Five years ago, you'd never have heard Spanish voices on the radio in Siler City, North Carolin, especially not teenage Spanish voices. But this spring, immigrant high school students launched their own weekly show on the local commercial radio station. It's a sign that the Latino community is settling into this small central North Carolina town for keeps. It's also an effort to help young Latinos assimilate.
Nayeli and Georgina sit side by side in the studio at WNCA, sharing a microphone.
Nayeli: "Buenos tardes a todos jovenes de Siler City. Mi nombre es Nayeli."
Georgina: "Y yo soy Gina…"
The announcer's booth is cramped, and filled with antiquities like an 8-track cart machine and a turntable. But these young women don't notice any of that. They've got a live show to host. It's called Grito Juvenil, or "Teen Shout." Today's theme is drug abuse.
Nayeli: "Aquellas ojitas verdes que todo el mundo conoce..." [Those little green leaves that everyone knows about… what other names does it have? 'La mota, La verde.']
Like most of Siler City's young immigrants, Nayeli and Georgina were born in Mexico. Their parents were lured to this town of 7,000 by manufacturing and poultry jobs.
Getting used to life in Siler City has taken time. Like many, 17-year-old Nayeli arrived without speaking a word of English. But she has adjusted well. She's on the soccer team, on the Honor Roll, and in the gospel choir, the only choir member who's not African-American.
But on Tuesday nights at 7:00 p.m., she and other young Latinos can share their interests and concerns on Grito Juvenil.
"We decided to do this first because then we have space to share our experience with other people, other students, with the rest of the community, and keep our language, mainly," she said. "Because we feel free to talk in Spanish there, and we know the people who speak Spanish will listen to us, because they need somebody who share their values and culture."
And teens, adds Georgina, a smart and serious freshman, need a forum that's all their own.
"It's a way of expressing themselves," said Georgina. "And we don't really have a lot of communication, much with adults. So we just have to find another way. I mean, make it educational, but also fun."
Grito Juvenil is sponsored by Siler City's Latino advocacy group, the Hispanic Liaison. The group recruited half a dozen kids from the town's high school to create the show. Then it approached a small local station about airing it. WNCA General Manager Barry Hayes was interested.
"We try to serve our community," said Barry Hayes. "Our community is changing. We're approximately 50 percent Hispanic population, right here in Siler City. So that's why we did it."
The show was eight months in the making. The students worked out a format: talk interspersed with music. They also took a survey at their school to find out what issues Latino teens were interested in: drugs, sex ed, immigration, education.
The kids' mentor is Claudia Mona, a 29-year-old Colombian who hosts a Spanish-language public affairs program for adults on WNCA.
"Y era chistoso porque ellos pensaban que como era media hora...," she said. [And it was funny because they thought that as the show was half an hour, they didn't have to prepare anything just show up and read. But I showed them the reality of it, and I told them: look, you have to investigate, you have to research your theme and you have to plan everything beforehand. You have to be informed.]
And that they are. Grito Juvenil's program about drugs has information a lot of grownups might not know.
Nayeli: "Que es el ecstasis?"
Georgina: "Bueno, el ecstatis es una droga muy poderosa..." [What is ecstasy? Well, ecstasy is a really powerful drug. It's a hallucinogen. The thing with ecstasy is that a lot of people use it, like when they're at a party of whatever. But truthfully, it's really destructive.]
Minutes later, a young man calls in. He's hooked on drugs and doesn't want to give his name. The girls give him a number he can call, in Spanish, to find someone to help him kick his habit.
Nayeli: "Bueno, tenemos una llamada, y esta llamada es de Siler City…"
Serving the community like this is exactly what these youngsters aim to do. And when they graduate, says their advisor Claudia Mona, there will be others to take their place. There are always young people who want to be leaders in their community, she says, and this is one way to lead.