Undocumented Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas Fought to Tell His Story
S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.
S2: Exponentially, it’s more impactful when a viewer sees a portrayal again and again and again over a period of time more than just once. So all of a sudden, people who have never been exposed to someone who’s an undocumented person, you know, undocumented, will be engaged. Right. All of a sudden, they got to know this guy as just this guy.
S3: Welcome back to Working, I’m your host, Isaac Butler,
S1: and I’m your other host, June
S3: Thomas. And that voice we just heard before belongs to Jose Antonio Vargas Junn, who is Jose. And why did you want to talk to him for this episode?
S1: So Jose is at heart a journalist. He’s probably still best known for an article that was published in the New York Times magazine ten years ago. And in the article, he came out as an undocumented immigrant. He was sent over from the Philippines when he was 12, and he only found out that he didn’t have the required paperwork when he was 16 and he went to get a driver’s license. Since that New York Times magazine piece was published, he really hasn’t been able to work at a newspaper or magazine. But he founded an organization called Define American, which tells immigrant stories and a big part of defined Americans. Work involves consulting with people who are making movies and TV shows with storylines around immigration and citizenship and define American helps them get it right. And I’m just endlessly curious about that kind of consultancy. I mean, last week you did a great interview with intimacy coordinator Marcus Watson. And in the past I’ve written stories about people who, for example, help shows get representations of disability. Right. And I just find that were fascinating.
S3: Absolutely. And, you know, many people will hear this episode on or around July 4th. So I’m really excited that we’re featuring a conversation that is in part about what it means to be American.
S1: Meeta, I think as an immigrant here, like many immigrants, I have an easier time confessing my patriotism than some native born citizens do. But I love that America has a holiday that’s focused on the nation’s founding and its history. And, of course, the concept of immigration and citizenship is at the very center of all that.
S3: Yes. And I believe we have a little something extra for our Slate plus subscribers. What is it?
S1: We certainly do. I asked Jose to tell me about his favorite books, about the topic of citizenship, broadly defined, and he surprised me with some of his picks.
S3: Oh, interesting. That sounds great. And you absolutely do not want to miss that. And why would you when it’s so easy to subscribe to Slate? Plus, you’ll get exclusive members only content, zero ads on any Slate podcast, bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Danny Liveries, new podcast, Big Mood, Little Mood. And you’ll be supporting the work we do here on working. You get to feel very virtuous and it’s only one dollar for the first month to sign up. Go to Slate Dotcom working plus. OK, let’s hear Jeunes conversation with Jose Antonio Vargas.
S1: Who are you and what do you do?
S2: My name is Jose Antonio Vargas. I think when people ask me that, the first thing I say is I’m a journalist. I think that’s been like an identity that I have worn and claimed since I was. What? 16, 17. So it’s like before I knew that I was gay and understood what that meant, before I realized what being undocumented meant or what being Filipino meant or being Asian, whatever all those things are before all of that, I think I knew right away that I was a journalist.
S1: We’ll talk about some other parts of your identity, but I think the outside world knows you mostly as a journalist, certainly other journalists do. And in large part, even though you won a Pulitzer Prize when you were at The Washington Post, you know, you have a lot of journalism credentials. But I think the thing that you’re most known for is one essay that you wrote for The New York Times magazine in 2011 that was titled My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant, where you effectively came out as someone who isn’t legally allowed to work in the U.S.. Now, I know you’ve done a lot since, you know, in the intervening 10 years, but I still have to ask about that piece. How did it come about in the first place?
S2: You know, I just thought it was incredible that I had a job or I had an identity where I could ask people questions. It became such a form of liberation because I didn’t want to be asked questions right now, so it was much better to ask people questions than being asked questions myself. So it was in a way, it was a defense mechanism early on, because once I realized that I wasn’t even supposed to be here. Right. I got here, was born in the Philippines, got here when I was 12, found out when I was 16, I was here illegally, so. Since I didn’t want to be asked, well, how did you get here? Where are your parents? Why do you talk like that? Why you look like that? You know, all of those things. I was like, oh, I’m the one that ask the questions here.
