By Alyssa Milstead
On Thursday, Oct. 23 in Montag Den, journalist and immigration reform leader Jose Antonio Vargas spoke to Willamette University students and faculty about Measure 88 and what it means to be an American.
Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has written for the Washington Post, the New York Times magazine, Time magazine and The Huffington Post.
He is also the creator of the autobiographical film “Documented” and the founder of Define American, a campaign that works toward bringing the conversation about immigration to a wider audience.
In his speech, Vargas said that he called the Department of Homeland Security when he was writing an article about his life as an undocumented immigrant for Time magazine, and was upset that a representative refused to comment on his case.
“I actually think that that’s a metaphor for how the rest of America thinks of us: No comment,” Vargas said. “So long as someone who is picking your apples and tomatoes so you can have your salads, so long as someone is mowing your lawn and babysitting your kids and serving your kid, who cares? No comment!”
Vargas informed the audience that although he is Filipino American, people across the country always assume that he is Mexican because of his last name.
“When they find out that I’m not, then they feel even more free to hate on Mexicans,” Vargas said. “For me, it is tragic when people use the words Mexican and illegal interchangeably. As if all Mexicans are undocumented, as if there’s something wrong with being Mexican. So if you’re not calling people out, then you’re actually part of the problem.”
On Nov. 4, registered Oregon voters can vote “yes” or “no” on Measure 88, the Oregon Alternative Driver Licenses Referendum.
If passed, Measure 88 would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain four-year driver’s licenses.
“If it wasn’t for a driver’s license from Oregon, I would not have been able to build the career that I have. Is there anything more American than driving?” Vargas said. “People don’t understand that to be an undocumented immigrant is to obsess over documents.”
With the help of members of Causa Oregon, senior Maria Hernandez wrote the proposal inviting Vargas to speak at Willamette.
Hernandez also worked with politics professors Jennifer Devine and David Gutterman to organize the event.
Hernandez said that many people do not realize that having a driver’s license is a privilege.
“Measure 88 is not just a Latino issue. It’s bigger than that. We need to get rid of our stereotypes and what we think defines people,” Hernandez said. “When [Vargas] came out as undocumented it was a big deal because nobody expected a journalist, someone in a high position, to be undocumented.”
Because Willamette is a liberal arts college, Hernandez said that it is crucial for students to be aware of the issues that surround immigration rights reform.
“For Willamette to not even know what Measure 88 is about, it’s really disappointing because we pride ourselves on being knowledgeable on everything that goes on around us,” Hernandez said. “We’re really trapped in a Willamette bubble, and think that because it doesn’t matter to me, it shouldn’t matter at all.”