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June 3, 07

NEWS / Thoroughly American, still illegal. Mexico is foreign for a KC teen who has been schooled in the Sta

Ana Soto, 18, talks to her abuela in Mexico every week from her home in Kansas City.

Grandma always asks the teenager whether she remembers this person or that event or this part of the grandmother’s city in Mexico.

“I’m like, ?I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ ” Soto said.

That’s because Soto and her parents left their Mexican town when she was 4 years old. They came on legal tourist visas, but never returned.

The teen remembers nothing of her native country.

The family doesn’t have a good-enough relationship with legal-resident family members who could sponsor them for eventual legal status.

So Soto (The Star is using only part of her full name) still is a Mexican citizen, but she’s thoroughly American after having gone to U.S. schools every year since preschool.

She has never been back to Mexico, which is essentially a foreign country to her.

“Me personally, I could never live there,” Soto said, because poverty is pandemic and the gap between rich and poor is so much bigger than in America. Making her move to Mexico would be “like putting a hippo in the middle of Antarctica. It’s weird.”

The impact of not having immigration papers struck her in high school.

“People would start saying, ?I’m going to this college or that college.’ They’d ask me, ?What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ” she said. “I’d be like, ?I want to be this or that.’ They’d say, ?That’s cool. What college are you going to?’ I said, ?I don’t know.’

“I’d look at college applications and they’d ask for a Social Security number,” she said, recalling thinking, “I don’t think I have that.”

She went on: “That’s where I started knowing about my status more than what I already knew. I already knew I was here illegally, but I didn’t know what I couldn’t do.”

She has been involved in many high school activities — band, student government, various clubs.

She wishes she could do what her classmates — and even her younger brother, a citizen because he was born in America — can do. Go to college. Get financial aid. Pursue whatever career they want.

“After he graduates from high school, he can go to a big college and he can get many scholarships and get a very good job without having to worry about being taken back (to Mexico). He can actually get his driver’s license,” she said. She says it bothers her that some Americans say illegal immigrants came here to take Americans’ jobs.

“We were just little kids when we came here,” she said. “We’re students just like other students who want a better future. But we can’t have it because we can’t get a Social Security number.”

Because she can’t attend Missouri’s public universities, and private college is far too expensive without federal financial aid, she has enrolled in a career institute to study massage therapy. Her godmother lent her the tuition, and Soto will begin work soon to start paying the money back so her housekeeper mother and bartender stepfather don’t have to.

She has to buy a fake Social Security card to work.

The obstacles sometimes get her down, but not always, she said, “because I have hope I can do something really big with my life.”

Her words imply she still dreams of a good future. But her brown eyes are flat. Her soft voice is flat. Her mouth stays in a straight line.

There is no smile.


To reach Lynn Franey, call 816-234-4927 or send e-mail to

Tags: tourist visa,


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