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DC Fil-Ams to honor rights advocate Vargas

Jon Melegrito, INQUIRER.net US Bureau

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Jose Antonio Vargas, the 31-year-old award-winning Filipino American journalist who stunned the whole nation when he boldly disclosed his undocumented immigrant status since arriving from the Philippines as a 12-year-old boy, will address the Filipino American community on Saturday, June 15, at JW Marriott Hotel here.

His first-time appearance at a formal gathering of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the Washington DC metropolitan area is widely heralded in light of the current national debate on immigration reform. Vargas, who was on the cover of Time magazine last year, has called for a national conversation about “this very controversial and misunderstood issue.”

The occasion, which features Vargas as the keynote speaker, is this year’s Philippine Independence Day Gala Ball, which has for its theme, “Our Families, Our Communities: Helping Shape America.” It commemorates the declaration of Philippine independence from Spain on June 12, 1898 – an historic event observed by Filipino Americans across the country and by Filipinos all over the world.

“We are delighted that Mr. Vargas will be joining our celebration as the guest of honor,” says Ador Carreon, board chairman of the Philippine American Foundation of Charities (PAFC), the gala ball’s sponsor. “We are proud of his courage in speaking on behalf of the rights of immigrants everywhere. He took great risks in coming out. It is fitting that we honor him on this occasion when we are also honoring the bravery and heroism of the Filipino people who fought for their human and political rights more than a hundred years ago.”

Vargas defied the advice of several immigration lawyers when nearly two years ago he publicly announced his status as an undocumented Filipino immigrant. He wrote about his “coming out” in a groundbreaking essay published by the New York Times. In this piece, he recounted how he lived in constant fear of discovery and deportation and why he decided to come clean.

Since his public revelations, Vargas has been the Filipino face of immigration reform on what has normally been perceived as a Latino issue.  “With the pace of immigration reform increasing and becoming one of the leading issues of the day, having someone with the prominence of Mr. Vargas come and speak to Filipinos will indeed make the evening special and a night to remember,” adds PAFC President Aylene Mafnas. “He exemplifies those values that we hold so dear: loyalty, familial piety, hard work, inclusiveness and dedication.”

In choosing Mr. Vargas as guest of honor, PAFC board members cite his impressive résumé and credentials. “One need not look farther than his Pulitzer Prize he garnered as a journalist with the Washington Post,” points out Sonny Busa, a former U.S. diplomat and member of the PAFC board. “He is articulate, intelligent and passionate. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of immigration reform–there are many good arguments either way– it will be worthwhile to hear a distinguished son of the Philippines speak with passion and conviction.”

A filmmaker, storyteller and founder of the immigration awareness organization Define American, Vargas came to the United States from the Philippines 19 years ago to join his grandparents, both naturalized citizens, in California. At the age of 16, he discovered that his green card was fake when he went to the DMV to get a driver’s permit. He was told to never come back again. Vargas spent the next 15 years concealing his true identity even as he earned a college degree and became a highly successful journalist. He has used his writing skills and media savvy to document the lives of the undocumented and mobilize public support for his campaign, especially for so-called DREAMERS.

For Vargas and tens of thousands of Filipinos, the wait for a visa to the United States span more than two decades. With proposed legislation aimed at reducing these backlogs and providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the Filipino American community is expected to weigh in and rally support for this landmark measure.

For more information about the June 15 event and other related activities scheduled during the month, call Maurese Oteyza Owens, Tel. 703-241-0767, or e-mail mpapoose@aol.com.

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Copyright 2014Jon Melegrito, INQUIRER.net US Bureau. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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