August 26, 2011

Musician Keeps Past in Shadows

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A 25-year-old college student tunes his guitar at the Crystal Pistol before playing a show in downtown Tulsa, Okla., on July 11, 2011. He came to the U.S. illegally with his mother at age 14 from Mexico to join his father. He graduated from a Tulsa High School and is close to finishing two TCC degrees, but cannot get a job because of his status.

Adam Wisneski/Tulsa World

A 25-year-old college student tunes his guitar at the Crystal Pistol before playing a show in downtown Tulsa, Okla., on July 11, 2011. He came to the U.S. illegally with his mother at age 14 from Mexico to join his father. He graduated from a Tulsa High School and is close to finishing two TCC degrees, but cannot get a job because of his status.

TULSA — Not many people know the 25-year-old local musician and college student has been living in the shadows since he was 14.

The student, who doesn’t want his real name used for fear of being deported, hangs with a young and hip crowd, often talking about music and pop culture.

He doesn’t often share his story about crossing the border illegally with his mother to be with his father here.

After making their way from Vera Cruz to the U.S. border, a human smuggler was paid $2,400 to take them into Arizona.

“I had no idea what was about to happen, only that we were moving,” he said. “We walked in the desert at night. There were 12 of us and three guys telling us where to go and at what times to run. There was a lot of running. My mom got sick in the middle of it and started crying.”

By the end of the journey, his pants were torn to shorts and his feet were covered in blisters.

They were dropped off by a bus in Tulsa and reunited with his father.

“In Mexico, it was a privilege to go to McDonald’s, and I might go only on my birthday,” he said. “When I got here, the first place my dad took me was McDonald’s because he could finally afford it.”

He was placed in English as a Second Language classes in an area school and was fluent in English within two years. “After people made fun of how I spoke, I worked hard at having perfect grammar,” he said. “Some people are surprised by that.”

He graduated from high school with a mixture of A, B and C grades.

His only failed class was gym because he refused to change into gym shorts.

“My dad was so mad at me for that,” he jokes.

It was in high school when his illegal status hit him. He couldn’t get a driver’s license and getting a job was tough.

High school counselors didn’t know what to tell him for career advice.

“You get reminded of your status every day,” he said.

When he looked into applying for legal residency, he found no avenue. Even if he found a sponsor, he would have to return to Mexico, banned from re-entering for at least 10 years as a federal penalty.