In his lauded 2011 New York Times Magazine essay, writer Jose Antonio Vargas came out — as an undocumented immigrant. Overnight, the accomplished journalist found himself on the other side of a story he had covered many times, and became one of the country’s most vocal immigration-reform advocates.
Vargas shared his story with journalists gathered at the Online News Association’s annual conference in San Francisco on Friday.
During a talk that was both humorous and serious, one that celebrated journalism while chastising the industry for using “dehumanizing” immigration-related terminology like “illegal immigrant,” Vargas made an interesting point about social media’s role in immigration activism.
He noted how tools like Twitter and YouTube have empowered the DREAMer community, and how they prompted him to come out as undocumented.
“Now, mind you, I’ve been following immigration on Google Alerts since Google Alerts was invented,” he said. “But then, because of Twitter, I started following undocumented people.”
He explained, “If you type ‘DREAM Act’ on Twitter, there’s all these undocumented kids, students, young people with their names and their faces and their location right there. If you go on YouTube and put [in] ‘undocumented,’ you see the faces of people — videos talking about, ‘Hi, this is me, this is who I am, I’m not what you think I am.’”
Vargas acknowledged one of those people, Gaby Pacheco, an immigration reformer since her high school days, who was in the audience.
“Because of the social media that I was following and [being] exposed to the very people whose lives and circumstances I shared,” Vargas said, “how could I not come out?”
You can find out more about Vargas’ personal journey and his advocacy work at the website for his latest initiative, Define American. The project aims to have “an honest conversation about immigration in our country” via — you guessed it — social media.