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News Posted on October 2, 2013

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jose Antonio Vargas "Defines American" in Special Presentation at King Hall

Jose Antonio Vargas and Professor Rose Cuison VillazorPulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas delivered heartfelt remarks and presented clips from his new documentary to a packed Kalmanovitz Appellate Courtroom at King Hall on September 30. Vargas is the founder of Define American, a campaign that seeks to elevate the conversation around immigration.

In 2011, in a groundbreaking and controversial essay published in The New York Times, Vargas (then a reporter at The Washington Post) revealed himself to be an undocumented immigrant. He also appeared on the cover of TIME magazine. Vargas has testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform. His newest project is Documented, a documentary film on his undocumented experience.

Dean Kevin R. Johnson opened the event by welcoming the audience and noting King Hall's deep commitment to advocating for immigrants' rights, citing the Law School's outstanding immigration law faculty and the success of the Immigration Law Clinic.

Professor Rose Cuison Villazor introduced Vargas, who previewed clips from his film and discussed his decision to reveal his undocumented status in The New York Times. "Against the advice of many lawyers," he said, "I wrote about all the laws I broke in a 4,000-word essay I figured no one would read." In fact, the essay topped the Times' "Most E-Mailed" list the week it was published.

"Growing up in the Philippines, I always knew I was going to America," he said. "America seemed inevitable." Vargas also talked about what being American means to him, saying, "Is there a word as married to the American ideal as ‘dream'? It's up there with ‘freedom' and ‘equality.' To be an American, to me, is to dream."

The event was sponsored by the UC Davis Filipino Law Students Association, the Aoki Center for Critical Race & Nation Studies, the Immigration Law Students Association, and the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California.