S1: Right. And you had permission, not only permission, but it was your job to ask questions
S2: protected by the First Amendment. Now, mind you, I kept asking myself, Lee, but I’m here illegally. Am I covered by the First Amendment? So these questions why? You know, so that’s why being a journalist has been such a defining corner. I mean, it is inform the way I make films. I made documentaries. I’m now I’m actually moving into the scripted world from both TV and film. But I think my journalistic qualities of asking questions like what don’t I know who may not hearing from what I have? And I considered facts can exist without context. They all of these things for me are fundamental. They’re like the irrigation system. Right. So to answer your question, how it came about was because they didn’t understand my own irrigation system. I did it. I was just like, you know, I found that I was in the army when I was 16, became a journalist literally when my Mrs. Duer, my English teacher, said he asked too many annoying questions. You should consider journalism. And then I just started running. Right, and it wasn’t really until I wrote that essay, and it wasn’t until Carlos Lozada, a wonderful journalist named Carlos Lozada, who at the time was an editor for the Outlook section, which is like the opinion section of The Washington Post, who is now a book critic, actually won the Pulitzer Prize a couple of years ago. Tremendous, tremendous journalist. So I told The Post in mind you originally, actually, I called David Remnick because I had just finished a profile of Mark Zuckerberg. I was twenty nine. I remember at the time it was published. That same week was my first documentary that I was producing based on an article that I wrote was premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. And I was so depressed, I was living like on 14th Street and Union Square. And I remember for a week I couldn’t get out of bed. I was just like, you know, so what’s the point of success? I had an apartment, I had a career, I had all those things. So then that’s when I’m like, OK, so how do I deal with the fact that I have a broken irrigation system? Like, I don’t know how this happened to me. So then that that’s how the journey of what do I do now? And then asking myself, do I leave? Because, you know, when I actually started exploring options, the suggestion was, you have to leave the country and then try and then accept a 10 year bar or part of immigration law, then try to come back. But there’s no guarantee. So I thought that was an option. I considered out for about a couple weeks and then decided to come out. And then I emailed David Remnick. Got them on the phone and I could instantly tell that he had no idea what I was talking about. I was like, you know, I’m here illegally. I don’t know exactly what I said. Basically, I just outed by self defense and documented on the end of the line, you know, when you’re pitching an editor.
S1: Yes, I did.
S2: And you can tell right away.
S1: Crickets. Yeah, yeah, yes.
S2: No go. No go. And he just wasn’t interested. He didn’t get it. And so then I contacted Catherine Women, who then was the publisher of The Washington Post. She totally got it. Then she connected me to Marcus Broccoli, who was in The Washington Post, top editor. And Marcus, I could tell right away, you know, again, I’m a journalist who lied about who I am. So he was not trusting what I was coming from. I remember he actually said to me, why don’t we have another reporter report your life? Yeah. And you come up that way. And I’m looking at I’m like, no, this is my story to tell. I’m going to tell this story. Then that’s where Carlos Lozada came in and he really uncomfortably asked me all these journalistic questions that I had never answered before. And if it wasn’t for him playing that role of the editor. Right. I mean, that essay would not have had the kind of. It wouldn’t have the kind of framing that it did. I mean, when I read it now, I read it recently for something and it to me it reads more like a confessional than anything else I was just confessing to.
S1: But it didn’t come out in The Washington Post and all that work come to The Washington Post. What happened there?
S2: Marcus Brockley basically said, I don’t know what I don’t know. And he killed the story. And Carlos Lozada completely disagreed with that opinion I had. And then I remember my next phone call was Peter Baker of The New York Times. It was my colleague at The Washington Post and he writes for The New York Times magazine. And so he helped place that, I think The New York Times magazine had like three days. Oh, my goodness. To basically rip apart their issue and put it in. So it has that distinction of being an article in an essay, fact checked and edited at The Washington Post that got published in The New York Times.
