Pulitzer-winner to talk immigrant status at La Luz
Sonoma Valley is home to an estimated 3,000 “Dreamers,” young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who — as children — were brought by parents into the U.S. without legal permission, or overstayed their temporary visas. They study in Valley schools and they pray in local churches, and they do so despite the steady buzz of uncertainty in their heads.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Jesus Paez, 29, arrived in Sonoma at age 5. Today, he says it feels like home “in every sense of the word.” Over the past few years, he has found La Luz very helpful as he navigates the challenges of living in Sonoma as an undocumented immigrant. The center arranged free legal help for him to renew his DACA paperwork last year. He even took part in the center’s recent Latino Leadership Program.
Today, thanks in part to La Luz, Paez has a social security number, a driver’s license and a work permit for full-time employment at a local hardware store, and he pays taxes. He tries to spread the word with his friends who are undocumented that “we have rights” because he, says, many are unaware.
“DACA is not 100 percent secure,” said Paez. “I feel a sense of limbo - for now, I can stay, but there is always a possibility of being deported.”
Writer Jose Antonio Vargas has given a lot of thought to what happens to the human heart when it is unmoored, when a person finds himself living in the place between things.
When years pass in an itinerant state, unable to plan any kind of path with absolute certainty, does it alter a person’s essential core?
He has detailed that “limbo” in his book “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” and he’ll address it for a Sonoma Valley audience on Friday, May 3.
A featured presenter at this year’s Sonoma Valley Authors Festival, Vargas, 38, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, filmmaker and human rights activist. In collaboration with the Authors Festival, La Luz Center has scheduled Vargas for a free community event where he’ll “share what it means to not be at home in America.”
Sent from the Philippines at age 12 to live with his naturalized grandparents in Mountain View, Vargas didn’t discover his undocumented status until he turned 16 and attempted to get a driver’s license with what proved to be fraudulent documents. He walked into the DMV thinking he was safely at home in his new country, and walked out as an undocumented immigrant.
He confronted his grandparents, who confessed to the ruse. They, and Vargas’s mother, had wanted a better life for him than they thought he could have in the Philippines. He was angry, then scared, and eventually resigned. He buried his secret for the next 14 years.
In 2011, Vargas outed himself in a personal essay published by the New York Times magazine, unwilling to carry on with the subterfuge any longer. “The anxiety was nearly paralyzing,” Vargas wrote in the Times essay, titled “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” “Maintaining a deception for so long distorts your sense of self. You start wondering who you’ve become, and why.”
Being undocumented hurts more than self-image. Without papers, legitimate employment is not legally possible. Higher education is more complicated, too. But Vargas found work-arounds and a way through, with the anxiety of his uncertain future just part of the bargain.