.

The DREAMers were really the first kind of social media-oriented young activists, meaning they were the ones who started going into those offices of the senators and the congressman and the congresswomen saying, “Wait a second, you’re not just gonna ... What about my parents?” Meaning, solving the DREAM Act is not enough. “What about my parents?” So meaning, whatever they put out ...

I remember when Mark was starting Forward, it didn’t have a name yet. I said to him, “That’s great that you’re getting into this, but Mark, please make sure that the moment you come out and support immigration that it’s not just about H-1B visas, that it’s not just about for Dreamers.”

Right, which it typically is for tech. I always say that they’re ... I had an interesting talk with a bunch of them, and they were like, “H-1B.” I said, “What about everybody else? We have to be for all of them.”

What about all the nannies? What about all the farmers? And to his credit, FWD is actually way more inclusive than a lot of the other kinda tech firms trying to get immigration done. Usually it’s just, “Oh, look at these Dreamers. Aren’t they so inspiring?”

Because that sorta ties in with what Trump does say, which is, “We want the talented ones.” He does say that out loud.

Yeah, which is why it’s dangerous to say that there are the good kind of immigrants and the bad kind of immigrants. What does that mean? Or to call people ... I remember this is the thing that really gets at me, “low-skill” labor and “high-skill” labor. I’m sorry, I come from a family of farmers. I remember in the Philippines, harvesting rice. There’s nothing low skilled about harvesting rice. Right?

Right. But it is interesting that tech sometimes is on the same side as Trump, as far as I can hear it.

About this again, narrative of ...

They’re just not pushing for the other one.

They’re not pushing. But again, back to your point though. You’re totally right that this exceptionalism, they have to be exceptional. I don’t wanna have to compare my resume to other people.

Right, to get into this country. So you decide, “Forget it,” you finish journalism.


And to come out, so to speak.

Well, I still consider myself a journalist in that way, although some people ...

But you come out.

Yeah, I come out.

You come out as an undocumented citizen.

So gay and undocumented. That’s it, by the way.

When did you ...

That’s it. No more coming out.

That’s a winner. That’s a winner for coming here.

That’s it, no more. Nothing, no more.

I’m just trying ... Your only option is to marry, correct?

No, even if I do that ...

Oh, because for fraud, you committed fraud.

Fraud. It’s really a private bill, or a pardon from the president, or I leave. Or immigration reform passes, and then immunity.

You have immunity.

So those are the four options on the table.

And let’s go through each of them. One?

Not getting a pardon from anybody. Not asking anybody for any pardon.

The president is not gonna give you a pardon.

I’m not getting a private bill.

Have you talked to Kim Kardashian? She might be able to help you, but go ahead. I’m teasing.

A private bill, no. Because what message would that send? I should’ve done that seven years ago if that’s what I was gonna do. The third would be leave, which ...

And then you’d never be able to come back, right?

Probably not. Probably not.

You wouldn’t be able to come back with any kind of visa?

Well, I could apply, but again ...

But they’d know.

But they’d know, and yeah.

And so does that earn you a lifetime ban?

I don’t know that yet. But the thing is, my grandmother who raised me just turned 81. She’s from Mountain View, like a couple miles from Google. And I don’t know, I just can’t bear the thought of my leaving here, and then whatever happens, and then what? Right?


Because I’ve heard horror stories from people who can’t go to the memorial service of their loved ones, and they do it through Skype or FaceTime.

Right, exactly. It sounds terrible. That sounds terrible.

That’s horrible.

And then the fourth?

The fourth would be if they pass immigration reform, whenever that’s going to be.

Where is that? When is that?

Nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. And again, I think we have to use this as an opportunity to ask ourselves harder questions, which ...

What kind of immigration reform?

What kind of immigration reform, but also, why are they coming? Why are people coming? I think in the tech community, there’s an easier answer there. We need jobs. But even when I was stuck in that jail cell with those boys, what was interesting was most of them were wearing shoes. They were either Adidas, Nike or Reebok. American brands. I find it so fascinating that this iPhone right here can actually go to more places than my mother and I can. Right?


