GLAAD is proud to partner with Define American to encourage viewers to tune in to Documented today on CNN. The film profiles Jose Antonio Vargas, a gay, undocumented Pulitzer prize winning journalist who has started an organization called Define American to advocate for immigration reform. The film will air on CNN this Sunday, the 29th at 9PM Eastern Time.
1. What can people do now to advocate for immigration reform?
Jose Antonio Vargas: Join the conversation. 3 years ago, when I outed myself as an undocumented American, I launched the campaign "Define American" precisely to start a conversation. That's why when CNN agreed to show the film "Documented" (documentedthefilm.com) instead of just allowing the single story to speak for itself, we launched a nationwide effort to get community groups and individuals to host watch parties (which they can still register for at http://act.defineamerican.com/page/s/host-a-documented-watch-party?partner=GLAAD). It's also why we were so excited to have partners like GLAAD and 36 other diverse organizations join in the effort and set up a system to dialogue live through Twitter (@CNN #Documented) while the film airs.
Many who have joined the conversation quickly find themselves becoming allies. The voices of American citizen allies — from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, scattered all across the country — are largely missing when we talk about immigration reform. But theirs are precisely the voices that politicans need to hear in order to come up with fair, common-sense, and humane solutions to our shared immigration problem.
However, for us at Define American--much in the same way that GLAAD has been able to impact the culture around equality--we believe that culture drives politics. It's the cultural framing around our immigrant neighbors that will determine the environment wherein policies can shift and people can be treated more humanely. That's why we asked the AP to stop referring to people as "illegal" and will continue to launch similar media and culture campaigns that create more fairness.
2. What were some of the fears you faced before you decided to come out as undocumented?
Jose Antonio Vargas: Every day, an estimated 1,100 immigrants are deported--ripping apart families and leaving economic gaps in communities that thrive because of immigrant revitalization. The U.S. government has deported over 2 million immigrants in five years--a record. But not me. I made a film. I travel around the country with Define American doing over 400 events in the past three years in almost every state in the nation.
Before I outed myself (for the second time) I had built a career as a journalist for over a decade, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.
But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. It means dealing with the mental health consequences of a life where I felt like I had to lie about who I am (an American in every way just without the papers to show for it). And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.
Of course, I feared being deported--to a country I haven't been to in almost two decades. While that is still a reality--it's no longer a fear that I let control my life.
3. What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Jose Antonio Vargas: A broken immigration system means broken families and broken lives. I did not realize how broken I was until I saw how broken Mama (who I haven't seen in almost 21 years) was. In the process of documenting myself, I ended up documenting Mama—and the sacrifices of parents who make America what it is, then and now. And in telling my own specifically universal story, I hope it incites others to tell their stories too. It's through those stories that we can humanize what's often a polarizing debate just about legislation. At the very least, I want viewers to ask the question I posed as I filmed and traveled our country: How do you define American?
4. Why should LGBT people advocate for immigration reform?
Jose Antonio Vargas: Immigration isn't just an issue of concern to immigrants--it impacts all of us. And, to solve our broken immigration system (a moral crisis), and in many ways determine what kind of country we want to be, we need everyone in the conversation. More directly, immigration it impacts the LGBT community. The LGBT community can speak uniquely about what it feels like to live in fear, and what it means to be accepted (or not) by a larger community.
There are at least 267,000 LGBT adult undocumented immigrants living in America today, many of whom live in dual shadows. The efforts of Harvey Milk and so many other amazing activists helped put a human face on the issues facing our LGBT community--we need that humanizing effort to unite and continue.
To register or join a watch party for the airing of "Documented" on CNN June 29 at 9 ET go to: