Hello, it’s Nicole again and this week’s post features Dream Act Union’s advisory board member Carlo Alban. As an undocumented youth, Carlo performed on Sesame Street as a regular cast member. He recently wrote and performed a one-man show Intringulis reflecting his journey on gaining citizenship and has happily provided us with an excerpt to share with you!
Tales From The Street
Pop quiz! As a teenager I was: A) in High School; B) high; C) an undocumented immigrant; D) a regular cast member of Sesame Street; or E) all of the above. The answer is (ding, ding, ding) ‘E’, all of the above. So I was hiding in plain sight; pretending to be an American teenager while playing one on television.
I fell into acting at the age of eleven, when we accompanied my cousin Vivi to an audition for the musical ‘Oliver!’ in Union City, New Jersey. We tried out on a whim. My brother Angelo ended up playing one of Fagin’s boys, and I ended up playing Oliver, my first words on the stage appropriately being, “Please Sir, I want some more.” From there I ventured on to other projects, eventually auditioning for and landing a role on Sesame Street. No one on the show had any idea about our legal status and I had to use counterfeit documents to fill out my paperwork. It seems illogical that my parents would allow me to put myself out there in that way, but if you think about it, what better place to hide than in the spotlight, where no one would suspect you? And if you think about it some more, we came here for opportunity, as most everyone does, and when opportunity knocked, my Parents didn’t have the heart to say no.
One night before Thanksgiving, I hit my Father. I threw a fit because he had failed to change a date on my fake green card. When we’d bought it years before, whoever made mine put the wrong birth date on it. And this is not something you can return. It’s not like there’s a money-back guarantee on counterfeit documents. I needed the paperwork to be in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I was going to ride on the Sesame Street float and sing the song and do the dance in Herald Square before an adoring television audience. It was all set. Except that Macy’s, the employer, needed proof that I was allowed to work because I was underage, and for that I needed my fake Green Card, the only illegal document I had that proved I was legally allowed to work! But it had the wrong birth date. And I was convinced that someone from Sesame Street was going to notice that date and say, “Wait a second, what’s going on here? You weren’t born on the Fourth of July. You were born in October. We celebrated your birthday just last month in Hooper’s Store while you were chopping onions during the ‘Why Is Carlo Crying’ segment. Someone call Immigration!” I was terrified.
So, I had instructed my Father to change the date at his office, assuming of course that he had the forging skills of James Bond. But my Dad was not an international spy, or a movie star. He was a cheese monger. So he didn’t change the date. And I flipped out. I kicked over a chair, I flipped over a couch, and I hit my Father. I punched him in the chest. He placed his hands on my shoulders to try to calm me down and I grabbed him by the neck and accused him of trying to choke me – very melodramatic. It runs in the family. My Mother ran out of the living room crying. I was crying. The cat was crying – for food I think. My Father probably cried, but it must have been in private because I never saw it. The next morning he drove me into the city at the crack of dawn, and he waited for me patiently in the car while I rode that fucking float and waved to the people lining the streets of Manhattan – hundreds of thousands of people. And they all waved back, and smiled, as if I was one of them. And then he drove me home, in a deafening silence. No one ever looked at the card.
I was paranoid. The drugs probably didn’t help. But it was one of the small ways in which we tasted ‘freedom’. Like the freedom in the smoke of my first cigarette, in a church parking lot, tailgating in my friends’ parents’ station wagon with a light drizzle falling on my head while I spun myself dizzy. And then I went home and threw up. But I was free, for the first time. Up until then breaking the rules had never felt good. Being undocumented did not feel good. It wasn’t long before I fell into drugs, one Saturday on lunch break from school play rehearsal in the back of a friend’s jeep on the way to Mickey D’s, waiting for the weed to hit and not feeling anything and feeling gypped, then stepping out of the car and finding myself floating in a bubble down the school hallways paved with marshmallows. And the world changed.
But I was still illegal. And it still felt awful. And still no one knew. And one day in History class the teacher decided to give us all a lesson in civic responsibility, and so she handed out voter registration forms, because we were all going to be adults soon. I didn’t want any trouble, so I passed the pile back without taking one. And while everyone filled out their forms I looked down at the lewd etchings on my desk. But the teacher saw me and asked if I was going to fill out a form, and I thought to myself fuck it and I just came out and said “No I’m not going to fill out a form because I am not a citizen.” And she said, “Ok”, and went back to work. But a guy sitting across from me looked up and said, “You’re not a citizen? Then get out of my country”. So I grabbed my history textbook and I bashed him over the head repeatedly until I was covered in blood and bits of his cranium, and no one did anything to stop it because they knew I was justified in doing so!!! Except that I didn’t really do that because I couldn’t. And I didn’t say a word because I couldn’t. I simply sat in silence, the truth that I did not actually belong made suddenly painfully clear.
Around this time I had a recurring nightmare. It would start out with me sitting in my apartment at 123 Sesame Street practicing counting – “One, Two, Three” – when there’s a knock at the door. I walk to the door with a cheery disposition and answer with a smile. On the other side of my smile I see Oscar, looking especially green and smelling especially dirty, flanked by Big Bird and Snuffy, both looking especially gigantic and overbearing. Oscar asks me if there’s anything I’d like to share with them. I answer that as much as I am a big fan of sharing… and helping… and compromising, I don’t have anything for them at the moment, but they’re welcome to hang out and count with me if they feel so inclined. Then Oscar gives a signal and the giant yellow bird and the hairy elephant tackle me to the ground and drag me out of the building. And outside an angry mob of children and Muppets and “viewers like you” are throwing Styrofoam letters and numbers and chanting “Why is Carlo crying?!” Then out of Hooper’s store they bring a bucket of hot tar, dump it on my head and douse me with a raft of yellow feathers. And just before I’m dumped into Oscar’s trash can which leads straight to the Immigration Department’s Detention Center, the announcer says “This program has been brought to you by the Number One and by the letters U.S.A.”