Immigration documentary explores meaning of ‘American’

By Heidi Carreon, Neon Tommy

As the sun beat down on day two of the L.A. Times Festival of Books, visitors stayed cool in the University of Southern California’s darkened Ray Stark theater. But the room was silent as a documentary opened with bustling scenes of Manila, capital of the Philippines, flickering across the screen.

“I always knew I was going to America,” the words of Jose Antonio Vargas, activist and Pulitzer Prize Winner, echoed throughout the room. “America seemed…inevitable.”

For an hour and a half, visitors watched Vargas’s journey from the Philippines to America through a screening of “Documented,” which received much acclaim since its release in 2014. Immigration continues to be an ongoing issue in America, and some were interested because they wanted to hear his story.

“I’m involved in the Filipino-American community here in Los Angeles,” said Anthony Garciano, a student at USC, “And I just want to see another perspective.”

Some, like Brenda Hernandez, had a personal connection, “My mom immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico and I was born here so we’re both interested in watching this.”

Vargas came to the U.S. when he was 12 years old. Because of the circumstances surrounding his situation, the audience learned, he cannot gain papers to live in the U.S., and he is one of the country’s 11.3 million undocumented people. The scenes of Vargas arguing with politicians, talk show hosts and others about the complications surrounding immigration policy may have struck a few emotional chords because some were shaking their heads. But sniffling could be heard throughout the room as the audience watched the scene of Vargas Skyping with his mother, whom he hasn’t seen in person since he was 12 years old.

Vargas continues to bring awareness to immigration issues through his nonprofit organization Define American, and because it’s easily accessed on Netflix and iTunes, “Documented” is screened throughout the country. Vargas also made an announcement during the Q&A portion after the screening that he is set to launch a digital magazine with L.A. Times called #EmergingUS that surrounds race, immigration and identity in a multicultural America.

At the end of the Q&A an audience member asked a question that was on many people’s minds, “Aren’t you still worried about being deported?”

Vargas isn’t, but he talked about his experience of being arrested by the Texan border patrol last summer and his determination to “share the uncomfortableness” surrounding immigration.

“…I’m not afraid of it anymore, I’m just afraid of not doing enough.”

This article was originally published on Neon Tommy. Reach Staff Reporter Heidi Carreon here and follow her on Twitter here.

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