Define American is a culture change organization that uses the power of narrative to humanize conversations about immigrants. Our advocacy within news, entertainment, and digital media is creating an America where everyone belongs.
Join our team, which has been recognized by Fast Company as one of the most innovative companies in the Not-for-Profit space.
Elizabeth is a cultural strategist whose passion for harnessing the power of story to create positive social change led her to her work at Define American. She joined the organization after a fifteen-year career as a producer and showrunner for television networks such as MTV, OWN, and Lifetime. A thought leader sitting at the intersection of popular culture and social change, Elizabeth helms Define American’s five programmatic pillars, designing and implementing long-term culture change strategies for the organization. She holds a BA from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a MA from Pepperdine University. Elizabeth has spoken for national and international audiences including the United Nations Human Rights Council. Her passions include travel, reading and hanging out with her (many) dogs in Los Angeles.
Alicia Wade comes to Define American with more than ten years of business operations and Human Resources experience in the for-profit and non-profit sectors. She has successfully managed teams, facilities, implemented business improvement systems, fostered fiscal responsibility, developed effective performance management systems, and increased employee morale and motivation through organizational culture development. Alicia obtained dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology and Sociology from Fisk University in Nashville, TN.
Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and Tony-nominated producer. He is a leading voice for the human rights of immigrants and the Founder of Define American. His best-selling memoir, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, was published by HarperCollins in 2018. Most recently, he co-produced Heidi Schreck’s acclaimed Broadway play What the Constitution Means to Me, which was nominated for two 2019 Tony awards, including “Best Play.”
Ethan is responsible for supporting Define American’s capital growth strategy by developing relationships with foundation and corporate partners. Previously, Ethan served as the Grant Writer & Development Coordinator for the San Diego History Center and has served as a volunteer and consultant for numerous nonprofits focused on human trafficking, international development, and humanitarian aid and relief. Ethan earned an M.A. in Organizational Leadership from Point Loma Nazarene University and a B.A. in Sociology from the University of San Diego.
Michael is responsible for overseeing fundraising and revenue growth for Define American. He brings 20 years of varied experience in nonprofit fundraising, strategic partnerships, philanthropy, and communications to the role. Throughout his career, he has held leadership positions at the Ms. Foundation for Women, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, CEW Foundation, and the City University of New York, as well as consulted for organizations like the Collective Future Fund and the Labor Innovations for the 21st Century (LIFT) Fund. He holds a BFA in communications from Long Island University and a Master of Public Administration degree from Baruch College.
Jessica (Jess) Detrio holds a BSW from the University of Utah and an MSW from the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Jess previously worked for the Washtenaw County Office of Community & Economic Development, was a victim advocate for the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department, a refugee foster care case manager for Catholic Community Services, and also served as a community organizer for the United States Peace Corps. Prior to joining Define American, Jess was the Grants and Program Evaluation Coordinator for a youth development organization. Jess is a true Michigander at heart. In her spare time, she enjoys swimming, kayaking, camping, rock hunting, skiing, and hiking with her rat terrier Mei-Mei.
Adrián was born in Santiago, Chile, and moved to the United States when he was 3 years old. He grew up in Miami, Florida and although undocumented, through academic and athletic scholarships as an elite tennis player, he was able to attend enroll and pursue his dreams of higher education. At St. Thomas University, Adrián took his first steps as an immigration activist joining the national undocumented youth movement with efforts of passing the DREAM Act in 2010. Adrián graduated from St. Thomas University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications Arts with Cum Laude honors in December 2011.
In August 2016, with the help of the DACA program, Adrián was able to work at St. Thomas University as the assistant coach for the Men’s and Women’s tennis teams, allowing him to further his education by pursuing his graduate degree in the Communications program. He graduated with his Master of Arts in Communications specializing in Electronic Media degree in May 2019. Most recently, Adrián worked with FWD.us as an immigration fellow in Florida to push back against anti-immigrant narratives and legislation at the state level, and advocate for humane and compassionate solutions to immigration at the national level.
Charlene Jimenez is passionate about the power of pop culture and equitable representation within it. With a decade of experience in the entertainment industry, she joins Define American from Lionsgate where she managed publicity and talent relations for a variety of film and television projects. She also served on the board of Lionsgate’s Multicultural Employee Resource Group, advocating for more diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera. Previously, she worked at charitable fundraising startup Omaze and pop culture site Nerdist. Charlene holds a B.A. in International Business from Rollins College and her work has been recognized by Social Media Week LA, Fast Company, and the front page of Reddit. She has ridden in the Batmobile, Jabba The Hutt’s sail barge, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1951 M-47 Patton tank. She also loves plants.
Responsible for overseeing the brand, producing design collateral, and managing the website. Gabriel has worked primarily as an in-house designer at nonprofits, translating complex content into engaging, impactful designs and humanizing issues through visual storytelling. At the Center for Reproductive Rights, they redesigned the print and digital World Abortion Laws Map, categorizing every country by the severity of its abortion laws. At Immigration Equality, they helped to spearhead a nationwide campaign with over 100 coalition partners which prevented the transfer of transgender women to an isolated immigration detention jail. They began their career at the National LGBTQ Task Force, visualizing data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Born in Los Angeles County to immigrant parents and based in Brooklyn, they have a B.A. in Design | Media Arts from UCLA. (They/them.)
