Define American

Using the power of story to transcend politics and shift the conversation around citizenship

Our Team

The Define American conversation was founded in April 2011 by Jose Antonio Vargas, and co-founded by Jake Brewer, Jehmu Greene, Alicia Menendez.

Today, the work of Define American is led by Jose and Jake Brewer along with a network of friends and allies across the United States including:

Board Members

Jake Brewer, Founder and Co-Chair

Jose Antonio Vargas, Founder and Co-Chair 

Patricia Hyland

Shervin Pishevar 

Afshin Pishevar, General Counsel 


Campaign Director, Rev. Ryan M. Eller

Responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations of the project, including the pledge campaign and expanding the film’s impact on policy. Ryan holds a BS in Political Science from Appalachian State University, a Masters Degree in Divinity from Wake Forest University, and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Penn State University. Prior to coming to Define American, Ryan was US Campaigns Director at For four years prior to that, Eller was the Executive Director of CHANGE in North Carolina—the largest broad-based community-organizing group in the southern United States (a 501c3). He has extensive experience in the campaign arena as well, having managed political campaigns at the local and federal level. 

Media and Partnerships Director, Lara Drasin

Responsible for seeking out and implementing creative ways to accomplish Define American’s goals through both likely and unexpected strategic and media partnerships. Additionally, Lara is an Associate Producer of “Documented," a film written and directed by Jose Antonio Vargas and a project of Define American. Prior to joining Define American, Drasin was an account executive at Hiltzik Strategies, a NYC-based boutique public relations and crisis management firm handling a range of corporate and individual clients in the areas of media, technology, entertainment and advocacy. While at Hiltzik, she was involved with orchestrating both national and international media campaigns and has managed stories ranging from The New York Times to the cover of Forbes Magazine. Lara graduated with honors from New York University with a dual B.A. in Journalism and Sociology. She currently lives in New York, NY.

Director of Communications and Engagement, Maria Cruz Lee

Responsible for communication strategy and implementation with Define American partners across the country.  Maria holds a BA in Media from CUNY Hunter College and served as Special Assistant to former Commissioner, Fatima Shama at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs ( during the Bloomberg Administration.  She joined MOIA as its first social media intern in 2010, created and implemented the agency social media strategy on multiple campaigns including the Blueprints for Immigrant Integration ( which are being used in 50+ municipalities and have been internationally awarded as a model.  Born in the Philippines, Maria aims to continually connect, support and celebrate immigrants in all her efforts.

Operations Manager, Jonathan Yu

Responsible for overseeing logistics for project implementation and calendar management and coordination. Jonathan has been working with Jose Antonio Vargas his entire career, managing travel, organizing schedules, and overseeing accounting for various projects. Yu has edited and reviewed articles and media for Vargas throughout his career, including providing key feedback on award-winning pieces. A student of film in college, Jon views hundreds of films per year and can quickly evaluate and improve content. 

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