S1: Wow. That’s an amazing story. But then it kind of blew up your journalism career, right?
S2: Oh, so this is probably I probably should not have done this. But, you know, this past week was the 10th year anniversary of that. I went down the rabbit hole of, you know, it happened so fast. And then all of a sudden I wasn’t just me anymore. I was like this other person. And a lot of people’s views and journalists, I mean, certainly journalists among them. And I was rereading some of the essays that, like, you know, Jack Shafer wrote, there is actually an article by the ombudsman when The Washington Post you have an ombudsman. I think the headline was, Why did the Post deport Jose Antonio Vargas his story? And I mean, it was really painful reading them. But then I’m thinking, oh, my God, this is 10 years ago. Thank God I didn’t let myself because, I mean, I could have spent just a lot of time just trying to answer all these journalists. But I had a bigger you know, I mean, the goal was bigger, which is starting to define American. Right. Like, my goal from the beginning was I have one story, you know, but there’s this narrative about who we are, where we come from, what happened. Right. And narrative, as you know, is a system of stories. Right. So we need more than one story. So how do we do that? So I became really myopically focused on define American and trying to tell people that, hey, you know, journalists look, I basically just told this. I put a lot of booby traps in the article. There are more stories and there are more people. And this is what’s happened.
S1: So what is define American?
S2: So our role is defined American is how do we really humanize this most partisan and political issues? How do we humanize the immigrant narrative one story at a time? That’s like the tagline, right? So how do we humanize the immigrant narrative, this the system or what? People think we are one story at a time and we do that through our work in Hollywood. Right. We work with a lot of TV shows and films like over 100 films and TV in the past decade. Now that we’ve consulted on so.
S1: Well, let’s talk about it, because I know that because you got some coverage, define American, got some coverage for your involvement in the show Superstore, where there was a character called Mateo who was gay, Filipino, undocumented. That never happens. Right. So but and I think it was in season four, he was arrested by ICE. Right. So how did you get involved? What did you do? Like what does it mean to sort of say, OK, we got involved in that?
S2: What happened? You know, we actually got involved that and like twenty sixteen. So we worked on that show for like Four Seasons and was involved with Mateo’s storyline specifically for Four seasons. And that happened because we heard of the show and we heard that they were partly inspired to make this character and documented by reading my story. And so we just reached out and said, hey, we’re here. We’d love to be of help. Right. And what was great about that experience for us was working with writers. You know, writers want to be writers. They don’t want to be told what to write. Yeah, right. I mean, I know this because I’m a writer. I know that the last thing I want is somebody telling me. Right. So, no, do it this way. Do it. This is what our job was to just, you know, make sure that they’re aware of all the possibilities. Right. To because I mean, to me, especially now, I don’t know about you, but I feel like at a time like this, storytelling is one of those places where complexity and nuance can still exist. Right. Like Mateo, as a as someone who is a romantic, you know, person Mateo is someone who dates Masayo, someone who’s not a perfect guy, you know what I mean? He could be kind of an ass. And that’s okay, right? He doesn’t have to be some good immigrant, you know, trope, right? Yeah. And so we worked on that show, you know. Twenty three episodes aired in the in that storyline over the past three years. And this is really important for us to know because a lot of what we do at Define American is really. Research driven, right, and we know that research suggests that exponentially it’s more impactful when a viewer sees a portrayal again and again and again over a period of time more than just once. So all of a sudden, people who have never been exposed to someone who is an undocumented person, you know, undocumented Filipino and gay. Right. All of a sudden they got to know this guy as just this guy. Right. So there was a relationship there being informed without being pedantic about it or without being told you. Here’s the headline. Here’s what’s happening. So we work consistently with a writers room to improve, you know, just accuracy around kind of the the points where immigration was an issue. Like when he got arrested, for example,
S1: I watched Superstore for a while. I actually stopped watching at some point. I you know, these days you can always figure you can catch up, right. So it’s like nothing’s ever gone. But my understanding is that even though he was arrested by ICE, he ended up staying in America. Right. Which isn’t always I mean, we have evidence that some people do stay. But like. So how did you that you’re talking about accuracy without being didactic? Can you just show for people who haven’t seen the show, how did Mateos storyline kind of play out after he was arrested?
