Filipino TNTs ‘feel’ Jose Antonio Vargas’s ‘Documented’

‘Life in hiding takes courage too.’

‘Life in hiding takes courage too.’

Cristina DC Pastor

Two Filipinos who watched “Documented” on CNN saw themselves as being similar yet vastly different from its storyteller, Jose Antonio Vargas.

Like Vargas, both are living in the country with expired travel documents, and are currently out of status. Unlike Vargas, they remain safely hidden in the shadows protected by the support from their families, a few trusted friends, and employers who are unaware of their plight. While they cannot imagine themselves ever coming out in the open the way Vargas did in 2011, they do not consider themselves less courageous for continuing to live a life of relative obscurity.

“I will definitely be deported if I come out,” said Angelo Santos, also a journalist like Vargas. Angelo writes for several Asian publications including a popular website for journalists of color.

Angelo came to the U.S. about 10 years ago as a tourist to visit his mother in California. Lured by a restaurant job, he decided not to go home anymore. He thought he could earn enough to support himself while paying lawyers to fix his papers. He lived with his mother who worked for a grocery chain. But the lawyers’ fees drained his earnings. Then he was laid off. He decided to dust off the one skill he possesses: newspaper reporting.

As a journalist, he is selective with his coverage and avoids events where they require a driver’s license to show identification; he has no license. He attends mostly community gatherings where he knows the organizers.

“It takes guts to approach an editor to ask if he or she will accept articles from an undocumented immigrant,” he said. “You never know if you will be reported.”

He said Vargas came out in a way befitting his distinction as a Pulitzer Award-winning journalist. It was a gamble on his part. Now the government cannot simply expel him from the country because of who he is, he said. “I hope everyone will have the courage to do what he did bit for ordinary people like us to come out in the open? There are real consequences.”

Cashier Lourdes Mendoza said the film made her emotional. She has not seen her siblings in more than 15 years, just like Vargas who has not been in touch with his mother for almost 20 years except through Facebook.

“Feel na feel ko iyong film niya,” said Lourdes, who works for an Asian restaurant.

Lourdes said facetiously that she is praying for a miracle because it does not look like immigration reform will ever come from Congress. In the meantime, she will continue to life the life she has known in order to survive. It takes little acts of courage to get by as an undocumented immigrant, she added. The mere act of showing her doctored license for identification gives her untold anxieties.

‘Jose is lucky. He has not been deported or locked up. What about us?’

‘Jose is lucky. He has not been deported or locked up. What about us?’

Angelo and Lourdes said they clearly saw themselves in the film “Documented.” They are proud of Vargas for making it. It took such a film for them to realize that their fears and feelings of isolation are real and are shared by 11 million others. They will not emerge until a law providing a pathway to citizenship is passed in Congress. They will continue to be in hiding. They do not feel like fugitives because they follow the law, they have been paying taxes, and have been approved for medical insurance coverage. “American din naman ako, pero wala lang documents,” Lourdes said.

Said Angelo: “Jose is lucky. So far, all has been good, and opportunities opened up for him. He has not been deported or locked up. But for the common people like us who are undocumented? What’s going to happen?”

They do not want Vargas deported because he is not a threat to the country and has no criminal record. But they believe the government should address his case and decide what to do with him. Otherwise, it appears like he is simply getting “special treatment.”

The names have been changed to protect the subjects’ privacy. TNTs refer to Filipinos who are always hiding or “tago ng tago.”.

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