by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – “No one really wins anything alone.”
Such is Filipino American Jose Antonio Vargas’ humble assessment for a momentous achievement like winning in the 2008 Annual Pulitzer Prize.
At 27, Vargas became the youngest and only the 5th Filipino to win a Pulitzer. The highly revered award-giving body honored Vargas together with other writers of The Washington Post for their exceptional, multi-faceted coverage of the deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech.
He has since been deluged with interviews about what he calls the Pulitzer mania. “But, to be frank, what’s more important than the Pulitzer is the chance to say thanks to relatives and friends who’ve been incredibly supportive,” he told the Asian Journal.
A journalist for the past 10 years since he was a junior in high school, Jose was born in the Philippines in February 1981. He grew up in Zambales and Pasig, and attended elementary in Pasig Catholic College. Jose’s mother, Emily, was a single mom who raised him with the help of his maternal grandparents.
In an email sent to the Asian Journal, Vargas relates his path to the Pulitzer:
“My grandparents, Leonila and Ted, moved to the States and took me with them when I was young. We moved to Mountain View, California in 1993 and Lolo, Lola and my Uncle Rolan, my mom’s younger brother, raised me. We come from modestmeans; my Lola was a food server, my Lolo was a security guard.
“Here in the States, I found a second family at Mountain View High School, where the principal, Pat Hyland, and the superintendent, Rich Fischer, acted as if they were my surrogate parents. With their help, and because of the generosity of a venture capitalist, I landed a full scholarship for college. I attended San Francisco State University and studied Political Science and Black Studies, graduating in 2004. One of my proudest moments was when Uncle Rolan, Auntie Aida and all my Lolas -Lola Leoning, Lola Rosie and Lola Florie- attended my college graduation,” Jose said.
Jose started his journalism career at 17, while he was a high school junior. He was first an intern and then became a paid staffer for the Mountain View Voice, a local weekly paper, covering city hall meetings, school board meetings, light features. After graduating in high school in 2000, he landed as a copy boy at the San Francisco Chronicle, sorting mail, delivering faxes and answering the phones.
“A Filipino American named Leslie Guevarra, whom I consider one of my mentors, hired me,” he continued. “Back then, in 2000, she was terribly impressed with my writing. I particularly recall her saying, in that deep, low, intimidating voice of hers, that my writing was ‘simplistic.’
“Leslie advised: ‘Be simple. Don’t be simplistic.’ A very good lesson. Leslie was one of the top managers at the Chronicle. She was an inspiration to me. Her work ethic, her discipline, her skill was undeniable.”
A few months into the job, Jose started writing for the Chronicle and landed summer internships at the Philadelphia Daily News in summer 2001 and at the Washington Post in summer 2003. After he got back from The Post, the Chronicle offered Jose a full-time reporting job on the city desk which he accepted. A few months later, however, The Post offered him a job months before his college graduation.
“I couldn’t turn it down,” he said. “So, two days after my graduation, I moved to Washington, DC to work for the Washington Post.”
That was in 2004. Since then, Jose has written so many articles for the Post including a couple of features about Filipinos, the culture of video games, a yearlong series on AIDS in Washington, and the award-winning Virginia Tech massacre. Vargas is now covering the political campaign, running up to the November presidential elections.
“I specialize in the marriage of the Internet and politics, how all the candidates are campaigning online. Barack Obama has raised a tremendous amount of money on the Internet,” he said.
Despite his success in the US, Vargas remains proud to be Filipino.
“I stay in touch with Filipino culture. Whenever I visit Lola Leoning in Mountain View, which is about once every two months, the only thing on TV is TFC and Wowowee,” he said.
“I love my Lola’s kare-kare which is my favorite Filipino dish and I can’t get enough of Auntie Aida’s ube whenever she makes them. I speak with my mom in the Philippines often. I still watch Korina Sanchez, try to keep up with Filipino news and have many Filipino friends, all of whom I’ve known since I was in middle school. I still speak Tagalog and some Zambal,” he added.