This iPhone can be manufactured in China, delivered to Cupertino and end up in New York where I bought it on 5th Avenue. This iPhone can go to more places than I can as a human being. And given your audience, I wanted to make sure that I really say this. I think it’s really wonderful that tech optimists wanna open up the world and wanna connect and wanna provide tools for people to connect. Absolutely. But while we do that, can we also guarantee that people can actually have the natural right to move?

Right, right.

Because it’s actually natural, moving.


There’s nothing more natural.

That’s what the entire human race has done.

That’s how the whole country was founded on. Unless you’re Native American or African American, you came here from somewhere. So I think, how do we get the tech community to understand? I used to be so offended by this term “global citizen,” because I always thought it came from this privileged place of, “I can just go wherever I wanna go this weekend,” kinda thing. Well, there’s 258 million migrants in this world, according to the UN. Who welcomes them where they get to be a citizen? That to me is one of the questions ...

Well, the problem is the global mood towards this has turned.


Not just here.

But everywhere.

Which ... It has always been thus.

Has always been. We have always talked to the Irish, talked to the Chinese, right?

Yeah, exactly. This is not ...

So this has always been part of our history. But the difference, though, is this ...

But in places like Sweden and other places which were very welcoming, it’s shifted really dramatically.

Which is why for me, they call it a global migration crisis. I would rather call it a natural progression of history. So if you drew up a map of the world ...

Why is that?

For example, there are four million Filipinos here in the United States. We’re the third-largest immigrant group. It’s Mexicans, Chinese and then Filipinos. When I was doing this book, actually, the publisher was asking me why my name Jose doesn’t have an accent on the E.


“Filipinos don’t put accent on the E.” Okay, that wasn’t enough of a good reason. I had to actually investigate. So I got my name because of Spanish colonialism. There’s no accent in the E because when the Americans took over after the Spanish American War ...

They got rid of it.

Their typewriters ...

Didn’t have.

... that they brought to the Philippines didn’t have accent marks.

So therefore ...

So my name is a combination of Spanish colonialism and American imperialism.

And typewriters.

And typewriters. For me, if all these western countries can come to our countries to develop their industries as a sign of their political and economic policies and power, why can’t we come to theirs?

That is an excellent question, Jose. What’s amazing is so many undocumented citizens aren’t quite as articulate as you are about their problem, and you’re trying to put this human face on it. I’ve been to several different things that in fact tech people have done, the immersing collective around ...

Oh, yeah.

Carne y Arena, which is an amazing VR show which is really interesting.

Which is fascinating.


And really kudos to ... I have to say this, by the way. The fact that Laurene Powell Jobs sees the role of art and storytelling in this, to me ...

Yes, with the big photographs.


It’s amazing.

But again, she’s been one of the exceptions, because people think in D.C., all you gotta do is pass immigration reform or ...

Right. So talk about the role… because you’re telling a story here of your ...

Yeah, which I didn’t really wanna do, by the way.

Try to humanize ... You’re saying that DACA, they use social media. They’re trying to tell stories.

They’re trying to tell stories.

“Here I am, I’ve done this.”

Well, the coming out movement. That’s why for me, using the LGBTQ rights as a model ...

That’s a really good one. I hadn’t thought about that, but that’s a great idea.

But, you come out to let people in.

That’s a great way of putting it.

And in the book, I made an effort to really ...

I came out to to drive my mother crazy, but go ahead.

But you know, I tell the story in the book of all of these teachers and mentors who, they were like my underground railroad of people. And I’m saying that with all due respect to African American history. I was an American Studies major in college. The fact that there’s all these people who have helped people like me, and the fact that we never really hear their stories ...

Because it doesn’t make sense on a basic level when you know the people, when you actually ... that’s the ...