S2: Well, I mean, for us, it was actually I remember we actually sent somebody in the writers room who from our network right at the moment, American, who’s undocumented and shared a story about being mugged in Boyle Heights. Right.
S1: Which is a Latino area of Los Angeles.
S2: And his friends congratulating him that because he was mugged, he would be eligible for a U visa
S1: because that visa, when you cooperate with the
S2: U.S., that and you know, something violent. And yeah. So this is like a really funny and tragic storyline that educated viewers about how difficult it is for someone to who’s undocumented to obtain a visa. Right. So those are the kind of details that immigration laws, you know, June is so complex and so one size does not fit all.
S1: So let’s just take a little deeper. Just for example, when you say we work with the writers room at Superstore to work on this storyline, can you say specifically what happens? How exactly? Like, do you literally go into a room? Who goes into that room? What’s the advising process?
S2: Well, first of all, I mean, again, this is where I think my background is as a writer has been useful in this way. Like, you know, writers are sensitive people. Right. And I think I mentioned that the last thing writers want to be told is how to how to write and what to write. So a lot of it for us is actually just making sure that they know that we are not necessarily a safe space, but we’re there to help them. We’re there to serve their artistic process. We’re not there to judge them. We’re not here, although there’s been some times where we’re like, hey, this is just outright. But that happens when you have mutual respect and mutual trust. Right. So a lot of what happens is actually we do go physically well before the pandemic, when we started this program, we do go to writers rooms. And what happens is we actually bring undocumented immigrants or just immigrants or whatever status in general or connect them with people who are who then tell their stories that end up in many ways serving as either inspiration, right. Where they take little tidbits right now. And then, of course, as writers, they’re the ones that create the character and create the arcs, like we don’t do that, but they go to us to say, hey, could this have happened? Right. Could this could this has been possible. What what was the process of if they wanted to hire a coyote, for example, how much would a coyote be like if they wanted to adjust their status through marriage? Like, how does that happen? How long does that take? Right. I think of the relationship is really special in that way because people feel the rooms themselves and the show runners. Right. Who are basically in charge of these shows, they see us as part of their process. And again, as somebody who who is a process person, I just find that really thrilling, to be honest with you, to be a part of that, to be a part of that space.
S3: We’ll be back with more of Jeunes conversation with Jose Antonio Vargas after this. One of the things we’d love to do with this show is help solve your creative problems, whether it’s a question about getting down to work or what you can do to improve communication with your collaborators, really anything at all. Send us your questions to working at Slate Dotcom or give us a ring at three four nine three three w o r k. And if you’re enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to working wherever you get your podcast so you won’t miss a thing. Now, let’s get back to the rest of June’s conversation with Jose Antonio Vargas.
S1: So I know there’s a show called, I believe Roswell, New Mexico, which is kind of about aliens, so there’s a little twist there. But there was a storyline that you all worked on that was about someone struggling. As I understand it. I confess I have not seen it struggling to to change their status. So what were the issues that that you all were working on with that show?
S2: Well, I mean, it’s just a matter of making sure that people understand that there are different ways that people can get status. Right. I mean, this is I mean, for me, if I were to name, for example, one of the chief misunderstandings is that undocumented people, undocumented people, you can’t separate them because they’re usually in the same family. So you would have the youngest kids as U.S. born citizens. Right. And then the older kids, as you know, eligible for Doc and the parents who are undocumented. So, for example, for Roswell, we worked on the storyline. You know, our tour like the undocumented died. Right. The journey of him being undocumented and the road to citizenship through like one season and figuring out, OK, what are the struggles that he would have as he goes through this process? And it’s not just the legality process. I mean, for me, experience in watching my friends do this is. The guilt that sometimes happens within families, right? Yeah, you know, I remember when DOCA first happened, I had some friends who didn’t want to apply for it because they know that if they did, they were leaving their family behind him because it was like, you know, someone said to me, it just seemed so random because I was I because I’m 25, but my sister is only two year. And then I reminded my friend, you know, I’m four months past the eligibility line. It is random. But what do you what do you take what you can get run with it. So for Rosewell, it was actually just how do we present in an accurate and the human way this journey that for many people is really complex.
