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ACLU Studio: Big Bird's Little Undocumented Buddy

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November 23, 2011

From his soft-spoken demeanor, you wouldn't suspect Carlo Alban's incredible story. This 32-year-old actor came from Ecuador as a child and was an undocumented immigrant for most of his teenage life. But he was also one of the main characters on Sesame Street for five years.

Carlo came by to speak with Lee Gelernt, Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. Now a U.S. citizen, he tells us his journey through the shadows in an ACLU Studio podcast.

"My parents, brother and I came from Ecuador when I was seven," explains Carlo. When the family applied for permanent residency through Carlo's aunt, who was living legally in America, they didn't expect it would take so long. For 12 years, Carlo kept his status secret from his closest friends, fearing their reaction.

At age 14, the young Carlo was cast in the already highly successful Sesame Street show. "I had been doing free theater for a couple of years and I had an agent. It was another audition that I was sent to," he recalls. "I was a really cute, innocent kid, I could sing and play instruments and they ended up liking me," says Carlo, who became a regular for five years playing a character with the same name.

Little by little, the young actor realized the obstacles he faced being undocumented: Having to use fake papers, not being able to leave the country. He wasn't able to apply for financial aid to go to college and was barred from getting a driver's license. But beyond the practical difficulties, Carlo explains the huge psychological toll that this experience had on him: "I felt like a total outsider. I am an American citizen now, but I am always going to carry that with me. It is my deepest wound."

Carlo is now a successful actor living in New York City, but hasn't forgotten his life as an undocumented immigrant. He speaks about his journey in a one-man show called Intringulis. He says he admires the undocumented students who speak out on the issue, like the "DREAMers," who are asking to be eligible for financial aid so they can go to college. "When I was growing up, we didn't talk about these things. Nobody came out publicly. And a lot of those students are the cream of the crop, they are the best that we have in society and we should give them that opportunity," he says.

On Sesame Street, Carlo says his only fear was being discovered. "It would have been humiliating." But otherwise, he felt no different, "just like in society, there are people in all areas, in all sorts of jobs who don't have papers. And that's the only difference, they just don't have a piece of paper that tells them that they are allowed to be here or not. It's such a bizarre thing."

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