Vargas left his mother as a child in the Philippines to live in the United States with his grandparents, where he found lifelong mentors among the staff at Mountain View High School, later becoming a Pulitzer-winning journalist at the Washington Post. The film records his emotional reunion with his mother over Skype, as Vargas could not risk traveling back to the Philippines. Without U.S. citizenship, he wouldn't be able to return home.
Two years ago Vargas revealed to the world his illegal citizenship status in a New York Times story about his life, which he says was more difficult than coming out as gay in high school. He has since been running the non-profit "Define American" which seeks to humanize and elevate the debate on immigration reform. His experience as a journalist has apparently come in handy.
"I profiled Mark (Zuckerberg) around this time three summers ago for the New Yorker," Vargas said. "If I were to tell you three summers later he'd be giving remarks (on this film), I'd tell you you were nuts."
On Aug. 5 the film is playing at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, the second showing of the film after it opened last month at the American Film Institute's documentary festival in Maryland.
The event is co-sponsored by Zuckerberg's immigration reform advocacy group, FWD.us, which has been criticized for advocating for the narrow interests of Silicon Valley tech companies. But Vargas says the event aspires to transcend such divisions.
"We agree the immigration system is broken and we agree its going to take all of us to fix it," Vargas said. "This is a film screening, this is a cultural thing. This is way bigger than the political corners than we seem to find ourselves in."
To that end, Vargas has invited over 20 laborers from the Day Worker Center of Mountain View, as well as numerous DREAMers — youth who were brought here as children who still lack citizenship, like Vargas himself.
"I would like it to be a defining moment in history," said Day Worker Center board member Laura Casas of the event. "That's my wish and maybe it won't be and that moment will come in the future — it has to. The population in America is changing so rapidly in this country — we've got to face the future. It is not going to be with animosity and deportation and and splitting up families."