Jose Antonio Vargas Has a Lot to Say About the American Dream

Journalist, Immigrant Advocate Shares Story Aug. 19 at the University of Houston

Photo of Jose Antonio Vargas, speaker August 19, University of Houston
Jose Antonio Vargas – journalist, filmmaker, producer and author – learned at 16 he was undocumented. On that day his American dream slipped into shadows like countless other immigrants’. At the top of his career as a journalist, he risked everything by going public with his truth. Vargas is now an advocate who shares his own story in solidarity with others who wait for legal status in America.

Jose Antonio Vargas first learned of his undocumented status at a California DMV office. Like many 16-year-olds, he had gone there to apply for a learner's driving permit.

Four years before, his mother had waved goodbye as he boarded a plane to California. In the San Francisco Bay area, he grew into an American teenager while his loving Filipino grandparents provided documents that blurred the truth. Everything had gone OK until the clerk at the DMV rejected the forgery and told him to never come back.

Remarkably, over the following decades Vargas built a successful career as a journalist – including a Pultizer Prize for his role in team reporting of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting – while fearfully keeping his secret from employers, authorities and all but a small, tight web of friends.

Until he couldn’t lie anymore.

At the peak of his career, he “came out” with his undocumented status in a riveting New York Times Magazine essay in 2011, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” Since then, he has stepped forward as an advocate for immigrants in America, becoming a frequent guest on talk shows and often quoted in news articles.

On the morning of Friday, Aug. 19, he will tell his story in Cullen Performance Hall at the University of Houston. His presentation is part of the UH College of Education’s First Lecture series, a tradition that welcomes the restart of fall classes with thought-provoking guest speakers.

Vargas is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, a Tony-nominated producer and author. His first book, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” was published in 2018. The second, “White Is Not a Country,” is expected to be released next year.

He founded and runs a nonprofit media advocacy organization called Define American. His own path to U.S. citizenship remains elusive.

Admission is free. For details, check out the UH College of Education’s First Lecture and Cullen Know Before You Go webpages.

What:  First Lecture, the University of Houston College of Education’s annual event at the start of the academic year

Who:  Jose Antonio Vargas, journalist, filmmaker, author, advocate for immigrant rights

When:  Friday, Aug. 19, 10:30 a.m. (doors open 10:15 a.m.) RSVP requested; free admission

Where:  University of Houston Cullen Performance Hall, on the UH main campus
4300 University Drive, Houston, TX 77004 (Map)

Paid parking nearby in the Hilton UH parking garage