Journalist and Filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas Discusses Immigration and Identity

“We shouldn’t rob immigrants of their complexity… I’m worried that immigrants are getting commodified.”

What does it mean to be American?

On WDET’s Detroit Today, host Stephen Henderson recently spoke with Gold Star father Khizr Khan who is a native of Pakistan, but is now an American who lost his son in battle fighting for the United States.

Khan’s assessment of what it means to be American was arguably one of the most patriotic and optimistic views of citizenship you’ll ever hear.

And he is an immigrant to this country.

Indeed you need look no further than Broadway to see the argument made that immigrants are some of the best Americans this country has to offer, as the play “Hamilton” depicts the life of immigrant Alexander Hamilton.

We are a nation of immigrants. It is a fact of this great experiment we call America.

So why is it that immigrants often get a bad wrap here?

They are politicized. Put down. Scapegoated.

Jose Antonio Vargas has pondered the question of citizenship and immigration in his work. He will be the keynote speaker at the ACLU of Michigan annual dinner on November 11. Vargas is the CEO of Define American, and a writer and filmmaker who explores what it means to be an immigrant in America. Vargas is himself an immigrant from the Philippines. 

“My mom put me on a plane to move to America to live with my grandparents,” says Vargas, who says writing about being an immigrant was a necessity.

Vargas says immigrants to America are often painted with broad brushes, when in truth the experiences of immigrants are as varied as the individuals. He says among the narratives that exist in our society about immigrants is one of hard work and drive.

“Of course I think [that narrative is] important,” says Vargas, “but we shouldn’t rob immigrants of their complexity… I’m worried that immigrants are getting commodified.”

To hear the full conversation with Jose Antonio Vargas on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.


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