Mountain View Voice

News - January 3, 2014

'Documented' to screen in Mountain View

Film by Jose Antonio Vargas chronicles his life here, pursuit of immigration reform

by Nick Veronin

A benefit screening of "Documented," a documentary by Mountain View High School alumnus and former Voice intern Jose Antonio Vargas, will be shown at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts on Monday, Jan. 27. The fundraiser benefits the MVLA Community Scholars, the organization that helped Vargas pay for college,

Raised in Mountain View, Vargas is an award-winning journalist and a major name in the national immigration reform movement.

At the age of 16, he learned that his parents had sent him to live with his grandparents in the U.S. with forged documents. Although he feels that America is his country, he is not technically a citizen of the United States and has struggled to define who he is, he says.

The documentary chronicles his journey from the Philippines to America, his personal identity struggle and his relationship with his mother, whom he has not seen in more than 15 years. The film also follows Vargas as he travels around the country advocating for immigration reform and talking to people both sympathetic and unfriendly to his cause.

The film, which carries the subtitle, "a film by an undocumented American," is meant to change minds. He wants all immigrants to be treated the same as any U.S. citizen — regardless of whether they came to the country through proper channels.

He also wants to change the way people talk about the issue. "Something goes terribly wrong when you categorize human beings as 'illegal,'" he told a crowd of students and community members at Los Altos High School back in November of 2012.

Vargas has been pushing individuals and media organizations to stop using the term "illegal immigrant," which he calls cruel and dehumanizing. His preferred phrasing has gotten some traction and he may have even had an impact on the Associated Press' decision to change its entry on the term in a recent edition of its annual style guide.

The style book no longer condones use of the term "illegal immigrant." Rather, the guide suggests that journalists should use the term "illegal" only when describing an action, "such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally."

In several talks Vargas has given at local venues — including Los Altos and Mountain View high schools — he has said it is important for young immigrants to feel valued by American society and to know that there are avenues for them to continue on to college and beyond.

Growing up, Vargas had mentors and advocates who believed he had potential. Without them, it's not likely he would have gone on to write for the Washington Post, where he was part of the news team that won a Pulitzer Prize for the coverage of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech.

In talks he has given to local students, he has said that for a while growing up he presumed he would not be able to go to college. Because he was not a U.S. citizen he was not eligible for government loans, and being from a family of little means, he didn't think he could find a way to pay for it.

Fortunately, he had many people in his corner, including his former principal at Mountain View High School, Pat Hyland, who told him to keep his grades up and apply to college.

Vargas received assistance from the MVLA Community Scholars program, which helped him to attend San Francisco State University. Vargas was the first inductee into the Mountain View-Los Altos Community Scholars program, which continues to help local students find their way into college — many of them for the first time in their family's history.

The MVLA Community Scholars program has grown since it helped Vargas. A representative for the organization, Carolyn Pierce-Whang, said everyone in her organization is excited for the screening, which the Community Scholars is sponsoring. All proceeds from the event will go to the program's scholarship fund, helping promising students attend college.

The event starts at 7 p.m. at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $27 for general admission. A VIP package is also available for those who wish to attend a reception with Vargas before the event. To buy general admission tickets, go to mvcpa.com or call 650-903-6000. For more information on the VIP event, go to the MVLA Community Scholars Website, mvlacommunityscholars.org.

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