Suppose a distant relative showed up at your door, down on his luck and needing a place to stay. You don’t really know this person, but you feel sorry for him. And you want to set a good example for your kids. Compassion in action.
So you turn over a spare room to this relative. He settles in, helps out around the house and tries to fit in.
The next thing you know, he’s got a brother, in the same straits, also in need of a place to stay. Since there’s room in the spare room for another bed, no problem.
It turns out they’ve each got wives and (not surprisingly) kids. Here they come, taking over the dining room, moving in on the couch, cleaning out the pantry. They try to contribute what they can.
Depending on what a person is used to, a four-bedroom tract home can be a palace. These relatives think you’re royalty with riches to share. Only you’re not.
You’re an ordinary family, and you’re trying to hang on to what you’ve got. When you try to regain control of your home, you discover that you are now outnumbered. Out voted.
“Let’s talk about white people’s shrinking share of the American population,” says Jose Antonio Vargas, one of America’s most famous illegal immigrants. “Every 30 seconds a new voter turns 18 and becomes eligible to vote … People are going to become browner … .”
Vargas is so confident of the future that when he visited Reed College a couple of weeks ago, he predicted, “If Obama wins, it is because of the Latino vote.”
Vargas told a friendly audience of mostly light-complected students that the last time he was in Portland was 2003. He came here specifically to fraudulently obtain a driver’s license after researching and finding that Oregon and Tennessee were then the most lenient states in their requirements for ID.
He detailed this deception last year when he was featured on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, where he told his story of being born in the Philippines to a mother who wanted to give him a better life. When he was 12, she sent him off to the U.S., where his grandfather lived.
Vargas did not realize he was in the country illegally until he was 16 and tried to use his green card to get a learner’s permit for a driver’s license. A clerk at a DMV office in Northern California where he lived looked at the green card, quietly told him it was fake and whispered, “Don’t come back here again.”
Later on his way home, peddling on his bike, Vargas thought that she mistook him for Mexican.
“I was going to go back and correct her. ‘I’m Filipino.’” (Did Vargas consider Filipino superior to Mexican?)
That DMV clerk was the first of many sympathetic Americans who would help Vargas along the way as he pursued a college education and rose through the ranks of newspaper journalism.
Eventually he landed a coveted position at the Washington Post. That was about the time I was working at a newspaper in California.
One of my colleagues was a young woman who graduated at the top of her class at the University of Missouri, one of the best journalism schools in America and was a Livingston Award finalist.
She may very well have applied to the Washington Post about the same time as Vargas. But her skin tone was a very pale beige, and her surname didn’t reveal an immediate ethnicity. She had her challenges in life (a mother with mental health issues, an absent father), but her skin color hid all of them.
People of all skin colors and nationalities tell lies to get ahead, so it wouldn’t be fair to single out Vargas and say his deception may have cost my colleague a job. Why, then, does he practically gloat when he tells his story?
Standing before the students at Reed College, Vargas freely went down the list of all the lies he had told to get into college and establish his career.
“There are 2 million undocumented students sitting in college across America. They can’t all just baby-sit the kids and mow your lawns,” Vargas told the students.
“I am not illegal…,” he declared. “Human beings cannot be illegal … actions are illegal, not people … .”
Apparently Vargas is trying to turn the word “illegal” into a single-letter pejorative – “the i-word” so nobody can say it anymore without apologizing. (For a country with free speech, isn’t it curious how each year a few m ore words are added to the do-not-say list.)
Vargas maintains a Website, DefineAmerican.com, and is working on a documentary.
“Last year I went to Alabama because I’m crazy,” he said. “Alabama actually out-Arizona’s Arizona. It passed a tougher immigration law … It is a felony for somebody like me to even be in the state.”
He showed two video clips – one of a young, female teacher sympathetic to his cause and the other of a construction worker, his face blurred because he refused to sign a waiver for Vargas. The man talks about the Mexicans who have come to Birmingham.
While Vargas claims to understand the man’s mindset – “Where did my country go?” – he is too glib with his answer: “I am not here to take away your slice of the pie. I want to make the pie bigger.”
Sounds good, but if Vargas really wanted to make the pie bigger, he might turn his attention outside the U.S., including the land of his birth. How will life in the Philippines ever get any better if its brightest citizens flee to the U.S.?
In recent years, the wealthiest man in the world has been Carlos Slim of Mexico. What has he done with his wealth to help end poverty in Mexico? Well, a couple of years ago, he was trying to buy the New York Times for himself.
Vargas would rather take aim at an easy target like that man in Alabama. Ultimately, Vargas resorts to the oldest standby in any discussion about illegal immigration in the U.S.: “We all came to this country from somewhere else.”
Diasporas are not unique to America. No wonder Native American tribes wanted to lay claim to the 9,500-year-old Kennewick Man instead of having scientists study it. Imagine the political repercussions if it turned out a Caucasian or Asian was here first.
And then it may turn out that somebody else preceded Kennewick Man. How far back do you go, and do you only look at countries that are desirable to other people? If countries can’t have boundaries, why should cities or counties or homeowners have property lines?
I don’t blame Vargas for not self-deporting. His mother and grandfather conspired to bring him here, and he had no say. Republicans and Democrats alike, who have their own reasons for tolerating illegal immigration, have to decide how to honor the law. They can’t let guys like Vargas set the agenda.
He boasts about how he has flouted U.S. laws as an adult. He has never been arrested. Does that not tell him something? Yes, the country he loves so much is changing. Laws and institutions are being dismantled.
Next time Vargas is in Alabama, instead of making fun of the good ol’ boys, he might try interviewing some of their mothers. He could ask them what they had hoped for their children. Chances are, they wanted the same thing for their children that Vargas’s mother wanted for him.
But if you are regarded as white trash in America, where do you send your child for a better life?
– Pamela Fitzsimmons