Sara Martinez assumes a lot of responsibility in her family. She helps her parents, who are from Mexico, with household chores and serves as their bridge to the English-speaking world. She also looks after her three younger siblings, including her youngest brother, Diego, who was born with autism. Sara knows that taking care of Diego helped her grow up faster than her peers, and sometimes she feels she missed out on being just a regular teenager. As Sara says in her radio documentary, "When my mom was telling me her worries about Diego, inside I was like, 'Why are you telling me this? I'm just a kid - why should I have to worry too?' But instead I just let my mom talk."
SARA: I used to sing a lot. I used to jump up and down on the bed with a hairbrush for a MIC and the stereo on loud. But this annoyed my parents. So, I started to write songs in my notebooks at school. I keep my notebooks in different parts of my room like hidden treasures because the songs are a part of me I don't want anyone to see. And, I sometimes don't look back at the songs.
SARA: I don't have time to dwell on my feelings. I have a lot of responsibilities.
SARA: Yes I know uhuh I know.
SARA: One of them is helping my little brother Diego with his HW. He's autistic.
SARA: Come on, no no no no no, yes HW!
DIEGO: HW! HW!
SARA: I am tired and sleepy but this little guy has to do his HW. Okay, okay, okay, uhuh.
SARA: People with umbrellas.
DIEGO: People with umderbrrr, umbrrrr, umbrrrellas.
SARA: We found out that my brother had autism when I was 12 years old.
That's when I began to grow up faster. Starting in 7 th grade, I was in charge of all three of my siblings if my parents were working.
And taking care of Diego is hard.
DIEGO: Cap! Where is the cap?!
SARA: He couldn't find the lid of the cheese.
SARA: He always sets things up the way he likes them. If there is a change he freaks out.
DIEGO: Where are you cap?! Where are you cap?!
SARA: Oh daddy took it out.
MOM (In Spanish): Que me digas, que quema vera aqui
SARA: I am also my parents' personal translator. My family is from Mexico . So, I translate letters,
SARA (In Spanish): Servicios de transporte en autobus cambiar.
SARA: go to doctor's appointments. And I even go with my mom to Diego's school events.
WOMAN: So it's important that they learn how to do that.
SARA: Um is there a way that you can translate that what you said from the beginning said because there are some of the parents here don't understand.
WOMAN: Oh, I'm sorry …
WOMAN (Speaks In Spanish)
SARA: I'm just a teenager, but I still worry about everything to do with Diego. And my mom tells me all her worries too.
MOM (In Spanish): Si affecta.
SARA: My mom is short, and on the chubby side. She can't run very fast and Diego slips right through her fingers.
MOM: When he was a baby I could hold him, now I can't do that anymore, I'm very scared something will happen on the street.
SARA: All through HS, When my mom was telling me her worries about Diego, inside I was like, “why are you telling me this? I'm just a kid - why should I have to worry too?” But instead I just let my mom talk. Later when I was finally alone, I would listen to my Avril Lavigne CD.
LYRICS: You've become somebody else ‘round everyone else watching your back see the way you're acting like you're somebody else getting me frustrated.
SARA: And then - I would go back to helping out my parents with Diego.
PHONE: You've reached the Eden II program.
SARA: I called Eden II, which deals with children who have autism.
SARA: Hi my name is Sara.
SARA: I almost never complain about helping my parents – but this past year, I have started to notice how much anger, frustration and confusion is trapped in my mind. And it's starting to break out at the weirdest times.
SARA: Hi I am Sara
DONNA: I am Donna
SARA: Like when I went to meet with Donna Long of the Grace Foundation.
DONNA: My name is Donna Long.
SARA: She told me they offer family support services and I was happy, but then I told her about the language barrier.
SARA: That's one of the reasons why my parents haven't gone to counseling ‘cause they don't know they don't understand English.
DONNA: I, I, I would think for now that maybe that's where you come and that's I hope not to put a burden. You may have to be the bridge for them.
SARA: Hearing people say that - is the “story of my life.” I was so upset. And she could tell. The more we talked, the more we were talking about me – not about Diego or even my parents, which is a first.
DONNA: Sara you could call here or come here to talk. You could talk to my daughter. Who's 19 now.
SARA: Donna told me she has 2 daughters, Janine who's autistic and Kristen, who isn't.
KRISTEN : I had to grow up very fast. To be honest with you, I had times when I was like very upset, resented it, hated it hated it.
SARA: I started to cry about 2 minutes into my conversation with Kristen.
KRISTEN: Oh I am sorry.
SARA: My brother is 14, my sister is 12, and I don't want to talk to them because I don't want to burden them they may not be feeling the same thing that I do.
KRISTEN: But they might be
SARA: But I don't want them to feel what I have felt.
KRISTEN: Yes but.
SARA: Like if they have too much responsibility and I take some of it because I know how it feels. I'd rather be home helping my mom out than like enjoying myself.
KRISTEN: I don't know you shouldn't give up having fun, it's important. You should have fun, go out! I'll take you out
SARA: That would be fun.
SARA: But it's not like after talking to Kristen, the sky was bluer and the birds were chirping and everything was finally okay.
SARA: So I wrote this song. Around you the world spins.
SARA: And I've slowly been finding it easier to express my feelings – even about Diego .
SARA: How easy it would be to float away but there's something that holds you in your place and that's him.
SARA: For a long time, I've wanted to talk to my mom about how I feel.
But I've been afraid – I didn't want her to judge me.
SARA (In Spanish): Que piensa de me hacienda de estoria (What do you think of me doing the story?)
SARA: So when I finally got up the nerve to talk to her, a strange thing happened.
MOM (In Spanish): Pues, yo digo que esta bien.
SARA: When I asked her what she thought of me doing this story, she told me she thought it was good for me to get things off my chest. And that she already knew a lot of how I felt.
MOM TRANSLATOR : Don't you think I don't know it affects you? Not only you, but also Sonia and Larry. They give me a hard time because I buy Diego more things than I do for them. People told me we need to go to family therapy, but you know we have to work, pay the bills.
SARA (In Spanish): Es que para me no me gusta.
SARA: I told my mom that I don't talk about my feelings at all because I don't want to put a burden on her. And my mom said she knows that I hold it inside.
MOM (In Spanish): You know I love you
SARA(In Spanish): Yes, me too.
MOM (In Spanish): Que habla Diego?
DIEGO: Squeeze me
MOM (In Spanish) : Diego habla.
SARA: But I didn't tell my mom all of the things that bother me. I wanted to say that I hated the responsibility and I grew up too fast, and that it was unfair because I didn't get to do the things most kids were doing.
SONIA: So what kind of bracelet is this?
SARA: It's a Medical ID. So I am thinking Autistic.
SARA: We're in my sister Sonia's messy room.
SARA: Do you want to talk about the incident, the other day?
SONIA: Oh with Paco?
SONIA: He called Diego a retard. I wanted to slap him so hard because that just upset me. The other people think he's a retard and he' not.
SARA: I know that I'll never have it easy. When Diego grows up, he's not going to be like other grown-ups. And maybe I'll end up caring for him then too. I know some people are always having fun but - fun - is not everything. With all the responsibilities and all the worries, I've become understanding, patient and so much more.
SARA: What do you think of me?
SONIA: Well I think, can can you just leave me alone with the microphone?
SARA: Okay, I am going to go and check on Diego.
SONIA: I think Sara is a hero, I look up to her, don't tell her.
SARA: I don't think I'm a hero. I think you have to do something close to a miracle to be one. I'm just a big sister, trying to set a good example.
For WNYC, I'm Rookie Reporter Sara Martinez.