Which gets us back to the LGBT rights movement, right?

Right, everyone’s like, “Oh, no, not them.” Because it takes people out of this... As you know, if you remember from … what’s his name, the movie that was about gays in movies. It was a great film.

Oh, “The Celluloid Closet.”

“The Celluloid Closet.”


I showed that, actually, to my mom, who was, I would say, quite homophobic initially, still is a little bit. Just every now and again she lets loose one. But when she saw that, I’ll never forget. She goes, “Now I know why people hate gay people,” like, watching it, because all the visuals coming at you about gay people are either really sexualized ...

Yeah, there were a lot of scenes in that film ...

... Or predatory or silly, but always dead in the end, and tragic. Always tragic and sad and pathetic. And once the images changed, and when it was Ellen who, everybody likes Ellen, or when it was “Will and Grace,” when the images started to change and everyone started to come out, and especially with the anger around AIDS, I think that helped fuel that, Silence = Death.


It was all together. It was a palatability. It was also, no we’re not gonna ... Remember “Angels in America”? “We’re no longer gonna be quiet citizens.”

“The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing,” right?

Yeah. Doing, yeah. Yeah.

“He set the note to the word ‘free’ so high, nobody could reach it.”

Reach it, right. So that was to me, it’s actually a really good analogy. As people got angry, and also people got palatable ... I don’t wanna say, “palatable,” but it’s like you started to hear their stories, and then it was your friend, and then it was ...

So that was really my goal seven years ago, when I started doing this. And then again, looking at GLAAD, looking at what they’ve already set up. This is the biggest part of our work right now.

I made a film for MTV called “White People.” This was three years ago now. When we were making it, MTV did a study that was really interesting to me because I didn’t know this. Seventy-four percent of white people live in predominantly white towns. I did not know that. And 90 percent of white people have predominantly white friends. Also did not know that, did not realize that.

Meaning what? Meaning the only time you would get to know a person of color or an immigrant is the news you consume and the television shows and movies you watch. What the media tells you about who these people are is of absolute importance.


At Define American, our two biggest goals is, how do we get the news media to be much more responsible and contextual in the way they talk about it, and in entertainment media, how do we help producers, writers, directors to actually better, tell more accurate stories of the 43 million immigrants who’s gonna constitute the rest of America?

Which is happening, correct?

We’ll be doing a lot of that work. Right now, we consulted on 43 projects with 11 networks. So meaning, they send us scripts ...

And you look at them the way ...

And we look at them, and we’re like, “Ummm…”

No, yeah.

Actually, one time ... I’m not gonna mention the show. They were like, “We’re gonna introduce this undocumented character and then the next episode we’ll make him legal,” and we’re like, “How?”

How. Magic?

“Is it magic? Are you just gonna go poof, he’s legal!” But these are well-meaning people who are like, “We don’t know that we just can’t make them legal.” And I’m thinking to myself, if Hollywood doesn’t know this ...


Then we’re really ... so for us that’s really for us in terms of how do we ... what is the cultural conversation like? So that’s what we’re trying to do.

How does social media play into it?

Well, the problem with that is we just ... You know, it’s so rare. I made an effort in the book to include what it’s been like for me to go on Fox News, what it’s been like for me to really go talk to conservatives and Republicans who are ready to deport me when they see me. And then the moment I show my tax forms they’re like, “What do you mean, you pay taxes?”


“What? Young man, you should sue the government!”

Right. Right.

They turn! The moment they find out I pay taxes and I have no representation, the libertarians particularly are like, “What do you mean? You should sue the government!”

No taxation without representation, you illegal immigrant!

Right? So meaning ... but what they’ve been told on Fox News since the ’90s, I mean the success of the right on this ...

That you’re living off the dole.

Yes. The anti-immigrant machine as it exists from Fox to Breitbart to Drudge to the White House, there is no equivalent on the left. There is no equivalent on the left.

And why is that?

