Jose Antonio Vargas

  • Age
  • Title
  • Company
    Define American

Jose Antonio Vargas moved from the Philippines to the United States when he was 12. A few years later, while applying for his driver’s license, he learned that his parents had never obtained proper documentation for him—he was here unlawfully. He kept his status largely secret, living in what he refers to as “the master narrative” of immigration and undocumented people like himself. He went on to work for the Washington Post, where his work covering the Virginia Tech shooting won him the Pulitzer Prize.

But by 2011, Vargas felt that he no longer wanted to be a part of this “master narrative.” He penned an essay revealing his undocumented status for the New York Times Magazine and founded Define American, an organization aimed at fostering conversations around immigration-related issues in the United States. The risk paid off: One year later, he appeared on the cover of Time magazine for a story he wrote about immigration, and that same day then-President Barack Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Vargas next produced and directed Documented, an autobiographical documentary feature film that aired on CNN and went on to create White People, an Emmy-nominated special for MTV. In 2018, he published his memoir, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, with Dey Street, and last year he moved to Broadway, producing the hit show, What the Constitution Means to Me.