Immigration advocate Jose Antonio Vargas kicks off 2021-22 Speaker Series

Friday, September 17, 2021
Written by: Mark Richardson

Seminole State College of Florida's Speaker Series hosted its first event of the 2021-22 academic year on Thursday, Sept. 16 with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, acclaimed filmmaker and immigration advocate Jose Antonio Vargas.

During the Zoom webinar presentation, Vargas shared his personal story.  He was born in the Philippines in 1993 and, at the age of 12, came to the United States to live with his grandparents in California. When he was 16, he went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get his driver’s license and was told his green card was fake and to not come back.   

He shared the experience with his English teacher, who told him he asked too many questions and that he should become a journalist, setting him on the path to his future career. “I had no idea what a journalist was, but I guessed that when you are a journalist you get to ask questions,” said Vargas, “and when you write an article you get a byline in the paper and it says, ‘by Jose Antonio Vargas.’  So, I thought if I can’t be here because I don’t have the right papers, then I should just get my name in the papers and that is the only reason I became a journalist.”

In 2008, Vargas was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting for his work on three Washington Post articles about the April 16, 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.

Cover of the book Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

In 2011, the New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant and in 2018, Vargas’ memoir, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” was published.

His second book, “White Is Not a Country,” which will explore race and identities, will publish in 2023.

Vargas is the founder of Define American, a nonprofit media and culture change organization that uses the power of narrative to humanize conversations about immigrants. Passionate about the role of arts in society and promoting equity in education, he serves on the advisory board of TheDream.US, a scholarship fund for undocumented immigrant students.

Seminole State’s Speaker Series is co-sponsored by Addition Financial and free and open to the public. The views expressed by speakers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Seminole State College of Florida, its Board of Trustees, employees, students, alumni or partners.

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About the Speaker Series

Each year, the Seminole State Speaker Series welcomes speakers representing diverse views and interests. The Speaker Series is co-sponsored by Addition Financial. For more information and view a list of previous speakers at Seminole State, visit