Immigrant Heritage Week Kicks Off in NYC with “Documented”
Last night Immigrant Heritage Week kicked off in NYC with a screening of the documentary “Documented” by Pulitzer Prizer winning writer Jose Antonio Vargas. The screening was held in my hometown, Astoria, Queens, at the Museum of the Moving Image. Having the kickoff of Immigrant Heritage Week in Queens is a very appropriate choice, as Queens is the most diverse county of NYC and of the United States. The introductory remarks were made by Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents parts of LIC and Astoria and is the Majority Leader and Cultural Affairs Chair of the City Council. Councilmember Van Bremer introduced City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito who invited Jose Antonio Vargas to make a few remarks before the film commenced.
“Documented” tells Jose’s story about “coming out” as an undocumented immigrant. But nothing I can say can do this film justice. I already knew Jose’s story, but nothing could have prepared me for the images onscreen. As a daughter of immigrants, as a mother, as a human, I was so incredibly moved by the reality of living away from your mother, being in a new place, and living in fear because of something you had no control over…
I had all sorts of emotions during the film: relief, admiration, anger, astonishment. Relief because I couldn’t help but think “I am so lucky to have been born here.” Admiration because Jose made a difficult decision… he could have just kept living the life he was living, and not let the world know what his status was…I wondered “If I were undocumented, would I come out? Would I expose myself?” Anger because I heard people say “Get in the back of the line.” or “Go back to your country and get in line like everyone else.” These people don’t understand the YEARS it can take to do that. They don’t understand there is NO LINE. They don’t understand that for people like Jose and so many other young individuals, called DREAMers, their “country” is the United States. That is all they have ever known. Imagine waking up and being told one day that the place you love the most, the only home you’ve known, is not your own….Astonishment because anti-immigration folks talk like they know, but they don’t. The ignorance around this issue makes me nauseous.
I couldn’t help but put myself in the shoes of Jose Antonio… a person who hasn’t seen his mother in 20 years. TWENTY. I thought about not seeing my parents for that long, and I thought about what it would be like for me to not see my son for that long. I’m not going to lie…I cried. I cried because this isn’t his fault. I cried because as a mother, I don’t know if I could handle being away from my son for that long. I also cried because as a mother I understood why she sent her son to the United States. In the Philippines, he would have had no opportunities… and any parent can probably understand that.
After the screening, there was a panel discussion with The Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Nisha Agarwal, Jose Antonio Vargas and Paola Mendoza, a Colombian filmmaker, director of “Entre Nos” a film which also looks at the harsh realities of the immigrant experience. They discussed the power of movies as a way to highlight issues and bring them to the masses. Jose Antonio Vargas explained that it was necessary to have a cultural shift on immigration, not only a political one.
This film is a must-see, for everyone, not only for immigration activists. It is actually a must-see for people that have all misinformation about the immigration process, about immigrants themselves. It shows the realities of the broken immigration system: it breaks families apart, it stymies individuals who are smart and talented from reaching their full potential. It gives undocumented immigrants a face… it shows that undocumented immigrants come in all shapes and colors, and can even be Pulitzer Prize winners.
**The very talented Jose Antonio Vargas has created an organization called Define American which seeks to elevate the conversation around our broken immigation system and around what being American is. How do you define American? Leave your comments below!