Mountain View Voice

Opinion - March 9, 2012

The kid in flip-flops comes back

by Judie Rachel Block

The first time I met Jose Antonio Vargas it was 1998 and I was working at the Mountain View Voice. One day I noticed this strange kid hanging around with a Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts and flip-flops. That was Jose. Sixteen years old, a student at Mountain View High School and our new editorial intern. He told me he came from the Philippines when he was 13 to live with his grandparents and said he spoke no English when he arrived in the U.S.

He was a diligent reporter and often stayed until all hours of the night working on stories. He covered a few city council meetings, the school board, and local politics. Sometimes he spent the night on the floor at the Voice office. He said he had to get up the next day and get to class, plus write his stories. He lived in a small house with a big family. He made us laugh; he made us cry. He told me once his father sired 31 children and he had only met him once.

Being at least 30 years his senior, I always felt a motherly protection over Jose.

He graduated from Mountain View High with scholarships and acceptance to San Francisco State. He proudly went off with a laptop given to him by Rich Fisher, the school district superintendent.

I followed Jose's success at SF State and then his next steps to the Philadelphia Daily News, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Huffington Post! And then, voila, the Pulitzer Prize!

I felt so proud of our local guy.

And then last year I read of his personal disclosure. He told the world he is an undocumented immigrant. I realized quickly why he was so modest with my accolades.

Last week I followed him again to Mountain View High School. There I saw a very mature, 31-year-old, articulate Jose speaking to a capacity crowd. He was filled with passion and insight into his cause, "Define American." He views himself as "a walking, uncomfortable conversation." He spoke with facts, ideas and determination. It was easy to see he has become a pioneer in this national challenge of immigration.

Jose is making a difference in our society.

I feel like a proud mother would, only hiding behind the scenes.

Kudos to you, Jose Antonio Vargas, our local guy in the flip flops.

Judie Rachel Block is a sales representative for Embarcadero Media, publisher of the Voice.

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