California School to Be Named After Undocumented Immigrant Who Won Pulitzer Prize

Jose Antonio Vargas speaks at The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture on May 11, 2017, in Charlotte, North Carolina. A California school board has voted to name a new elementary school after the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Jeff Hahne/Getty Images for Define American

A California school board has voted to name a new elementary school after Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is an undocumented immigrant.

The Mountain View Whisman School District board voted to dedicate the new public school to Vargas, who grew up in the Mountain View area, last Thursday, according to Define American, the immigration advocacy group Vargas co-founded in 2011.

Calling the move a "historic" decision, Define American said it comes "at a time of rising anti-immigrant hate and a record number of detentions" in a statement on its website.

Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Laura Blakely, the president of the district's school board, said Vargas was not only a "product of our school district" but has also "been the face of the American dream for so many students who came here as children, and really grew up as Americans without having citizenship."

Vargas, who revealed his status as an undocumented immigrant in a 2011 article for the New York Times Magazine, was brought to the United States by his family from the Philippines at the age of 12.

I never imagined or wished or dreamt of this. Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School is dedicated to all undocumented students and their parents and families. We are here. We are an intrinsic part of every community 👇🏽

— Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) June 15, 2018

In his article for the Times, titled "My Life As An Undocumented Immigrant," Vargas described his fear and confusion after finding out that his Green Card was fake as a 16-year-old after trying to get a driver's permit at the D.M.V.

"Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it," Vargas wrote. "'This is fake,' she whispered. 'Don't come back here again.'"

Since then, Vargas has gone on to become a celebrated journalist, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for his work covering the Virginia Tech shooting for the Washington Post.

He has also gained prominence for his activism, co-founding Define American, a nonprofit that uses storytelling to give a voice to undocumented immigrants, the same year he penned his piece for the Times revealing his undocumented status.

"We're not always who you think we are," Vargas wrote about undocumented immigrants in the U.S. "Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read. I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn't think of me as one of its own."

In a statement shared by Define American, Vargas said he was "overwhelmed by this totally unexpected and deeply meaningful honor" as a "proud product of the Bay Area's public school system."

Thanking members of the school board and Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph, he said: "Education is the most sacred gift we give to our country's future."

"I am who I am because of teachers and school administrators who nurtured and encouraged me. Their care went beyond papers and beyond grades," Vargas continued.

"This school will be a living testament to the powerful influence that an educator can have in a child's life. It is my hope this school will be a welcoming institution of learning for all students and their families," he said.

The Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School is set to open in August 2019.