Teenage Diaries Revisited: Living Life Under The Radar Juan came to the U.S. with his family, who crossed the Rio Grande illegally in 1992. He has made a life for himself in Colorado that might seem like the American dream: a house, a job, two cars, three kids. But he remains undocumented.
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Teenage Diaries Revisited: Living Life Under The Radar

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Teenage Diaries Revisited: Living Life Under The Radar

Teenage Diaries Revisited: Living Life Under The Radar

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

In the mid-1990s, independent producer Joe Richmond gave a group of teenagers tape recorders to tell their own stories.

AMANDA BRAND: Hello. Nope, wrong button. There. Hello.

JOSH: I'm going to do the introduction now. My name is Josh.

BRAND: My name is Amanda.

MELISSA RODRIGUEZ: My name is Melissa Rodriquez.

FRANKIE: Hi, my name is Frankie and I'm going to give you a little tour from my Cadillac here.

JUAN: Here I am. My name is Juan and I'm here in the U.S.

JOSH: It's my radio show, thank you.


BRAND: The diarists recorded at school, at home, interviewed family and friends, and shared stories about their lives on this program. Today in our series, Teenage Diaries Revisited, we return to Juan. When we first met him as a teenager, he was living in poverty in a trailer in Texas. His family had illegally crossed the border from Mexico.

A lot has changed for Juan. Today, we find him again in Colorado, living what appears to be a typical, American middle-class life, except he's still undocumented. This is Juan's new radio diary.

JUAN: One, one, two, two, testing, testing. It sounds pretty clear. How you doing? My name is Juan and I am recording my diary once more. This is like the follow-up, fast forward. And it's been so long now. It's been 20 years that I've been here in this country illegally.


JUAN: That's got to be a record.


JUAN: You know, I mean I've got to check with Guinness to see if that's a record or not. But look at me, I mean I graduated from high school. I have a job, a nice car, a house. I got married and I have kids. If you meet me on the street, it's not even going to cross your mind that I'm an illegal resident. I've been here for so long, I'm one of you.


JUAN: (Foreign language spoken) Hi, guys.


JUAN: Morning, chita.

It's 6 A.M. I'm here with my wife, Millie.

MILLIE: (Foreign language spoken)


JUAN: Millie, she's from El Salvador. She's a big fan of coffee.


JUAN: Right now, I live in Colorado. I rent a three-bedroom home.

ALAN: What.

JUAN: Alan, you've got to be quiet for a minute, OK, 'cause I'm recording. By the way, what is your name?

ALAN: Alan.


JUAN: I have three beautiful kids: Natalia, Tasha and Alan. I'm the head of his family and I provide for them pretty well. I mean, we're not rich but we're doing good.

OK, so 6:27 and we're off to work. I'll talk to you guys later.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: You miss me? Bye.

JUAN: Bye.


JUAN: I'm out.


JUAN: Good morning, everybody. I'm here at the house I'm working on, underneath the floor. I'm a plumber. That's what I do for a living.


JUAN: I'm sticking this black pipe of gas through a wall and I'm making holes for that. I do residential plumbing in new houses. I mean, I cannot say too much information about this company that I work for because they don't know I'm undocumented. But I'm always on time. I always take care of my job. And I haven't missed any single day.


JUAN: I always wanted to be an architect and I feel like this is the closest to being an architect right now.


JUAN: And that's that.


JUAN: When I was a little kid, long, long, long, long time ago, I kind of like talked to myself and I said, OK, self, at 35, I want to be in a half a million dollar home and have a Mercedes. And if I have all this, my life is going to be all right. I was just a kid with a lot of dreams. Some of them worked, some of them didn't.


MILLIE: One-oh-seven point one, this is Katy Perry. She's cool.

JUAN: We're in my car. My wife, Millie, with my two kids. We're on our way to a house where we used to live, my dream house.


JUAN: Well, not mine anymore. There it is. All right, guys, let's take a look at your old house.


JUAN: Go ahead, mijo, fly.


JUAN: Now, about four years ago, me and Millie found this beautiful three-story home with five bedroom, five bathrooms. Millie fall in love with the high ceilings, the nice kitchen, the fireplace. It's a huge house.

MILLIE: It looks the same.

JUAN: That tree still has the roses that I planted, see. I always thought it was going to be mine forever. But it was a really short American dream. We just couldn't afford it anymore. The loan that we got for the house, it wasn't exactly a good one.

You know, it got really bad in real estate. A lot of people lost their houses and I'm sad to say that I was one of them.


MILLIE: Oh, my God. They're going to call the cops.

JUAN: Yeah, we better go. 'Cause then this neighbor here...

