California school to be named after Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist

by Ricky Rillera

NEW YORK – Filipino Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas will have a school named after him in Mountain View, California.

The Mountain View Whisman School District voted June 14 to name the elementary school – under construction on North Whisman Road – when it opens in August 2019. This is the first time that a school is being named after a living Filipino who is also one of the United States’ high profile undocumented immigrants.

“We wanted to pick someone who embodied the values of what you can do with an education, as Jose does,” school board president Laura Blakely told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“He’s been the face of the American dream for so many students who came here as children, and really grew up as Americans without having citizenship,” she said.

Mountain View Whisman School District is an award-winning district with a National Blue Ribbon School, three California Distinguished Schools and two California Gold Ribbon Schools according to its Website. Mountain View is home to many high technology companies with ties to the San Francisco Bay Area’s high-tech Silicon Valley.

The 37-year-old journalist, documentary filmmaker, and renowned human rights advocate emigrated to the United States at age 12, settling with his grandparents in Mountain View. He is a graduate of Crittenden Middle School and Mountain View High School in Northern California.

The Chronicle was among the places he worked in his early career. He was with a team of Washington Post journalists when he was awarded a Pulitzer in 2008 for their coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting. He went on to create Define American, a national nonprofit media and culture organization aimed to counter anti-immigrant hate through storytelling.

He revealed his undocumented status in a New York Times Magazine essay in 2011. In the essay, he recalls unknowingly entering the U.S. with false documents as a child. He found out about his legal status during a trip to the DMV as a teen, after an employee told him his green card was fake and warned him never to return.

“We’re not always who you think we are,” Vargas wrote of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. “Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read. I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own.”

Vargas is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Define American, which he founded in 2011. He has produced and directed his autobiographical documentary, Documented, aired by CNN.  In July 2015, Vargas directed and hosted MTV’s White People, an hour-long documentary, in which he travels around the country engaging young people around the topics of race, privilege, and identity.

Define American’s campaigns, original video content, and his writings have been used as resources by educators in classrooms across the country from 5th grade to higher education.

The Board of Trustees of Define American includes, besides Vargas, Patricia Hyland, Chair; Elise Haas, Vice-Chair; and Maria Gabriela “Gaby” Pacheco, Secretary.

Vargas hopes the school is a haven for immigrant students and their families.  “I just hope this is a symbol of that,” he told the Mercury News. “Of what it means to be welcome, what it means to be part of a community, what it means to see yourself in other people.”

According to the district, Vargas plans to be at the opening of the school. His debut memoir, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” is slated to be published around that time.

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