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I first heard about Jose Antonio Vargas in 2007 from my wife Tina. She was editing Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's Wikipedia pages, and Jose had called her for an interview in a article he was writing for The Washington Post about the impact of Wikipedia on that Presidential election. Those were early days in the advent of social media—or what I call New New Media (buying a book online is new media, creating a book online is new new media, or consumers becoming producers). Twitter and YouTube were just a year old, and Wikipedia, though a little older, was not allowed as a reference in student papers in probably every class except mine at Fordham University. But it was a new new medium par excellence —anyone who could read an article on Wikipedia could edit it—and Tina and Jose recognized its importance.
Tina and Jose kept in touch after that article was published in 2007. We were delighted when Jose's team at The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize the following year for their reporting of the Virginia Tech massacre, and applauded his incredible bravery when, in 2011, he announced that he had been living here in the United States since age 12 as an undocumented immigrant. Jose and I had met for the first time, a month earlier, in May 2011, when we both were guests on The Dylan Ratigan Show on MSNBC, talking about social media and politics. Tina and I greeted him at a screening of his autobiographical documentary Documented at the Village East Cinema in Manhattan in 2014 and saw it again on CNN. (Jose had asked Tina to look at part of it before the film was completed.)
We of course were in the front row the other night when Jose was interviewed by Joy Reid at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn about his new book, Dear America. First, the venue, with a Manhattan Bridge archway out the window as backdrop for the speakers, was perfect. And Joy conducted a savvy and sensitive interview, not easy when you're better known than the subject of interview. Jose told the story of his difficult and dangerous life, which is the story of his book, which I'll review here in the next few weeks, after I've read it. It's the story of someone not only unwilling to accept the hand our idiotic and arbitrary immigration laws has dealt him, but unwilling to accept this for everyone else in the same or similar boat as he. Not only does Jose refuse to live off the radar, he and his group Define American actively campaign in every way they can to take this discriminatory radar, inconsistent with the true spirit of America, totally offline.
From such an all-out warrior, we shouldn't be surprised to find unusual opinions. Jose of course sees Trump as a threat to what is good in America, but musing about Presidents and their impact on immigrants, he cited George W. Bush as the President who was most congenial to immigrants, meaning that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama not as much. In other words, Democrats and Republicans have been more equal opportunity abusers of this crucial aspect of the American dream than we may have supposed.
Go see Jose talk wherever you can. And get his book. And look here soon for my review.