S1: I know there’s also a case where you worked on where there was a a Haitian story line because Haitians, you know, again, which I don’t think the number of people who understand something like TPS or like status changing, not because of individuals, but where people are from. And like in many countries, you’re protected for a while. And then if the protection is lifted. Yeah, like so sorry, what changed of law. But I’m here. So what can you say a bit more about that particular storyline?
S2: I mean, I was really happy that we were working on that because part of our goal to define American is really to make sure that we work with immigrants of all backgrounds. I mean, again, I actually think we owe the Latino and Latino community an apology for having made this such an issue that when people think about it, they people automatically think it’s them. So the black immigrant population in this country has increased five fold since 1980. Right. And yet black immigrants and undocumented black immigrants are rarely included in any conversations around immigration or immigration reform. So that’s why for us, it’s really important that when we end up working on shows that we try to diversify and we help with the diversification of how people think of the issue. So working on that show with with an undocumented Asian character for us was again part of our effort to really make sure that we’re reflecting the entire immigrant population.
S1: What show was that?
S2: A billion little things.
S1: OK, thank you. You know, I’m really aware that you’re doing all this work about immigration, around citizenship, immigration, what it means to be an American, what it means to really own your citizenship and you still don’t have citizenship. And I wonder, like, what toll that has on you. And I believe that’s correct. Right. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, like how because you’re being asked and you’re asking yourself to do all this creative work. And it’s on a topic that has got to be the most triggering hardest topic there is. Right.
S2: I think it’s because I find. I I feel less lonely. Right, like it actually, for me, instead of having this, instead of being triggered, instead of being traumatized, I find a sense of comfort knowing that whatever it is that I’m going through, other people is going through it, have gone through it and are trying to surpass it.
S1: Yeah. And not saying anything that’s you’re always in your own head, right.
S2: If you I mean Juna’s Immigrant Heritage Month and Pride Month. Right. And whenever this month happens. Now, mind you, I’m an immigrant and I’m gay every day. But sure, I’ll tell you, the thing that I remind myself is how really lonely and paralyzing being in the closet. Any closet was right. And you, like, tell these little lies that don’t even, like, make any sense. And you realize that you’re not lying to other people. You’re actually lying to yourself. That, for me, was the hardest thing to do. And so now the fact that we can do this work. And we can help liberate people stories from outside of themselves, right? That’s again, you know, one story isn’t enough.
S1: Yeah. Now, so you’re writing a book right now. As I understand it, I know you’ve already published books, and I’m not suggesting it’s your first book, but you’re writing a book now. What is it about and how do you find that, you know, having done a lot of advising, like, what’s it like to get back to, OK, I’m sitting down and I’m typing that I’m in
S2: some ways working on this project. It’s like a really nice after ten years, ten years marking the fine American where people are like, wait, are you now? Because now what happens is, oh, the activists advocate Jose Antonio Vargas. I’m like, why did I ever say, OK, that’s great that you think that. But I don’t think of myself as neither an activist nor an advocate. And I’m not saying that to just I just don’t identify as such. I am a journalist. I’m a journalism, a filmmaker and producer. That’s what I do. Right. So I feel like working on this book is like going to like my it it is. Even though it’s a lot of work is is a lawyer. I am like deep. Thank God to have researchers helping me because we’re going through like two, three books a week right now. The working title is White. It’s not a country and it’s all about how we are a country right now where there are forty five million immigrants, mostly from Latin America and Asia. Right. Those forty five million immigrants in the next 50 years, according to Pew, will constitute eighty eight percent of the total population growth. Right, the black population in this country has not changed. Percentage wise, since I got to this country in the 1990s, it’s 13 percent. The Latino population has more than doubled. The Asian population has doubled. The white population has decreased. And yet we talk about race in America in this kind of black or white binary. So where do Asian people and Latinos and Latino and colorism and anti blackness and where does that fit in all? So that’s what my book is about. And it’s a really ambitious it’s probably the most ambitious journalistic project I’ve undertaken. But it’s exciting because I feel like I’m going back to my days in The Washington Post in the style section where I got to write 5000 word profiles and yarns.
