Huffington Post: Immigration Debate: 'Define American' Gathers Stories About American Identity

November 16th, 2011

Huffington Post
November 16, 2011


After freshman year in college, Julia Duperrault’s best friend, Mandeep, shared a secret.

“She told me she is an undocumented immigrant,” Dupperrault said in a new stories feature from Define American, an advocacy organization dedicated to “changing the conversation about immigration.”

“You know those people who just come over the border and aren’t supposed to be here?” Dupperrault recalled her best friend as saying. “Well, I’m like that.”

Define American was founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who revealed his own secret in a June New York Times Magazine article: he, too, is undocumented.

“It means going about my day in fear of being found out,” wrote Vargas, who was 12 when he came to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1993. “It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful.”

Define American’s new story feature, available on its website, enables any “immigrants, immigrant ally, or citizen to digitally share their story via videos, audio, photos or text,” the organization said in a statement. It allows “anyone, anywhere to share their personal experiences as well as thoughts and beliefs about what it means to be an ‘American’ today.”

“I shared my personal story to lay bare the realities and complexities of living as an undocumented immigrant,” Vargas said. “But I’m just one person; it’s just one story.”

Already, some 500 stories have been assembled from an eccletic mix of Americans, including pundit and comedian Stephen Colbert, hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, New Jersey Republican Senator Robert Menendez, Craigslist.org founder Craig Newmark, and Twilight: New Moon and A Better Life director Chris Weitz.

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