How Do You Define American? The YouTube Campaign that Seeks to Spark New Immigration Dialogue

There is a movement going on right now on YouTube. The Define American movement has launched a social media campaign on YouTube to open up the dialogue on immigration here in the U.S. and how we can reform the immigration system. Jose Antonio Vargas, the journalist famous for outing himself as an illegal U.S. immigrant in The New York Times, and his campaign encourages Americans all across the world to share their personal stories about “what it means to be an American” and the effects of the immigration system on their lives. Users can share their story via text, audio or in the form of a YouTube video.

The campaign follows the same formula that turned the It Gets Better campaign into a worldwide phenomenon. The goal, says Vargas and Define American co-founder Jake Brewer, is to open an honest dialogue across the country about immigration and immigration laws’ effects on families and communities.

“Only the Internet and only social media is vast enough to make room for an actual dialogue and an actual conversation,” Vargas tells Mashable.

The campaign kicks off with the support of some big names and a few powerful stories. Stephen Colbert, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Palm Pilot inventor Jeff Hawkins, Twilight: New Moon director Chris Weitz and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark are just some of the people who have recorded videos for the Define American campaign.

There are also some touching stories that don’t come from household names, though. For example, one English class at Northwest Yeshiva High School in Seattle recorded a video discussing what they think it means to be American. One such story from a student said he defines American as “One who wishes to do as they please and seizes the opportunity to go forth,” while another student defined American as “Someone who lives in America that believes in the freedom and rights laid out in the U.S. Constitution.” The English teacher defines American as “Everyone” because the American experiment encompasses everything come here and live here for.

“We’ve called it a new conversation about immigration,” explains Brewer. “The ultimate success to us is people talking to talk openly, despite political or divided lines.”
As a career journalist, Vargas has a slightly different view on the campaign. “We are in the golden age of storytelling,” he claims. “We don’t have to rely on journalists to write the stories. Every day people are writing their own stories.”
Vargas made headlines in June when he wrote a lengthy piece describing his life as an undocumented immigrant. The article, which focuses on his struggle to fit in and stay in the United States, sparked a wave of interest in his story. That wave helped Define American acquire more than 100,000 signatures on a petition
However, Vargas says that his personal story isn’t enough to fix the problems he sees with the immigration system. Instead, he’s hoping that a flood of videos (the goal is 500 in the next week) and the social media conversation that will ensue will inspire people to tell their immigration stories.

“Never underestimate the power of a story,” Vargas says. “I’m just one story. We need to hear more stories.” As an immigration practice, we hear such stories every day in our office, whether it is pursuing education, getting married, or finding a job here. Each client has their own story that speaks to what it means to be American. So fellow blog followers, how do you define American? What does it mean to you? If you wish to share your own definition of what American is, you can follow the campaign and post your own story at Define American’s website.