Because I think, again, for the most part, people are stuck on just the policy and the politics of it.

And not the story.

They do not understand that we are actually in the middle of a culture war. I would argue that we are in the middle of the biggest culture war this country has ever seen when it comes to what this country looks like and where we’re going, and people are stuck talking about policy.

On some level, though, what this country looks like, it’s inevitable.


That’s the thing.

The country is only going to get gayer.


More women will have more power. Latinos and Asians ... California, Latinos and Asians, you combine them, they’re the majority. This is what America is! But the thing though is, how do we ... To me, you can’t talk about immigration without bringing black people and white people into the conversation. In the same way that you can’t talk about gay people without bringing in straight people.


Right? And so it has to be an actual conversation. And you and I both ...

So what prevents it? What prevents it?

People don’t want to have a conversation.

They like to stick to their imagery.

To me, I have to tell you, I’m exhausted by the whole Woke Resistance thing. I find that exhausting.


Because I don’t think people actually want to talk to people who don’t agree with them. I think people only want to talk to people who already perpetuate their point of view or their anger. You made a point a few minutes ago about how jolly I am about all this. If I didn’t have a sense of humor it’d be over. I would’ve left. If I was only angry and I didn’t channel my anger ... Maya Angelou had this great quote once, I’ve read it ...

She had so many.

She had so many.

I just put one up yesterday about my kids!

Oh really? I was obsessed with PBS when I was growing up. And she had this great interview with Bill Moyers. And she talked about, “anger is good but you have to choreograph it. You have to dance it. You have to sing it. You have to write it.”

Oh, Maya Angelou.

Right? And so I’m angry. Are you kidding me? Of course, I’m angry! I’m angry that I’m living in a country where most people don’t even value their citizenship and I can’t have it!

And you can’t vote and you can’t have ... What?

I can’t vote!

You can’t vote.

That really sucks, man.


I really wanna vote. Although people tell me all the time, “What do you mean you didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton?” What am I going to vote with? My Bank of America debit card? Like what am I ...?

According to Donald Trump, you did vote.

Yes. According to Donald Trump, I did vote.

You illegally documented immigrant, voting.

So this is really a question for me about, again, whom do we consider to be Americans?

What do you consider to be a citizen, then?

The word citizenship is sacred to me, because I think it’s like knowing that I have a right to exist, but also fully knowing that the world does not revolve around me.


Knowing that you and I share a space, and you have your needs and I have my needs. People now in progressive politics talks about this thing, intersectionality. It’s like this term now, which is wonderful. But how do you put that into practice? For me, how do you put that into practice with people who don’t agree with you?


Compromising is not a dirty word.

So how do you do that?

I’m trying to do it one conversation at a time.

This seems like the high-water mark of anti-immigration.

Oh yeah.

Which has happened before.

The only analogy is the 1920s, that was when we were saying that the Irish, not the Irish, the Polish and the Italians were not as desirable as the Germans or the British.

And before that, the Irish.

The Irish, of course. I’ve been fascinated with Irish history. I didn’t know much about it.

Oh, it’s brutal.

I did not know. I read “How the Irish Became White.” That was an interesting read.

But knowing that, the difference though, is all those groups of Europeans could become this thing called “white.” Right? Asians and Latinos, some of us try, but we don’t look white.

That’s a really good point.

So that’s why ... It’s visible. The food is different. The language is different.

I was in Alabama, I’ll never forget this, a month after I came out in 2011, I’m like, “Let’s go to Alabama.” Went to Alabama, went to Birmingham.

That’s the last thing I’d do.

I’m a reporter, Kara.

I’ve been to Alabama.

I was right outside Birmingham, and the first thing I do is I go to Walmart.

Which one did you come out, the gay or the immigrant?

The immigrant. The immigrant, 2011.

Okay, sorry. Because I was like, “Don’t go to Alabama necessarily as a gay, right away.”

So I like to go to Walmart to see what ...

Warm up in like Kansas or something.

