Jose Antonio Vargas

Jose Antonio Vargas

Journalist / Activist / Founder

Define American

Los Angeles, California USA

Once I start being afraid, then I’ve lost whatever power I had.


By Roadtrip Nation

Jose Antonio Vargas


My road in life took a while to figure out.
Immigrated to America from the Philippines at the age of 12; his parents sent him on a plane with a coyote (or, illegal smuggler); to go live with his grandparents in Northern California.
He didn’t realize he was in the country illegally until he attempted to get a driver’s license at age 16 and realized he didn’t have the correct paperwork.
One of his teachers introduced him to journalism and he began interning at a local paper called the Mountain View Voice; after that, he got an entry-level job at the San Francisco Chronicle.
Despite his lack of papers, he managed to get through college at San Francisco State University, majoring in political science and Black Studies.
His contributions to the Washington Post’s coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting won him and his colleagues the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.
But as he rose through the ranks of the world of journalism, he always felt like he was running from something; he ultimately decided to pen a piece called “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.”
His story was widely covered by national news outlets, as he was one of the most high-profile people ever to publicly come out as an undocumented citizen.
Decided to found Define American—a nonprofit built around sharing immigrant stories—so he could “take immigration out the box people put it in, make it accessible, and make it human.”
Keep following my journey


Journalist / Activist / Founder

I lead a non-profit organization that seeks to elevate the conversation around immigration and citizenship in America.

Career Roadmap

My work combines:
My work combines:
Non-Profit Organizations
Communicating / Sharing Stories

Day to Day

On a day-to-day basis, I am a journalist. As an activist, I am dedicated to humanizing the struggle of immigrants in the U.S., undocumented immigrants in particular. I see it as my journalistic duty to report the facts about immigration.

Advice for Getting Started

Here's the first step for college students

Lead with your heart and listen. Claim your space and know your worth.


The Noise I Shed

From Society in General:

"How dare you?! Get out of here you illegal person you don't belong. "

Challenges I Overcame

First-Generation Immigrant
Racial Discrimination

Interviewed By

Beyond the Dream

Beyond the Dream

Undocumented young Americans explore their futures