How do YOU define American?

Jose Antonio Vargas

Journalists tell stories. It’s what they love. It’s what they’re paid to do. But sometimes, the journalist becomes the story and usually, it’s not a story the journalist ever wished to tell.

This was how I felt after my husband was killed in September 2007. I had never imagined a day when reporters, some of whom I knew, would camp out in front of my house. Never imagined a day when my family would be the subject of the story. Never dreamed my husband’s picture would flash across the screen.

Four years later, I crossed paths with another former journalist who found himself in the spotlight sharing his own story. Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Washington Post reporter and Pulitzer-winning journalist, sat across from me at a table in Tempe, Arizona. He was there to speak about his recent revelation, his life as an undocumented worker, at the National Conference on Citizenship.

Jose did not know until he was 16 that he was in the country illegally, but after he found out, he believed, as his grandparents had told him, that if worked hard enough he could earn his citizenship. By all accounts he was a hard worker — an accomplished student and a successful writer — but he learned that no matter how hard he worked or what he accomplished, he could not become a U.S. citizen.

Tired of living with the fear and guilt of his secret, Jose came forward this summer and shared his story with the world. It was not a story he ever wished to tell.

Since then, he has started a campaign, Define American, in hopes of changing the conversation on immigration reform. Recently, Jose asked a handful of individuals to share their stories and their definitions of what it means to be “American.” You can view my response here.

Some of the stories are funny (who doesn’t love Stephen Colbert’s definition?), while others are inspirational and uplifting. But all touch upon the very thing that brings so many of us together… a love of this land. As I say in the video, “it’s what makes us exceptional. It’s what makes us American.”

By the end of this week hundreds of individuals, some documented and some undocumented, will share their stories and their definitions of American. What would you say if someone asked you, “how do YOU define American?”


  1. Denise Palmquist

    I am totally FOR sb1070 people coming into this country illegally is against the law. PERIOD. I have no idea we so many people are under the impression that this is good for the state and the country. I have heard many feel it is to hard to get citizenship, I do not beleive this is the case, as many have done it in a short amount of time. If is is important to you the effort it takes is worth the time. Otherwise it will not be cherished the way it should be. I was raised here and have seen many changes, but none so devistating as what is taking place now with illegal immigration, I believe it will destroy us.

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