S1: But no, that’s a topic. It seems to me that’s very, very research intensive. You mentioned you’ve got researchers working with you like it’s there’s always that challenge of like this is something that you’re connected with. You’re a person of color who is not black, who is an immigrant, who is not Latino. You’re kind of you’re the person you’re talking about. How do you keep, like, you know, the first person and then all this research, has that been a challenge or is that just something that you can just do
S2: now that I’ve gone through it? I think the hardest story we tell is about ourselves. That is the hardest stories we tell. And in some ways, my journalistic training actually has helped me through this process because this constant self reflection of asking myself uncomfortable questions before other people get to them.
S1: Jose Antonio Vargas, this was really great. Thank you so much for your time and for your insights.
S2: Thank you so much for having me.
S3: June, that was such a great interview, I loved hearing about the process behind Jose is now legendary article My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant. It’s a career defining, incredibly powerful piece that I’m pretty sure had a real impact on how a lot of people view the issue of immigration. And it almost never came out.
S1: I know, as he said, it’s pretty darned unusual for a story to be edited at The Washington Post and published in The New York Times. I mean, he took a huge risk in going public with the fact that he was basically unemployable. But I agree. I think that piece had a huge impact, especially in the world of journalism. I mean, if there is such a thing as a typical journalist, Jose is not it? He’s a working class immigrant, gay, Filipino, but he’s also a hugely successful journalist. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winner. And I think that that story really opened a lot of people’s eyes. It was a real we are everywhere moment.
S3: Yeah. You know, I was fascinated to hear that Jose thought of himself as a journalist way before any other understanding of his identity. You know, there are people who really do have a kind of vocation that carries them through life. But as he pointed out, it also can mean that you wind up pursuing it for a long time before you really figure out why or what’s important about it to you were what you were really meant to do.
S1: Yeah, and it really fits for him. I mean, clearly, he’s a very curious guy. He really likes digging into situations and talking to people and figuring out what makes them tick. That’s part of his psychological DNA. But I was really persuaded by his kind of explanation to himself that he was drawn to journalism and specifically to reporting because he wanted to ask questions rather than have to answer them.
S3: Yeah, and yet his main day job is not. Now, strictly speaking, as a journalist, even though he still thinks of himself as one, you know, I kind of feel like this sometimes myself, because I definitely am more of a prose writer now than I am a theatre director. Yet I still think of myself as a theatre director and I talk about myself like one. And so I have to ask, you’ve worn a lot of hats in your professional career. We’ve heard about some of them right here on working. Is there one hat that you feel is more important to your identity than the others? Is it important to have a core identity when it comes to your work?
S1: Yeah, there is like I do think of myself as a writer. And if I do want people to think of me that way, you know, that’s important to me. But I have to admit that when it comes to what I think, I’m like especially good at, it’s as a copy editor, like, I feel like all modesty aside, I’m like a top five percent copy editor. And, you know, there are a lot of outstanding writers in the English language. So I can’t claim to be in the top five percent of that group. But listeners, please read everything I write.
S3: OK, Jose’s media advocacy organization, Define American often works with television shows to help shape their representations of immigrants for the better. And I actually used to work for an organization that did some similar work around African-American men and boys. And, you know, it can be quite a struggle to convince people that you can both be self-conscious about the representational politics of your artistic choices and still make good art at the same time. But but even divorced from politics, I felt like there were some real lessons in his approach there for collaboration in general, no matter what the nature of the project is.
