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Borderline

Jose Antonio Vargas on telling the full, messy story of immigration

Borderline
Borderline

A decade ago, journalist and "American without papers" Jose Antonio Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in a national magazine. Today he works with Hollywood and TV studios to humanise the immigrant story through pop culture.

In this episode
📺 Trafficking in empathy and the power of story to change minds
😢 Why he regrets his mom sending him away to the US
🇺🇸 Reaching America's "moveable middle"
💸 How the economic argument for immigration backfired
😰
Why progressives abandoned the fight
📖 Stories as the last place for nuance and complexity

Show notes
[00:00:16] Intro
[00:02:27] "Home is where I can do my work"
[00:04:05] "Being a journalist is the identity I figured out before all others"
[00:05:22] "All definitions are suspect"
[00:07:28] "Why is it that only a certain portion of the population gets to be an activist?"
[00:09:52] "Legalizing pot is a higher priority than legalizing people"
[00:10:33] "Imprisoned by the language we use on immigrants"
[00:14:09] "We can call immigrants essential labor, but we don't think of them as essential people"
[00:16:16] "Storytelling is trafficking in empathy"
[00:18:09] "The only time many white Americans meet a person of color or an immigrant is through the media they consume"
[00:24:51] "We work on shows that reach the movable middle"
[00:28:23] "We have yet to find some sort of language that talks about how borderless business and money is and how people are still very much, you know, locked up by these borders"
[00:32:55] "If I had a say in the matter as a 12 year old, I would have told my mom, don't do that"
[00:35:39] "That's the power of story"
[00:37:51] "Narrative is not a slice of the pie. It's actually the pan."
[00:39:39] "Storytelling is the only place where nuance can happen"
[00:42:38] "White is not a country"
[00:49:05] "I traded a life of being in the closet as undocumented in limbo to being a public undocumented person whose life is still in limbo"
[00:52:46] Outro

Jose Antonio Vargas's works
🇺🇸 Define American, a culture change organization that uses the power of narrative to humanize conversations about immigrants.
📚 Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen (2018, Harper Collins). Upcoming: White is Not a Country (2023, Pantheon Books)
🎬 Documented: A film by an undocumented American (2014, CNN)
🎭 What the Constitution Means to Me, a play by Heidi Schreck (producer)

Works referenced
📚
Beloved, Toni Morrison
📺 Superstore (NBC)
📺 Roswell, New Mexico (CW)
🎬 The Lost Daughter (Netflix)
🎬 Drive my Car

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