Jose Antonio Vargas’ Define American is working to change the conversations in Hollywood’s writers’ rooms to pave the way for immigration policy changes in Washington too.
“This is long-term work,” says Jose Antonio Vargas, Define American’s founder. “This is not like, ‘How do we pass a bill next month?’ This is, ‘How do we create a culture in which we see immigrants as people deserving of dignity?’ These policies don’t make sense if we don’t see immigrants as people.”
Vargas knows the power of TV to shape stories and change minds. After revealing he was an undocumented immigrant in a 2011 New York Times magazine piece, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist became a high-profile advocate and filmmaker whose documentaries appeared on MTV and CNN.
When he first arrived in the United States from the Philippines in the 1990s, Vargas says that he — like many immigrants — got to know his new home by watching TV.”
When we get to this country, our most effective teacher is the television screen. … The way that I talk is because of all the TV and all the popular culture that I consumed,” he says. “For me, the most effective way of becoming American was being exposed to the media.”
Now the organization he founded is flipping that idea on its head.