What Would You Have Done If You Were In Jose’s Shoes?


By David Cho
New Organizing Project blogger

I woke up two days ago to the massive number of emails titled “MUST READ – Jose Vargas” and “NYTimes – My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant”.

What’s this news about? My brain already formed preconceived notion about this article: another dreamer telling his story.  I was already late to my internship so I thought about reading it later. Right as I was about to leave the house, I got another email: “Pls fwd this story”. Okay, I’ll take a look at this article. So I sat down and I glared vigorously at the computer screen. Not because I wanted to focus on reading the article but because I didn’t have my contacts on.

I clicked on the link. The article started with:

“One August morning nearly two decades ago, my mother woke me and put me in a cab. She handed me a jacket. “Baka malamig doon” were among the few words she said. (“It might be cold there.”)

The first paragraph quickly grabbed my attention. It was in Tagalog. Some of Jose’s words connected with me:

“It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful.”

“There are believed to be 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. We’re not always who you think we are. Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read.”

“My first challenge was the language”.

I struggled to communicate with my peers and teachers when I first came to California at the age of nine. I didn’t even know the alphabet. I still remember watching Friends many nights asking my cousins (who were fluent in English) what the characters (Monica, Joey, etc) were saying.

Jose continued:

“For more than a decade of getting part-time and full-time jobs, employers have rarely asked to check my original Social Security card. When they did, I showed the photocopied version, which they accepted. Over time, I also began checking the citizenship box on my federal I-9 employment eligibility forms. (Claiming full citizenship was actually easier than declaring permanent resident “green card” status, which would have required me to provide an alien registration number.) This deceit never got easier. The more I did it, the more I felt like an impostor, the more guilt I carried — and the more I worried that I would get caught. But I kept doing it. I needed to live and survive on my own, and I decided this was the way.”

Mandalit del Barco from NPR interviewed me yesterday asking for my reaction to Jose’s article. Of the many questions she asked, I still remember this particular question clearly: “You know, there are many people who criticize Jose for making fake identification cards and claim to US citizenship. How would you respond to them?”

I immediately replied with another question: “He was brought to the U.S. as a child. What would you have done if you were in Jose’s shoes?”

I want to also ask the same question Jose asked us on his website defineamerican.com. “If you found out someone close to you was undocumented. What would you do? As a teacher? A friend? A mother?”

Take four minutes to watch his YouTube video.