Warm up in Kansas.

But I wanted to know what the ethnic food aisle is. I’m like, “What do they sell in the ethnic food aisle?” Right?

Went to Walmart, and then on one aisle there was this Latin woman and her mother, and they were speaking Spanish. In my aisle was this elderly white woman who then says, out loud, “Why can’t they just speak English?” So of course I went to talk to her. Her name is Connie. I’m like, “Hey, you know ...” Usually when we hear this story, you just hear that there is an elderly white woman saying ...


So you get 20 minutes into the conversation, and you know what I find out? Her kids just put her in a home. Right? You know what she says, 20 minutes into the conversation? “What if I don’t speak Spanish?”

Ah. So she was being taken care of by people by people speaking ...

And I said to her, “Oh you know, I think English is still going to be the language of the country.” But the fear, the anxiety of about, what if I don’t speak that language?

If I don’t fit anymore.


Yes, it’s 100 percent about fear of being ...

Where is empathy here? Where does empathy go? I’m not talking about the blind empathy of, you hear all these stories about the rural Trump voters. I get all of that, but at the end of the day, I think ...

Something incredible happened a few months ago that I’m still kind of processing. The school district that I attended when I was in middle school decided to name an elementary school after me, which is bananas.

Oh, wow. What?

It’s crazy. It’s Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School. It’s a public school from K to fifth grade.


On Whisman Road, six blocks from LinkedIn.

All right.

This is crazy. So the superintendent contacted me about it last fall on Twitter, and I thought he was joking. Because apparently there was a parent who’s on the board who suggested that they name someone contemporary, they had Steve Jobs to choose from, Barrack and Michelle Obama, and somehow I won out. It happened, and I still kind of can’t believe it happened, because it’s going to be 400 kids!

And then I started thinking, you know, we are living in a time right now where a community has to decide who belongs. I’m from Mountain View. That’s where I’m from. I can tell you all the streets in Mountain View and Los Altos and Palo Alto and Sunnyvale.

Let’s finish up talking a little bit about what are you going to do. You were talking earlier whether you’re going to get taken away by ICE, because that could happen at any time. Correct?

Any of the book tour stops, but I’ve been prepared for that for the past seven years. I’ve already gone through the detention thing.

Why haven’t they?

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s not like I’m hiding.

So you were in detention and they let you out.

After eight hours. I was only there for eight hours and then I got out.

How’d you get out?

I don’t know. Actually, that’s the thing. In the book I write about that, because apparently people called, people in high places, this was when Obama was still president, and I got out. I remember after it happened I got so many private messages from a lot of undocumented people and activists who were angry at me.

Yeah, because you got out.

Because I got out.

Yeah, so now what? You could easily be detained.

And then deported.

Right. Well, this time you’re not getting out.

Actually, so this is why I don’t ... Well, my bond letters are written. I’m ready, but I’ve been ready for a while. Here’s my point though, what I’m not ready for is the status quo. Because look, the conversation I have to have with myself every day is, staying in this country is my choice. I have decided to stay. There are some days when I’m just kind of like, “Okay, you don’t want me here, maybe I should just go.”

Because you know, I kind of want to go see London. Everybody thinks I’m Mexican, I should at least go see Mexico. I kind of want to go see the world. My mom, 25 years, I don’t know what that looks like.

Do you speak to her?

Yeah, of course.

But it’s hard.

I’ve been supporting her financially since I was in my mid-20, like a lot of immigrant families do. But our relationship is, I send money every month, and that’s it. I try not to ...

Do you have brothers and sisters at home?

My sister was a year and a half when I left. She’s now 26. I have a brother who I haven’t met who’s now 20.


But hey, they know me. I’m the guy that sends iPhones. I’m the guy that sends basketball jerseys.

But that’s the thing too, when I think about immigrants in this country, documented or undocumented, I think about, we hide the feelings behind what we buy each other. It’s just, “Hey, you have an iPhone.” Right?

