Documented is a new film by Jose Antonio Vargas
The film had its world premier at the AFI Docs Festival last night to a sold out crowd at the National Portrait Gallery.
It chronicles the struggles and efforts of the Pulitzer Prize-winning former journalist, both before and after he outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times Magazine. “Documented” chronicles his decision to transform his life. At some point, he could no longer keep his secret. He had become a successful journalist covering political campaigns and appearing on television. He had all the trappings of the American success story, but he lacked permission to be in the United States. He had been brought to the U.S. as a child and had no way to obtain a valid immigration status. And after seeing and speaking with thousands of immigrants in the same situation, he decided to “let the world in” to his secret and decided to become an immigration reform activist/provocateur.
Mr. Vargas has made a compelling film that brings into focus what it really means to be an American. It is not a piece of paper, a birth certificate, a passport, or the luck of being born here. It is a love of country, which Mr. Vargas has in abundance. It is also about hard work and struggle. My Vargas’ grandparents were U.S. citizens and brought him to the USA when he was 12. He became an outstanding student and with the help of dozens of friends, mentors, and surrogate parents, he achieved the American dream. However, the cost of this dream were high, and not being able to be open about his status exacted a toll on his psyche. Seeing other young immigrants struggling to keep their families together and lobby Congress to pass the Dream Act., made him realize that he could use his talents as a writer to help America to peel back the layers and understand the complicated issue of immigration reform. The complexity of the topic has been lost in the political bickering and punditry that characterizes our political system and our society. Sound-bites are particularly inappropriate to understand this complex topic. The film sheds a bright and focused light, like very few other films on this topic. It also highlights his struggle to repair his relationship with his mother, who for twenty years had been trapped half way across the world (in the Philippines) with no way to see her son. The film shows that there are thousands of young adults from all over the world who face the same situation. At one moment towards the end of the film, Mr. Vargas is invited to testify before the Senate. His words are profound and he leaves the Senators with the following question that I think we all must consider thoroughly: “What are you going to do with people like me?” There is not one person who does not recognize how dysfunctional our current immigration system has become. Almost as dysfunctional as our political system. It cannot be acceptable in 21st Century America to have some individuals relegated to the back of the bus, or thrown off the bus after having established such strong roots and allegiances to this country. As Mr. Vargas stated, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, “but not their own facts.” Before making a decision, one should see this film and lean the facts.