I founded Define American to change the conversation around immigration in America, and have partnered with the March for Innovation -- a two-day virtual march on Washington/Congress -- to reform it.

Proof that I'm me: https://twitter.com/joseiswriting/status/337289394161586177

Comments: 148 • Responses: 23  • Date: 

joseiswriting13 karma

Hi, happy to be doing this chat. Thank you for joining us. As a gay, undocumented Asian guy with a Latin name--it's called Filipino--I'm like a walking uncomfortable question to some people. And I'm all for having uncomfortable, honest conversations so we can fully understand what is at stake in this immigration conversation.

arcray-24 karma

Your kind annoys me. I'm Filipino and I had to get a fucking VISA to get here. Why couldn't you pay like I did?

joseiswriting10 karma

My kind? What kind is that? And great that you're Filipino. How did you get your visa? I cannot get one. Folks ask me all the time, "why don't you just make yourself legal?" Here's the most thorough and contextualized answer: http://on.fb.me/18JfdKa

_vargas_9 karma

Hey, my username is finally kind of relevant!

I've read about your views on immigration as well as the "criteria" for being an American. Just this morning, I actually read your New York Times essay about being an undocumented immigrant and I thought it was amazing. Its wonderful how you are bringing media attention to these issues. I also came across this blog from politico.com. Some of the remarks in the comment section are a bit unsettling to me even though I'm not the one they were directed at. My question is this: How do you deal with these types of negative comments about you? How often do you receive such comments?

joseiswriting3 karma

Yo, what's up, Vargas?!? Are we related? Thank you for reading that long NYT essay. Bottom line: I have little control over hateful, nasty, ignorant comments. (I get a lot of "go back to Mexico!" even though I'm from the Philippines--though I cannot wait to visit Mexico!). I do have control over how I react. Some comments I must ignore; others I have to actually address. But, hey, I made it this far in life by being as idealistic and optimistic as possible.

MichaelaGra6 karma

Do you feel that this 'stumbling block' has also been a 'stepping stone' , because it forced you to dig deep and find creativity in you, that you otherwise may have not found?

joseiswriting6 karma

That's a great question.

I was not privileged enough to be born in the U.S. or have the right papers to be in the U.S. All my life I've wanted to earn to be an American--being American, to me, was something you earn, not something that's just given to you. So, yes, I think this struggle has forced me to really fight for my own existence and be as creative and entrepreneurial as possible. When doors were close, I tried hard to find doors that could open. When people said "no you can't," I had to find a way to keep saying "yes" to myself. I love James Baldwin and live by his quotes, one of which is, "The greatest difficulty is to say 'yes' to life." I try and always say yes to myself.

SirDouchebag-3 karma

I was not privileged enough to be born in the U.S. or have the right papers to be in the U.S. All my life I've wanted to earn to be an American--being American, to me, was something you earn, not something that's just given to you.

I find this difficult to understand. We are who we are. We do not chose where we are born. The universe aligned that way and you were born somewhere on this planet. Why would any one desperately try to be something that he isn't ?? U.S.A is just a country. It shouldn't be that important.

joseiswriting6 karma

First, thanks for your comment, which is exceedingly revealing. I had to fight to be an American because the country I grew up in--where I went to school, where I've worked and paid taxes, where my life is--does not recognize me as one of its citizens. I pledge allegiance to a flag that does not legally recognize my existence. U.S.A., to me, is not "just a country." I cannot leave it because I wouldn't be allowed to come back. (There would be a 10-year bar to re-entry, which is not guaranteed.) A few days ago, a friend said to me, "why are you busying yourself with defining American? Why can't you be a global citizen?" In theory, I am a global citizen--we all are. But I am not privileged enough to be able to freely fly around the world.

MichaelaGra4 karma

Where do you get the strength to keep calm when talking to some of those extremists?

joseiswriting9 karma

I'm a trained reporter, which means I'm trained to listen. And when I get angry, hateful emails, tweets or Facebook messages, I try to really understand where the person is coming from. Some of the extreme questions there are no answers--the bigotry is too naked and blatant. Many people, however, have fair and hard questions. So I listen, breathe and answer the best I can.

cafeconleche993 karma

Are there any common threads? What are people really upset about?

joseiswriting7 karma

Only threads is just the level of ignorance out there, people drowning in misinformation.

scoutycat3 karma

What do you think the biggest changes need to be to immigration law as it stands now?

joseiswriting5 karma

As it stands now, we need an immigration system that honors our history and prepares us for a multilingual, multicultural global economy. The U.S.A. is a nation of immigrants, a country of countries--and we must remain so. We need an immigration system that can help support our country economically and culturally. We need to stop look at immigration as a country and more as an opportunity.

