By Danielle Tcholakian
Published: April 23, 2013
Cesar Vargas remembers the first time he was conscious of his identity as a New Yorker, when he traveled out of state and people asked him to say “water.”
“I was like, ‘water, why?’” he recounted, stretching out the “ah” in water with a grin. “And they said, ‘we love your accent.’”
“I’m a New Yorker first,” declared Vargas, whose mother brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was five years old. “Then I’m pretty much everything else.”
Cesar Vargas spoke at an event called #UndocumentedNYC on Monday night led by the country’s most famous undocumented immigrant, Jose Antonio Vargas—”no relation,” Cesar Vargas said of Jose Antonio Vargas, who hails from the Phillipines. “He’s my Asian brother, as we say.”
#UndocumentedNYC, sponsored in part by Jose Antonio Vargas’ “Define American” organization, coincided with the 10th anniversary of Immigrant Heritage Week, a tradition established by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004.
Fatima Shama, who runs the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, described Immigrant Heritage Week as “a moment in our city where we do not forget who we are, where we celebrate time and again the richness of what has made us the best and the finest and the greatest city in the world.”
“The city was built by immigrants,” Shama declared, “not just yesterday, but it continues to be the reality today.”
Shama’s office, established in 1984, is the only chartered immigrant affairs office in the country.