To kick off the Newest Americans project in 2014 we screened Jose Antonio Vargas’ film Documented. Vargas, an accomplished journalist who came out as undocumented in the New York Times Magazine, helped found Define American. The organization, like Newest Americans, uses “the power of storytelling to transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America.”
Our screening was followed by a conversation with Jose and two Rutgers students—undocumented immigrant rights activists Marisol Conde Hernandez (Co-Founder of the NJ DREAM Act Coalition) and Giancarlo Tello (Campaign Chair for NJ United Tuition Equity for DREAMers). After the panel we invited audience members to share their thoughts on how they would define American and made a video mashup of their responses.
The event was a statement of purpose for Newest Americans in its mix of storytelling, and public humanities programming, cross-pollinated with education and civic engagement. Rutgers University-Newark has been designated the most diverse university in the country for the past two decades by U.S. News & World Report, so asking our students to reflect on what it means to be American also underscored the project’s unique perspective rooted in the global city of Newark, New Jersey.