MILLIE: They'll think that we're trying to rob someone.


JUAN: Especially being Mexicans.


MILLIE: Drive. Drive. Drive.


JUAN: All right, guys, let's eat something.


MILLIE: We'll try again with something smaller.

JUAN: Something not as big.


JUAN: When I was growing up back in Texas, living in a trailer home, we were poor - really, really poor. And I had a lot of dreams but my dad would always tell me: No, 'cause you're illegal. Or you cannot do that 'cause you're illegal, don't risk it.

I don't know if he was afraid for me or what. He put negativity on my mind. That's exactly what he did 'cause the way he felt about life. And that's something I carry around with me. It pushes me. You know, when I first started high school, nobody thought I was going to graduate and I did. I'm like the guy that says, oh, I want to jump higher, and just practices and practices just to jump higher; just for self-satisfaction. That's me.


JUAN: Ready to play, tashita?


JUAN: Good. Good. Good.

I tried to be a better dad than my dad was with me.

NATALIA: Testing, testing, testing.

JUAN: Hey, Natalia.


Hi, this is Natalia. We're at the soccer part right now. We're the purple team and we're playing against the green team right now. Sports runs in our blood.


JUAN: My daughter, Natalia, she turned 13 and now she's a teenager. She wears skinny jeans, Converse, just like a regular American would.


Natalia, twist it. Twist it. Almost. (Foreign language spoken)

It's natural, you know, you always want to give your kids what you didn't have. I want my kids to go to college. And my six-year-old wants piano lessons. So whatever crazy idea they get, I always say yes, do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Michael, kick that ball, son.

JUAN: At the same time, I want my kids to know what it feels to accomplish something on your own. Like, my son, he's four years old and he's always running around, always running around. He's always in a hurry. I don't know where he is going.


JUAN: And every time he falls down, I don't pick him up. Millie is like, why don't you pick up the kid, you know, pick him up. And she's like, what are you doing - don't you care for him? Well, I do care for him that's why I'm not going to pick them up. What if one day I'm not there? He needs to learn to get up by himself.


JUAN: Yay. Good job, guys. Good job. Good job. Good job.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Six o'clock tomorrow in that field over there.


JUAN: All right, it's nighttime. It's around 8:30 P.M. This is Natalia.

NATALIA: Hello, again.


JUAN: Well, I was just looking at my old tape recorder. This tape recorder has been with me for 17 years. I'm pretty sure it still works. OK, baby, I want you to hear something. I want to play you something. Back when I was in high school, I made this story about me being a teenage Mexican coming into the United States. This is me 16 years ago.


JUAN: OK. Here I am. My name is Juan. How are you all doing?


NATALIA: Wow, dad. You sounded so young.


JUAN: This is a small, little town. About half a block down is the Rio Grande River and sometimes it's funny. You see, we came all the way from (unintelligible) about 18 hours, just to camp 300 feet into the United States.

NATALIA: Daddy, what if you never left Mexico? Were you ever, like, worried at a point that it might not even happen?

JUAN: I don't believe in the what-ifs. I was going to come no matter what. So, what do you think about me being illegal? How do you feel about it?

NATALIA: Sometimes I feel weird because you're not really American so we can't travel together.

JUAN: But you can travel.

NATALIA: Yeah, but not with you. Like, sometimes I feel scared, like they might send you back because, like, I see on the news that little kids they have to stay here with someone else or go into foster because their parents got sent back.

JUAN: I got to tell you, baby, after 20 years, I don't lose my sleep over, you know, thinking if I'm going to get deported or not. I work. I take care of my taxes. I feel like I'm part of society. So you have nothing to worry about, baby, 'cause I'll be around on that end.


JUAN: Okay. Go to bed 'cause you're waking up early.

NATALIA: Goodnight.

JUAN: Goodnight. Coming across the living room to the hallway. That was a fan. Couldn't see where I was going. Have to be quiet not to wake up my kids. As I'm getting older, I understand that, you know, circumstances of life made us who we are and that's just the way it is. I spent most of my life here in the United States and, yet, I'm an illegal immigrant. I wish I could take that away. I wish I could just take my label off.

Like, when you buy a new pair of jeans, just rip it off. But it hasn't happened. The batteries are running down. I just want to wrap this one up. I'll just leave it at that. This is Juan signing off. I'm not going to say bye, but until later. Adios.

CORNISH: Juan's story was produced by Joe Richmond and Sarah Kay Kramer of Radio Diaries. In the months since Juan recorded this diary, he and his wife have purchased a new home. We're not identifying Juan by his last name because of his undocumented status. Tomorrow, our series Teenage Diaries Revisited continues with Frankie's story.

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