S1: Yeah, for sure. And also, that sounds like an amazing project that you worked on before. As he said, being a writer himself, he understands that there’s going to be a resistance to like being told what to write. But instead of focusing on that, which, you know, would be a pretty poor way to kind of offer that kind of advice anyway, it’s surely productive for directors, assurances, runners or whoever to think how much better it would be if their writers had conversations with people who had lived the kinds of stories they’re writing, like there’s a tendency to assume. I guess I should admit that I kind of assume that that like if one entity is advising a lot of shows, it might lead to homogeneity of storytelling. But actually, I think when it’s done well, the opposite will happen because instead of getting things wrong, which is definitely something you want to avoid or telling one cliched story, you’re being exposed to many more kinds of experience, many more truths, just many more lives. And that’s going to be good for any kind of creativity.
S3: Yeah, absolutely. And also, we should say that those kinds of organizations exist well beyond the representational politics sphere. There’s a lot of, for example, disease advocacy groups that work on getting. Storylines into medical dramas and then working with those shows to make sure they’re accurate. So it really isn’t just limited to portraits of of people of color or things like that. And, you know, one thing that Jose said that really struck me is one story isn’t enough. You know, it’s about the cumulative power and weight of stories and how they affect often our subconscious. And so I got to ask, you’re a great lover of television. We’ve been talking quite a bit about TV lately on this show. What is on your representational wish list for television? What don’t we see often enough? What’s often mishandled, do you think?
S1: Well, yeah, that point really stuck with me, too. And I think he’s absolutely right. You know, when I think of something that’s really important to me, like LGBTQ representation, it was shows like Glee where characters stick around and storylines developed over the course of many years that really had an effect on how viewers thought about queer people like that show was a dumpster fire. It was terrible in many ways, but I always believed that it was incredibly influential in that regard and actually also in representations of disability. Again, Ryan Murphy can do some terrible things in his shows, but he has had some truly great characters with disabilities. He seems to have had several characters with Down’s syndrome, for example, and that feels really powerful because they’re there over and over and over again. They’re in people’s lives, which is how real life is. Other than that, I think my biggest beef has actually been around immigration and citizenship. I have screamed at my television. That’s not how it works so many times. So I’m really glad that define America and surely other organizations are helping shows to come up with credible and varied stories. What about you? What do you want to see more of?
S3: Well, you know, it’s interesting because, of course, you always notice the ones that get your own life experience wrong, but it feels difficult to complain about representations of heterosexual, middle aged white men on television. It just feels a little weird. Right. But I do find that there is you know, there are there’s all the normal ways in which TV dads are written. Just drive me insane. I mean, they’re driven by all sorts of weird stereotypes. And it just it really gets me enraged. It’s like, no, I actually take care of my child and parent them. And I am not myself a child who needs to be bossed around by my wife or, you know, like we actually work very hard on our own, splitting our domestic labor and, you know, stuff like that. So the one about dads really gets to me. But I would also say that particularly I’m starting to see more of this, which is good, but I think particularly intersectional experiences, you know, particularly queer people of color or trans people of color or autistic people who are queer, you know you know, those intersections are starting to happen more and more. And it’s very exciting. I do think and this is somewhere that a lot of kids shows are doing better than adult shows. But I’m starting to think about body shape and particularly how fatness is depicted. I think the way our media portrays all that stuff has given all of us collectively brain poisoning. And it is my my fervent hope that we start seeing some real progress on that soon. Yeah, that’s
S1: a really good one, I hope. And, you know, we’ve seen a couple of shows, but yeah, we need more on that for sure.
S3: Well, we hope you have enjoyed this show, and if you have remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, then you will never miss an episode. And yes, it is time once again for the Slate plus which Slate plus members get benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Danny Liveries. New show, Big Mood, little known. But I also hope you’ll do it to support what we do here on working. It’s only one dollar for the first month. To learn more, go to Slate Dotcom Slash Working.