It’s better than eating, right?

It is better, yes.

The status quo is the status quo. Where is there hope of this ever moving?

I find, well ...

Say the Democrats win the House.

And then let’s say that they save DACA. Let’s say that they pass the Dream Act. Let’s say that they put immigration reform on the bill. Here’s the thing though, Kara. How many more billions of dollars do you want to spend on this border? Especially considering that the fastest growing undocumented population are undocumented Asian people.




Right? It’s not Latinos.

That’s a big wall.

It’s an ocean.

It’s an ocean.

It’s Indians, it’s Chinese, it’s Koreans.

What about a wall in the ocean?

So are we going to face facts about what the issue really is about? Because right now, even all the Democratic people, even all the Democratic senators and congresspeople are saying, “Immigration reform is going to come with $50 billion trying to build a border.” About what?

Which is why this gets back to the tech community. I don’t like to use the term “open borders,” because as far as I’m concerned the country has always been open so long as white people get to define what open is.

But let’s talk about reality, which is that we are living in the greatest movement the world has ever seen. The greatest migration the world has ever seen. Many people are going to be migrating because of climate change. We haven’t really even talked about that, right? People are going to have to move because of that. So how can tech companies help figure out ...

How can they?

I think a lot of it is having these conversations and having platforms, and have them figuring out what only constitutes citizenship, and how can these countries welcome all these people who are coming to their countries?

But how can they actually help? They happen to have a lot of money, and they have a lot of influence. But FWD didn’t work, in many people’s minds.

Because right now, if you’re looking at it from a policy or law perspective, it hasn’t worked for any of them. Right?

What would you do if you were Mark Zuckerberg? What’s your next move?

My next move would be trying to fund a cultural shift in this country.

So what Laurene is doing, Laurene Powell Jobs.

More of that. That’s what we’re trying to convince people to do, not only because Define American is doing that work, but I have one organization doing that work that’s going up against a multi-hundred-million dollar machine.

And then there’s RAICES down in Texas, which is doing ...

But again, a lot of it is legal services.

Legal services, right.

Right now, most of the money is going to policy, legal services ... But how do we change the conversation community per community per community?


Right, to me, that is where I’m going to put my work, so long as I’m still here.

So how do you get that when you have such a pervasive imagery of immigrants? Even though they’re so different, every group is so different, and everyone has different needs and issues. How do you change that?

First of all, I think we have to know what it is. For example, we’re actually partnering with the Norman Lear Center and the Hollywood Reporter to actually do a study of how immigrants are portrayed in the top 100 television shows. Again, taking a page out of GLAAD.


So then we know that. Remember back in the day when HBO would be like, “We won a GLAAD Award for ‘Angels in America!’” I mean, this is the analogy that I like to say. Alec Baldwin says something homophobic. He apologizes the next day, he gives money to GLAAD, and then poof. Right? In this country, thankfully, we live in a country where to be openly homophobic is no longer culturally acceptable, but we live in a country where being anti-immigrant is not only acceptable, it wins you the White House.

Right. Right.

That, again, that is a cultural shift. That is a cultural shift. Right now ... When I was in high school, I came out in high school when I was a junior. When I graduated from high school they started a Gay-Straight Alliance. I didn’t know what that was, and so I went back to the high school, and it was so interesting. Twenty members, and most of them were straight.

Yeah, I know that.

I was like, “What? What is this?” So we used that model, so now we have about 60 Define American college chapters across the country in places that need them, Nebraska, Iowa. And it’s mostly U.S. citizen kids, white, black, Latin kids, who have heard about this immigration thing and they don’t know how to help.


That’s kind of how we’re taking what we’re doing nationally at the local level.

If you could wave a wand and get rid of one media outlet that’s causing the most ...

Fox News.


And you know, I struggle with that because in the beginning, why even go. Why go on? I’ve been on all of them except Hannity. I haven’t done Hannity. I just have not. Do you suggest that I do?