SwagSnail3 karma

What was your reaction upon learning you'd won the Pulitzer Prize?

joseiswriting6 karma

That was an unforgettable day. I was fortunate to be included in the Prize-winning group. (I owe Facebook for my reporting.) I was happy and grateful and proud--all of that. But I was also scared, very scared. Like, what do I do now? Will the Pulitzer people find out? Instead of saying, "congratulations," the first thing my grandmother told me upon hearing the news was, "what will happen when people find out?" A bittersweet day.

joseiswriting2 karma

Unfortunately, I gotta run. LOVED doing this AMA. Please check out two things: http://www.defineamerican.com/, our immigration campaign, and the documentary film I'm working on: https://www.facebook.com/documentedthefilm.

HolyWah2 karma

Jose, thanks for doing this. What do you think Congress needs to hear in order to finally agree to pass immigration reform?

joseiswriting3 karma

I, for one, consider myself an American--I'm just waiting for my country to recognize it. And what congressional leaders need to hear is the broad and diverse voices and faces of not only undocumented immigrants (many of us Americans in all but papers), but also the voices and faces of our allies and supporters. For far too long, a relatively small but very vocal minority has hijacked the immigration debate (yes, I'm talking about Numbers USA, Center for Immigration Studies and the like). Now we need the silent majority to come out and speak up in support of improving and reforming our immigration system.

Castlerock2 karma

I always think it's funny to see news reports about immigration where they use footage showing the border with Mexico. Immigration is so much more than that and I think you and the March for Innovation serve an important role in trying to change those perceptions. Question: What other common misconceptions do you think Americans have about immigrants and the U.S. immigration system?

joseiswriting4 karma

Immigration, by far, is the most controversial but least understood issue in America. No question about that. And I say that based on the questions that people ask me every day via email, Facebook or Twitter. Questions like:

"Why haven't you gotten deported?" Answer: http://on.fb.me/12yAtxD

"Why don't you just make yourself legal?" Answer: http://on.fb.me/18JfdKa

"What part of 'illegal' don't you understand?" Answer: http://on.fb.me/180jBTP

"So you're not Mexican?" Answer: http://on.fb.me/15KVX0d

"Why did you come out [about being undocumented]"? Answer: http://on.fb.me/15KWoHL

2curmudgeony1 karma


joseiswriting1 karma

The conversation desperately needs to change, and that's what we're trying to do at DefineAmerican.com. (Check it out!) Changing the conversation means: Immigration is not only a Mexican and Latino issue; immigration is an American issue. Immigration is not a problem; immigration is opportunity. Immigration is not only about undocumented immigrants; it's about the American citizens who stand alongside us as allies--our friends, classmates, neighbors, relatives, partners, etc--who know the injustice of the system. As for DACA, the first time I heard about the Obama administration's decision to grant temporary status to undocumented Americans under age 30, I was, to be honest, crushed. I was four months over 30. But how can I not be happy? That decision impacts tens of thousands of undocumented young people who need driver's licenses and work permits. This fight is way bigger than me and I had to embrace that from the get-go.

Frajer1 karma

Do you think people are becoming more accepting of immigrants?

joseiswriting4 karma

Yes, people are--Americans are.

From the most recent Pew Research report on immigration: "Overall attitudes about immigrants in the U.S. have become more positive than negative, despite the nation’s struggling economy."

More here: http://www.pewresearch.org/2013/05/16/immigration-tip-sheet-on-u-s-public-opinion/

pinoybuilt1 karma

Have you been contacted by any government agency for consultation on immigration or for the next steps with your personal status?

joseiswriting5 karma

About a year ago, I wrote a cover story for TIME magazine and I had to contact immigration officials myself since they had not and have not contacted me. From the story:

"I spend every day wondering what, if anything, the government plans to do with me. After months of waiting for something to happen, I decided that I would confront immigration officials myself. Since I live in New York City, I called the local ICE office. The phone operators I first reached were taken aback when I explained the reason for my call. Finally I was connected to an ICE officer.

"Are you planning on deporting me?" I asked.

I quickly found out that even though I publicly came out about my undocumented status, I still do not exist in the eyes of ICE. Like most undocumented immigrants, I've never been arrested. Therefore, I've never been in contact with ICE.

"After checking the appropriate ICE databases, the agency has no records of ever encountering Mr. Vargas," Luis Martinez, a spokesman for the ICE office in New York, wrote me in an e-mail.

I then contacted the ICE headquarters in Washington. I hoped to get some insight into my status and that of all the others who are coming out. How does ICE view these cases? Can publicly revealing undocumented status trigger deportation proceedings, and if so, how is that decided? Is ICE planning to seek my deportation?

"We do not comment on specific cases," is all I was told.

I am still here. Still in limbo. So are nearly 12 million others like me — enough to populate Ohio. We are working with you, going to school with you, paying taxes with you, worrying about our bills with you. What exactly do you want to do with us? More important, when will you realize that we are one of you?"

