TEXT OF STORY
KAI RYSSDAL: There’s a big immigration march scheduled for Washington this Sunday. Organizers are hoping to have as many as 100,000 people show up. They want to pressure Congress and the president to get going on an immigration bill. There are, plus or minus, 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. A lot of them are kids — some of them in high school. And when they graduate, their future is beyond just uncertain. They can’t legally work, they can’t drive and, in most cases, they’re not eligible for government student aid.
Eighteen-year-old Sam is one of them. He was brought from Mexico to Indiana with his family when he was 5. He’s in college now. He’s a music major.
Independent producers Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister have put together a documentary about Sam, including this slice, about a trip to New York City.
Sam: This is really, really awesome. In five days, I’ll be headed to New York to play for this organization called College Board. It’s a an organization that pretty much deals with SATs and stuff like that, you know. And they’ve asked me to play the national anthem for them.
Announcer: Please rise for the national anthem, performed by Sam, an honor student and recipient of the Woody Herman Outstanding Jazz Award from Indiana.
I’m kind of nervous, and I’ve never been to New York. Heck, I’ve never been to Chicago. So this is going to be quite an experience for me.
[Sound of Sam playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on his saxophone.]
It’s a little weird to be asked to play the national anthem of a country that I’m not really of, I guess you could say. In a way, me playing the national anthem and respecting this country, it is putting in people’s face, “Hey, look, I am American. I grew up with ‘Power Rangers’ and ‘Barney’ and all the same stuff you did.”
When “The Star-Spangled Banner” is playing, I still put my hand over my heart because I take this country as my own. I just want to be recognized as an American, because that’s what I feel like I am.
Announcer 2: Good morning everyone. We’re going to get started now…
I’ve also been asked to tell my story at a panel about the Dream Act. That piece of legislation would basically allow students like me to gain citizenship.
Sam at panel: As many of you may know, my name is Sam. You know, growing up, we were warned about a lot of things: Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t get in an ice cream van with a weird guy. But also, we had the whole “Don’t tell anyone what’s going on.”
It’s always been, “Keep that to yourself. Don’t tell anybody because they can turn us in and they can take everything away from us.”
Sam at panel: I feel like we are a shadow society, I guess. Always hiding, always fearful of being deported. And for me, coming here was a big risk to me, because it could affect my family. I love this country very, very much; and I feel like, if I were to gain legal status, I could chase my dream of being a musician.
JP: I’m JP and I’m 23.
JP was the other undocumented student on the panel with me.
JP: I found out I was undocumented when I was 14 years old.
She got her Bachelor’s and her Master’s, but she can’t use it, because she’s not documented.
JP: Right now, I’m working as a nanny for a family on the Upper Westside. And as grateful as I am to have a job, period, in this economy, I can’t help but wish everyday that I could use my degree.
One of the first things I thought when I heard JP’s story was, “Wow, why should I keep going if that’s just going to be me?”
JP: It’s sad. I sit next to Sam, and I’m six years older, and he’s just starting what I went through. And I think that’s what’s so tragic. It’s been six years and still nothing. I’m still in the same spot.
I got terrified, because I thought, “Man, I’m not going to be able to move forward.”
Announcer 2: We’ve come to the end of our time. I don’t want to hold you up….
Right after my panel, I had to go perform. I was trying to get out and this woman came up to me and she said:
Woman: Hi. How are you?
Sam: Pretty good.
Woman: It’s very nice to meet you. We run a scholarship program for first-generation students. I got an e-mail this morning that I have a little balance. So I wonder if you’re interested in that scholarship?
And she just comes up and says, “I’d like to help by giving you $2,000,” and it was just completely left field, but in my favor.
Sam: Yeah, we’re pretty much out of money, so this is definitely going to be a great help.
Woman: So, this is my card. Do not lose it.
Sam: I won’t, I won’t. The $2,000 scholarship basically means that I can finish the semester at least. Oh, it’s such a relief. I’m really, really excited. I’m so happy right now. Whoo!
Tour guide: We are now on our way to the Statue of Liberty at Liberty Island.
That was a really, really neat experience because, visually, I didn’t expect the Statue of Liberty to be that huge.
Cynthia Marcucci, audio tour guide: I’m Cynthia Marcucci. And I’m so pleased to be your guide today.
During the audio tour, I realized how many people really sacrificed a lot to come here.
Marcucci: I’m holding one of the most precious things I’ll ever have. It’s a piece of thin cardboard, about 4×5 inches, with the words “Inspection Card” at the top. It says that Nicoletta Puzo has been passed by the Immigration Bureau and was permitted to enter the United States of America through the Board of New York. She was 6 years old.
I think what we have in common is we just want the same thing, only in a different time period. We all just want the chance to live to our fullest potential. We’re all looking for a better life for our families and our future generations.
Marcucci: Nicoletta was my grandmother. And for millions of family like ours, the Statue was and is a powerful symbol of freedom and opportunity.
It’s pretty humbling actually. Just represents so much that I want to someday have — hopefully my kids will be able to have — that freedom. But we’ll wait.
Ryssdal: That’s Sam playing “In a Sentimental Mood.” Our story was produced by Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister for Long Haul Productions, in association with Latino USA.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.