NEW YORK CITY – Pulitzer prize-winning Filipino journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas was keynote speaker at the 2014 Ippies Awards.
The Ippies are the only journalism awards in New York that honors journalistic excellence by the ethnic and community press.
Ironically, Vargas told the diverse crowd of ethnic journalists that the US media is facing its biggest challenge: diversity.
"Our newsrooms are still not as diverse as they should be which means the stories that should be told are not being told and not being contextualized," said Vargas who is also the founder of Define American.
In a city that is 37% foreign born immigrants, Vargas said half a million of America's 12 million undocumented live here.
Vargas said New York welcomed about 12 million undocumented Caucasian immigrants who came to America through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1955.
Italians, Irish, eastern Europeans, Jews -- many of them didn't even speak English but they were inspected, registered and eventually became Americans.
Today, 60 years later, Vargas said America is again arguing on what to do with 12 million undocumented immigrants. But this time, they are from Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
"So how do they fit in this entire equation and what is our role as story tellers to better integrate them to our content?" he asked.
Vargas said in studying America's recent history, he found out that the LGBT movement's success in pushing for policy changes that legalized same-sex marriage came only after certain cultural changes happened in America such as the depiction of more same-sex couples in pop culture.
As Vargas' film 'Documented' premieres on international television via CNN on June 29th, he believes that getting the stories of the undocumented could make a difference in changing the culture that would eventually change the politics and policies on immigration.
"Culture is politics. So until we change the culture of how we talk about "illegal people in America," we're not gonna change anything. So the goal of this film is to humanize, you know, how we talk about immigrants in this country," he said.
For now, many undocumented Filipinos like Vargas, are hoping that the US would grant temporary protected status to the Philippines -- their best bet for legalization if immigration reform is not passed soon.
But it seems even TPS has lost steam.
"I've been disappointed about the little that has been happening about TPS. But you know, look, at the end of the day, this is a decision of the government," said Vargas.
Even with the comprehensive immigration reform bill stalled in the US congress and the granting of TPS to the Philippines seems nowhere in sight, Vargas said he remains hopeful.
"I have to be hopeful, because I'm alive. So I try, as much as possible, to fight pessimism and cynicism. That's too easy. I never want to take the easy road. So it's much harder to hold on to my optimism. I'm optimistic," he said.