Jose Antonio Vargas on telling undocumented immigration stories and Superstore.

June Thomas talked with Jose Antonio Vargas (a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist) on this week's episode of Working. He spoke with Jose Antonio Vargas about his undocumented status and the work he did to show how diverse American immigrant communities were. They also discussed his efforts to demystify these topics. This transcript has been reduced to make it more concise. June Thomas: What is Define American, you ask? Jose Antonio Vargas: How can Define American humanize the most political and partisan of issues? How can we humanize the immigrant story, one story at time? This is the tagline. That is what we do in Hollywood. We have worked with more than 100 TV and film shows in the past decade. Advertisement Advertisement Advertisement Your participation in Superstore's gay, Filipino character Mateo earned you some media coverage. He was detained by ICE in season 4. How did you get involved in this? What did you do? That show was actually created in 2016. We were involved in four seasons of that storyline, as well as the Mateos storyline. We heard about the show and learned that they had partly been inspired by my story to create this character. We just reached out to each other and said "Hello, we're here." We would love to help. It was great to work with writers. Writers are writers. They don't want to be told what they should write. This is something I know because I am a writer. Because I am a writer, I know this. Storytelling is an area where nuance and complexity can still be found in a situation like this. Mateo is a romantic person. Mateo is someone who likes to date. Mateo is not the perfect man. Mateo could be a bit of an ass. That's okay. He doesn't have to be a good immigrant. Advertisement Advertisement Over the last three years, there have been 23 episodes in this storyline. This is important because Define American does a lot of research. We know that viewers are more likely to remember a portrayal over time. People who had never met someone undocumented, Filipino or gay became friends with this man. It was a relationship. They were informed without being too pedantic or telling you, Here's the headline. Here's what was happening. We worked with the writers room to improve accuracy around points where immigration was an issue like when he was arrested. Advertisement Let's get a little deeper. Can you give an example of what you mean when you say "We work with the Superstore writers room to work on this storyline"? Is it possible to actually go into a room? Who enters that room? What is the process of advising? This is where my writing experience has been most useful. Writers are sensitive. Writers don't want to hear how to write or what to write. We are there to support them, not just provide a safe place. We were there to support their artistic process. We weren't there to judge them. There were times when we felt like "Hey, this is just outright." But, that happens when there's mutual respect and mutual trust. Advertisement Advertisement We did visit writers rooms before the pandemic. Undocumented immigrants or immigrants of any status are brought to us. We connect them with others who are, and they tell their stories, which in many ways serve as inspiration. They are the ones who create the characters and the story arcs. That's not what we do. They come to us and say, "Hey, could that have happened?" This could have been possible. How would they go about hiring a coyote? What would the cost of a coyote? How would they adjust their status by getting married? How long would that take? The relationship between them and their showrunners is special because they view us as part of their process. Being a process person, it is thrilling to be part of this space. Listen below to Jose Antonio Vargas' complete interview.


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