Jose Vargas shares immigration story as NaFFAA keynote speaker

By Steve Angeles, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

August 13, 2014

San Diego, Calif. – It was a weekend of empowerment as Filipinos from throughout the U.S. gathered in San Diego for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NAFFAA) – a biennial conference.

Over 300 people from 13 regions gathered for three days of education, planning for the future, and electing new leaders.

“It’s kind of a breath of fresh air,” said Leezel Ramos, co-chair of the conference. “We break the dawn – a new way of doing things, and new of organizing, doing things, learning best practices, career development, and cultural barriers.”

Many high ranking Filipino community leaders and high-profile Filipinos like California Congressman Rob Bonta and U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba joined many young leaders making waves in the business and political worlds.

But one keynote speaker with his life story stole the show – undocumented Filipino turned activist and film maker, Jose Antonio Vargas.

Vargas paid homage to his ties with NAFFAA over the years, sharing how Bing Branigan was among the first to learn about his legal status.

“I called Tita Bing and I told her, ‘Tita Bing, I’m about to come out as TNT, and she she had no idea that I was undocumented.’”

Vargas spoke about Filipino identity and empowering Filipinos, especially the youth in the United States.

“There is more to being Filipino in American than having a nice job, driving a nice car, buying a house, and sending Balikbayan boxes back to the Philippines,” said Vargas. “How do we become a political and civic force?”

And despite some of the obstacles he has faced as an undocumented immigrant, Vargas said that he will continue to fight for change.

“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Vargas. “I get called a lot of names, but I like to think that I’m creating and disrupting. I’m trying to create and disrupt this paradigm that for many years – I’ve been in this country 21 years, I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat. I don’t care if you’re second, third, fourth generation Filipino. What I care about is how are we going to build an America that not only welcomes the Filipino but values the Filipino.”

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