Saturday, May 3, 2014

Jose Antonio Vargas' Documented - A Review

Tina and I had the pleasure of seeing Documented tonight, Jose Antonio Vargas's auto-biographical documentary about the struggle of undocumented Americans - known in the popular culture as "illegal aliens" - to achieve their just place in American society.   Tina and I each have a little good history with Jose.  Tina was interviewed by him about her work on Wikipedia's political pages in 2007, for a front-page article in The Washington Post.  And Jose and I talked politics and the Internet on Dylan Ratigan's MSNBC show in 2011.  Still, if I hadn't liked the movie, I wouldn't be reviewing it.  And if I had any problems with the movie, I'd say so in my review.   As it is, I found the movie nothing but exceptional.

The movie in effect was presented in two intertwining parts - Vargas's political battles after he came out as an undocumented American, and the personal travails of not having seen his mother in 20 years. The political part of the movie is much like Michael Moore's best work, with one big advantage: Vargas is not only investigating how the cards have been stacked against undocumented Americans, he is an undocumented American himself.  Thus, when he objects to being called "illegal," his complaint comes from a directly wounded heart.  Frankly, the term "illegal alien" is idiotic in any case - where I come from, an alien comes from another planet (science fiction writer Rob Sawyer captures this well in his novel Illegal Alien) - but Vargas is able to demonstrate how being called an "illegal" is an insult to any person working hard in this country, regardless of where they were born or how they got here.   We see Vargas's tears when he learns about Obama's giving undocumented Americans a path to citizenship - but only if they're under 30 years of age - and this provides as accurate an assessment as ever I've seen of Obama's Presidency and its failure so far to take the full steps needed to set America on the right path on more than one crucial social issue.

You might be wondering how Vargas got into this country and managed to become a reporter at The Washington Post without the proper work visa.   This gets into the second element of the movie, which shows us how Vargas arrived here as a 12-year-old, to live with his grandparents, with his mother back in the Philippines.   His grandfather arranged for a doctored green card for Jose, who had no knowledge of what had happened until later on.   Meanwhile, Jose's mother was unable to even visit him in America, because she had no employment back in the Philippines to support her visa application.   The impact of this separation on Jose was painful, to say the least, and continues to this very day.   An emotional highpoint of the movie is the healing that begins when Jose has a difficult Skype reunion with his mother and half-siblings on the other side of the world - it's easily the most effective Skype conversation scene I've seen to date in any movie or television series.

What becomes searingly clear as the movie progresses is the absurdity of our immigration policy - an absurdity which is self-destructive not protective of the best in America.  That a man who has lived such a life and made such a movie could be considered either illegal or alien shows how far our country has veered from its original ideal of all people created equal.   We were and are a country of immigrants, and we're fortunate indeed to have an immigrant such as Jose Antonio Vargas bravely working on behalf of our better natures.   In fact, he could be deported any day for his coming out as an undocumented American - Obama does deserve credit thus far for not deporting him - and this movie provides an inspiring testament to this American whose work is still in progress.


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