If you haven’t read Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ vulnerable and daring piece for the NY Times, you really must. Written with groundbreaking honesty, Vargas, an immigrant from the Philippines, “comes out” through a piece in the international newspaper about his undocumented status. For me and Emily, the article moved us deeply. While we’re grateful that we’re not undocumented, Vargas’ story was one we related with. It’s a story of resilience, fear, courage, loneliness and adaptability—one that every immigrant faces.
I loved how Vargas poignantly captures the immigrant experience of adapting to survive in a frighteningly unfamiliar country. His story sums up why fobs are strong, adaptable visionaries. Vargas’ parents sent him here in the hopes of a better life; like many immigrants, his journey was one driven by a vision for something better, despite inevitable and seemingly indomitable hurdles. Emily and I have had many impassioned discussions about what we call “fob hunger.” It’s the drive for something more, whether it’s for ourselves or for our children, that moves us out of our comfort zones, out of our home countries.
Amy Chua a.k.a. Tiger Mother puts it really well as she tells of a time when she reprimands her daughters for making fun of someone’s accent. “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery,” she writes in her book. “Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country. My parents had accents — I had an accent.”
I don’t know what Vargas’ public confession will bring. Will he get deported? Will he, after 18 years, finally get to see his mother? (His mom couldn’t get a visa to join him in the US, and he couldn’t visit her since he didn’t have a passport.) Will his story bring new energy to the DREAM Act? The DREAM Act would grant legal status to undocumented young people who, like Vargas, came to the US as kids and now want to attend college or join the military. The bill failed to pass in December 2010.
I’m not saying that Vargas and his family are not without fault. I recognize that their actions were illegal, and that Vargas lied to countless friends, coworkers and employers. It’s a powerful paradox, that Vargas, a former Washington Post reporter, whose duty is to serve as watchdog for the people and ferret out the truth, has spent his life hiding the truth about himself.
“In April 2008, I was part of a Post team that won a Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings a year earlier. Lolo died a year earlier, so it was Lola who called me the day of the announcement. The first thing she said was, ‘Anong mangyayari kung malaman ng mga tao?’
What will happen if people find out?
I couldn’t say anything. After we got off the phone, I rushed to the bathroom on the fourth floor of the newsroom, sat down on the toilet and cried.”
Immigrants often endure deep emotional, and sometimes ethical, struggles. I have asked myself, “Should I stay in the US while my family is all in Asia?”, “Should I tell my employer about my visa status, even though I know it will negatively affect my chances of getting hired?”
But one thing I know, and which Vargas’ piece reinforced, is that fobs fight on. We adapt, we’re visionaries, and we’re survivors. My friend once told me that if he were to start a company, he’d prefer to hire immigrants because we’re hungry to succeed. I completely agree. Vargas wrote this piece to give reprieve to his confused identity and conflicted conscience, but he’s shown that even in his most vulnerable state, he continues to face his fears.