Radio Rookies is a New York Public Radio initiative that provides teenagers with the tools and training to create radio stories about themselves, their communities and their world.
Half of Radio Rookie Alicia Martinez's family members are U.S. citizens. The other half is not. Her parents and older sister came to the U.S. illegally before she was born. Alicia knows – from her sister – how hard it is to grow up in the U.S. without legal papers, but she also finds it stressful to be the lucky one: the daughter with all the opportunities. As one of three U.S. citizens in her family, Alicia has struggled to meet her parents' expectations and overcome the guilt she feels that her hardworking sister’s life is so limited.
The ongoing and intense national debate over immigration reform has brought a lot of attention to young immigrants who came here illegally with their parents and are now growing up in the U.S. with no legal prospects for work. But there is much less focus on their younger siblings, those who were born in the United States and enjoy all the rights of U.S. citizens.
Alicia is 16 and says her parents have never had a serious family conversation about their immigration status and the fact that they could be detained and deported at any moment. The only time they talk with her about it, she says, is when they try to scare her into getting good grades by saying, "You better do well! Why else did we come here? The government can throw us out!"
Alicia's older sister was always at the top of her class, but she can’t work in the U.S because she wasn't born here. Their mother says Alicia should do even better because she “has everything on a silver platter.”
"But," Alicia says, "piled high on that platter are all these responsibilities."
The same goes for her older brother, who is facing pressure to get a driver’s license as soon as possible because their father drives a car with no license and no car insurance.
Recently, Alicia was in her living room helping her 9-year-old cousin with his homework, when she stopped the math review to ask him, “Do you know what your parents are? Illegal immigrants, they came here without permission.” Alicia knew that her cousin might be too young to understand what she was telling him, but she says she did not want him to find out by being teased in school.
"Without permission?," he asked her with surprise.
Alicia responded plainly, "Yes.” She proceeded to explain that if the government finds his mother, “they'll put her in jail and send her back to Mexico.”
"Don't say that because you're making me cry," he sniffled.
Listen to Alicia tell her own story to hear why she wishes her family would talk more about their mixed immigration status and whether, in their view, Alicia is an ‘anchor baby’ – as one man on Staten Island says she is. (Alicia used a pseudonym to protect her family’s identity.)
(Airs June 15, 2011, Morning Edition, 93.9FM)