No. You know what? No. That bag of rage, no, there’s nothing. I’m going to find out he’s like a cross-dressing homosexual. That’s what’s going ...

Okay, that’s hilarious. That’s hilarious.

That’s where it’s headed at some point. Come on, it’d feel so Jimmy Swaggart to me.

But what I found out is, I remember when I went on Lou Dobbs the first time, I got an email from the president of the Chamber of Commerce in Oklahoma somewhere. And he goes, “Young man, would you come talk to my Chamber of Commerce and bring your tax forms?” So I did. So meaning, I don’t want to assume that the people who watch Fox News are the people who are on Fox News, and so I’ve gone on quite a few times. But for me, we can’t make this simply a Democratic issue.

No, 100 percent.

We have to talk to as many Republicans and conservatives who want to do the right thing. That’s why I can’t just play the progressive game here. Progress should not have a party. Progress should not have a party.

You’re 100 percent right. So you’re going on this book tour, and then what’s next for you? Making Define American.

Define American, so I employ 18 people now, which is pretty good for me. Right? I’m proud to be an undocumented person who employs 18 people. We’re growing, thankfully.

And pays taxes.

Whenever I write that check, “I love America. I love America. I love America. I love America.” My grandmother has great Medicaid. You know what I mean? She has a social service woman in Mountain View who takes care of her, so I’m happy to pay it. I pay taxes, I employ people.

The only thing for me is like, I just can’t let this define me. I can’t just be “the undocumented person.”


I’m more than that. That’s why the book, for me, was about independence from all this narrative that is all policy and politics driven.


I’m actually a human being trying to be productive.

It’s also the story of America. Really. The real story of America, really, if you think about. There’s so many false narratives that get piled on top of each other. And I got to say, Trump’s good at it.

Very good at it.

He’s made it about the ... One of the things I was talking about, I was like, “Stop speaking his language. Speak our language.” You know what I mean? Stop talking in his terms. Talk in our terms.

The question now though is, what are we trying to build together? You know what worries me right now? What worries me right now is it seems to me that a lot of people not only just want to stick to their group, but it’s almost like we don’t want white people to get involved. There’s this, there’s a lot of reports from Pew saying, “White people are going to become the minority in 2050.” It’s like there’s a stopwatch. Can you imagine if you’re one of these white people in Oklahoma somewhere, you’re watching that watch?

Yeah, it’s terrifying. Yeah.

So then how do we make them a part of that conversation?

It’s true, but I think it’s multifaceted.

Of course it is. Totally.

When you think of the gay thing, I think just as much as the palatable gays started, and the story started of happy gays, kind of things, or whatever. I think the anger was a critical part of it. I think AIDS was a critical part of it, the AIDS movement. I think if I had to say one group that was the most important, it was Act Up.

Oh yeah, it broke up Larry Kramer when I was at the Washington Post.

It definitely made me change.

That was the awakening.

You went along, and you went along, and you sort of put up with stuff. That was the moment that I was like, “That’s enough.”

I thought what was happening, and what’s happening at the border with the kids being caged, I thought that was going to be an angry ... and it was for like two weeks, and then it kind of ...

Well, that’s because of the news cycle. That’s a whole different story.

But this is where the media part of it is so crucial, because then how do you keep it going?

They tried. You try.

You try. You keep trying.

What happens is he creates distractions and distortions. Now we’re having a discussion about guys that grope you in high school, which I think every woman has those stories, and me too. The news cycle is insane.

Anyway, this is a critical book you all need to read. It’s Jose Antonio Vargas, without an accent.

In the e.

“Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.” Is that your actual finger [on the cover]?

Yeah. Oh no, no. That’s my handwriting, that’s not the fingerprint. That is a step too far for the lawyers.

Yeah, exactly, I figured that. Anyway, it was great talking to you. Thanks for coming on the show.

Thank you for having me.

You’re a great citizen of this country.

Thank you.

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