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2117243,00.html#ixzz2U3izRQ6c

jennipenny1 karma


joseiswriting5 karma

Like many, I was hoping and praying for the most inclusive immigration bill we can get. I am saddened that same-sex couples are not part of the bill. I'm also saddened that the bill bars citizens from sponsoring their siblings. (Many of my Filipino American citizen uncles and aunts got to the U.S. legally because of that provision.) But we need bipartisan support for this immigration bill to move forward. So we must move forward as united as possible.

something_something11 karma


joseiswriting2 karma

I have not seen my mother for almost 20 years--I cannot leave the U.S., and she's been denied visas to come here. And I try to honor my Mama's sacrifice by being as productive as I possibly can. I just released a teaser/trailer for a documentary I've been working on for two years--the film is dedicated to her: what she lost, what I lost, and what is at stake, in my mind, when it comes to immigration reform. Trailer here: http://youtu.be/B0lWlys0Qe0

Jimbobshawobodob1 karma

Do you believe that even Americans could be considered immigrants since they came over to America from Europe and that Indians are the true Americans?

joseiswriting6 karma

Only two groups of people--Native Americans and African Americans, who were forced to come to the U.S. because of slavery--are not immigrants. We are a country of countries and must remain so.

The_Cat_Downvoter0 karma

I understand your argument based on your own life experiences (btw, I am MVHS Class of 2002), as I read multiple articles on your story and experience of not knowing that you were brought here illegally.

However, what are your views on the flipside, where many undocumented/illegal immigrants cross the border in order to have children here and guarantee US benefits here? Or for the undocumented/illegal immigrants that simply work to live outside of the system, yet present a drain on government funds (without paying anything in taxes)?

I guess I struggle to give blanket understanding to the high number of undocumented/illegal immigrants living here that actively work to game the system. Your thoughts?

joseiswriting5 karma

A fellow graduate of Mountain View High School?!? Awesome. I love that school; I am forever indebted to the teachers and administrators at that school for their kindness and guidance--Rich Fischer, Pat Hyland, Mary Moore, Susan Sweeley, Jill Denny, Kathy Dewar, the list goes on and on.

I hate to answer your questions with more questions, but I feel like your query is framed by the concept that undocumented people only take away from the U.S. economy. That is not true. Two important facts:

1) The IRS doesn't care whether or not undocumented workers have the right papers; IRS cares whether or not we pay taxes. Undocumented workers paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes in 2010: http://bit.ly/hfqc3b

2) Steve Goss, chief actuary of Social Security administration, testified that Social Security would be bankrupt w/o billions paid by undocumented workers: http://buff.ly/Z2CpM7

thejjsaldana0 karma

I think it is great that you are the voice for millions of people. How do you deal with the pressure knowing that or do you not see it that way?

joseiswriting5 karma

I am only one voice; mine is only one story. I cannot speak for other people, but I try to be as inclusive as possible. Let's be honest--I'm incredibly privileged to be doing what I'm doing. Undocumented people are deported and arrested and detained every day, families broken and separated. And here I am doing doing a reddit AMA. All I can do is share my own story in hopes that other people share theirs and that we recognize the humanity in an issue that is often discussed and debated in abstraction. Again great James Baldwin quote: "If you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it."

dcsnowpatrol0 karma

As an undocumented immigrant do you use government services like food stamps, health care, the school systems? If so do you use deception to acquire these services? What is your current path to citizenship so that you can legally acquire these resources and or contribute to the wider community? Thanks.

joseiswriting6 karma

As an undocumented student, I was fortunate to have attended public schools: Crittenden Middle School and Mountain View High School in Mountain View, Calif., and San Francisco State University. I had health care when I was employed at SF Chronicle, Washington Post and Huffington Post--I haven't had health care since 2011 when I publicly disclosed my undocumented status. I have not used food stamps. As for my path to legalization and citizenship--well, that's in the hands of Congress.

wesleyt890 karma


joseiswriting7 karma

Hmm...well, I don't call people "rednecks" in the same way that I don't call immigrants "illegal." I've had some unfortunate, uncomfortable experiences with Americans, online and offline, who call me names only because they don't know me. They have an idea of me, they cling to their idea of me. You fear what you don't know, and there's a lot of fear when it comes to this issue. Fear and ignorance.

ozzieoo-8 karma

I find the pride with which you express this sham arrogant and a snub of all American immigrants who went through the process, heartache, like my parents, my husband's parents.

Your deception is nothing to be proud of. It demonstrates an entitlement cheapens being a citizen of this country.

joseiswriting4 karma

Pride? I am not proud of having deceived my employers (SF Chronicle, Washington Post, Huffington Post) about my undocumented status; I'm sorry that I had to lie to my own friends about who I am and where I came from. I am not proud of lying, and that's precisely why I publicly disclosed my undocumented status in the most public way I could. The question for me and for you is--what now? What do we do now? How do you solve this issue and find a fair, humane, common-sense approach?