S1: Plus, thank you to our guests this week, Jose Antonio Vargas and to our wonderful producer Cameron Drewes. Make sure to tune in next week for Isaac’s conversation with Grammy nominated singer and songwriter Yolla. Until then, get back to work. He sleepless listeners, thank you so much for your support. We really appreciate it. I asked her some questions just for your ears. I understand that, like reading about immigration and citizenship issues might not be like the biggest fun or distracting thing, you know, it might not be something that you but you do to to relax. But I would love to know if you have favorite books about that particular issue, like what’s the best book that you’ve read about immigration, citizenship, being an American, huh?
S2: Well, I mean, this is going to sound really nerdy, but I would start with to me, it’s one of the most consequential books written by by a by a former president. It’s John F. Kennedy. A Nation of Immigrants is a really short book, is the kind of book where he actually mapped out to you where all these immigrants from Europe did before they got to be white, because I don’t know how that by the way, that’s what I’m researching from a book. How did that happen? Like how do these Italians and Germans and Latvians and all of a sudden they’re just this thing called white. Yeah, right. So for me, it’s a primer. So John F. Kennedy, a nation of immigrants. Edwidge Danticat, write the phenomenal writer, you know, and she wrote a book that for me has become a Bible of sort, creating dangerously the immigrant artist at work. That for me is a real. I thankfully, I had the privilege to tell her this in person, it was like a passport. It felt like something again, I know that I don’t got angry. I don’t have a U.S. passport. I don’t have a green card. But reading her book to me felt like its own kind of passport. I would I would probably start with those two. I mean, I would say that right now, the wonderful woman, it’s not necessarily immigration related about immigration. It’s law. But Quiara Alegria, who is the woman who wrote Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who wrote in The Heights, she has a memoir out called My Broken Language What it’s Like, you know, as a Puerto Rican in Philly, phenomenal book about language and how we carry our ancestors language with us and how what’s our debt to that language? You know, as I said, I know if I said this while we were filming, but my grandmother is actually staying with me for the week and, you know, she’s going to be eighty four. And I have put this woman through a lot
S1: because because because you came to live with her when you were sent over to the US,
S2: she basically was, you know, played kind of the mom figure. Right. And when I told her that I was going to come out as undocumented, like whatever, there was an article criticizing me because many people in the beginning were not supportive at all. The Filipino community in particular, they thought that I was you know, that I was a bad example to Filipinos. And then when I got arrested in Texas and detained, I mean, I remember when they were literally putting a hang up on me, all I could think about was, please make sure that my grandmother doesn’t see any footage of this happening because we don’t want to put her on a heart attack. So when I was a kid now this is an awful thing to say. When I was a kid, I used to be embarrassed that my grandmother doesn’t speak perfect English. I used to think of that as somehow. Somehow a deficiency of hers, it wasn’t until I got older that I realized that this woman who learned to speak, you know, she graduated, she passed 6th grade and that was it. She learned English by listening to the jukebox. Right. And Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, like the first song she committed to memory, was Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, which is a hard song to marry. And I had the privilege of telling her many, many years ago now that the song was actually is from a musical called Pal Joey, and it was being sung by a woman who had just slept with a gigolo. That’s the context for the song Lola. And she’s singing that song because she just got laid and my God, the look on my grandmother’s face. So I put this woman through a lot and it wasn’t until I’m embarrassed to say, but I need to say a few years ago that I realized that. You know. Maybe I asked the questions that I asked and I talked the way that I do and I want to do all this work because I want to say all the things that maybe she wasn’t able to say in English. As a woman who came here from the province, she didn’t live in Manila, which is the capital city. She came from the provinces of some Somalis and plopped down to Mountain View in 1984. And before, you know, what she had to ask for, the toilet paper was at Safeway and the fact that she could do all of that and. And and be here and be and raise a grandchild and and claim her language and now her language is my language. Yeah, well.
S1: All right, that’s it for this week. Thank you so much for your Slate plus membership.