Responsible for research and audience development strategies for Define American. Sarah has over twenty years of experience crafting cross-platform media campaigns for The Walt Disney Company, Nintendo, Cigna, PBS and Discovery Channel. She has also been at the forefront of launching large-scale netroots movements in conjunction with arts-based nonprofits including American Promise, Question Bridge: Black Males and Land of Opportunity. Sarah holds a B.A. in English from Wittenberg University, a master’s in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Health Promotion and Policy at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst with a focus on Global Migration and Community Building in the Digital Age. (She/her.)
Responsible for developing digital engagement strategies, Juno Maldonado is a UCL graduate, Connecticut-based digital campaigner, and strategist. Originally from Puerto Rico, she moved to the United States 6 years ago, where she started her own consulting firm. Through Hills and Towers Agency, she helped nonprofits around the world build power in their communities through digital tools and organizing. In 2014, she joined Planned Parenthood as their Social Media and Community Relations Specialist, focusing on advocacy work. Eventually, she went on to manage the social media properties for Planned Parenthood Action Fund. An avid reader and a lover of pop culture, she wholeheartedly believes in the power of story-telling. Her favorite quote is, “Technology and social media have brought power back to the people.”
Responsible for all in-house video needs. Born in Connecticut but raised on the Central Coast of California, William Johnston-Carter graduated from Chapman University with a BFA in Film Production and a BS in Physics. While at Chapman he was a member of the selective Filmmaker-in-Residence mentor program with Academy Award winning producer Cathy Schulman (Crash, The Illusionist). After college, William interned for the documentary filmmaker Robert Kenner (Food Inc., War Letters, Two Days in October) before spending two years with AmeriCorps where he served as Media Production Coordinator for the nonprofit organization Impact America. In 2017, he southbound through-hiked the Appalachian Trail, 2,189 miles from Maine to Georgia, and took way too many photos to prove it.
Responsible for managing TV and film development for Define American. Previously, DJ worked as the manager of development at 11th Street Productions. He was also a production coordinator at MTV. He received his B.S. in broadcast journalism from the HBCU Morgan State University and earned his M.A. in media arts from The New School. He has a passion for film and storytelling, especially stories concerning identity, adversity, and the black and brown experience.
Liz Robbins, a senior journalist who spent 19 years at The New York Times, joins the Define American team in a new role working with news organizations and emerging journalists to help them cover the nation’s diverse immigrants sensitively and accurately. Reporting for The Times’s Metro section spanning the Obama and Trump administrations, Liz focused on immigrant neighborhoods to uplift new voices and expose injustices. She taught immigration journalism as an adjunct professor at Columbia Journalism School and at The School of the New York Times, a pre-college program. Liz began her career as a sportswriter, and at The Times covered the NBA, Olympics and professional tennis. Whether writing about sports or about immigration, Liz has always focused on the people behind the policy, the stories beyond the statistics. She graduated with honors from Cornell University, holding a BA in History. Liz lives in Manhattan but is a long-suffering Philadelphia sports fan.
Responsible for oversight of Define American’s video content production. In her previous work, she was an Assistant Editor at MeetingHouse Productions and Tommie Copper Productions, a Senior Production Assistant at Zero Point Zero Productions, a Coordinating Producer at Hot Air Productions and a Senior Associate Producer & Casting lead for the Emmy-Nominated MTV special “White People.” Shauna has been leading production at #EmergingUS, the production arm of Define American, for the past two years. She holds a Bachelors of Arts from Oberlin College. As a storyteller, she’s dedicated to exploring the complexity of our American identity.
Erla is responsible for building and implementing fundraising and strategic initiatives for Define American. She leads efforts to establish, cultivate and steward strong relationships with donors and supporters and coordinates corporate and individual sponsorships for events. She brings varied experience in nonprofit fundraising, donor stewardship, program development, event organization, and corporate partnerships. She holds a BS in Business Management with a concentration in Non-Profit organizations from Point Loma Nazarene University. Erla has always been passionate about serving communities in need, with immigration activism especially close to her heart. Erla and her family immigrated from Tirana, Albania to Chicago when she was three years old. She is extremely grateful for her family’s sacrifices, which have made all of her dreams and accomplishments possible. She hopes to spend her career advocating for immigration reform through cultural change.
Responsible for overseeing the new Undocumented Artist Fellowship and the Ambassadors program. Bethany is passionate about the global power of art and storytelling to foster empathy and connect people from different backgrounds. She has worked building collaborations with various organizations including Sundance Institute and the USC Pacific Asia Museum to support storytellers and artists in their creative endeavors while also cultivating engaging conversations and interactions between artists and audiences. Bethany grew up in five different countries and has made Los Angeles home for the last 15 years. (She/her.)
Responsible for assisting Jose Antonio Vargas and the Define American team. Jon graduated from UCLA, line produced Define American’s film Documented, and previously managed operations for HyperShop. He probably should’ve majored in computer science.
Uma Viswanathan, Co-Chair
Monona Yin, Co-Chair
Peter Perl, Secretary
Suzette Brooks Masters, Treasurer
Patricia Hyland, Board Member
Jose Antonio Vargas, Founder
Bich Ngoc Cao
Define American was founded in June 2011 by Jose Antonio Vargas with Jake Brewer, Jehmu Greene, and Alicia Menendez. Since then, it’s grown from a small and scrappy team to a five-pillar powerhouse driving cultural change.