Taking Ownership of Undocumented Status in Popular Culture

Although immigration has always been a hotly contested topic in American politics, it has typically been marginalized by American popular culture. That is, until now. Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist – and technically, an undocumented resident of the United States. In 2011, he announced his undocumented status in an essay for New York Times Magazine, unashamed and hoping to encourage other undocumented immigrants to share their stories and make a difference. In this essay and since, he has affirmed his identity and status as completely American, except for the fact that he simply doesn’t “have the papers to show you.”

Vargas is, of course, not the first person of note to publicly reveal their undocumented status. However, MTV, a popular music television network and icon of popular culture among American teenagers, has changed up the storyline a bit – they have reported on Vargas and his story, including his plea that the current presidential candidates fully address the extremely important issue of immigration. He acknowledges that he does not have the right to vote in this country and endorses neither candidate in particular over the other, instead choosing to point out what he views as weaknesses in both – Vargas rails against Romney’s immigration rhetoric, specifically his continued use of the terms “illegal aliens” and “illegals,” which he feels demoralize and misrepresent a large group of American society, and he is skeptical of Obama’s questionably high numbers of deportation during his first term.

In an article on MTV News, Vargas stresses the importance of voting, especially in immigration and/or underrepresented communities, and he hopes that everyone can recognize this importance, reminding readers that voting is a “privilege, a right, and a responsibility.” It is rare to see such a strong endorsement of voting unaccompanied by an endorsement of a particular party or side of an issue. Although Vargas is, of course, pro-immigration, more than anything he wants everyone to understand the importance and the prevalence of the issue of immigration in this country. He reminds everyone that undocumented residents are omnipresent in everyones’ lives – members of everyones’ communities, churches, schools, and more.

Not only does Vargas himself stress the importance of voting and being aware of the immigration issue, the article written by MTV News clearly supports this viewpoint. In recent years, specifically in the 2008 election of Obama, young people have had higher voting turnouts, and celebrities have taken the opportunity to publicly encourage everyone to vote and get involved. However, MTV’s support and dissemination of Vargas’ ideals also seems to be an endorsement and a belief in the importance of the issue of immigration. This is intriguing and has not been seen in past years. Will Obama and Romney be able to satisfy Vargas and MTV, or will they continue to leave Americans skeptical?



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