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An Immigrant DJ's Morning in America

El Piolin's show trounces English-language broadcasts in the ratings.
El Piolin's show trounces English-language broadcasts in the ratings. (By Carlos Puma For The Washington Post)

And then there are people like Maria from Guatemala, who come to the studio to tell their stories to Sotelo and his listeners. Her 14-year-old daughter was raped by two guides in the city of Oaxaca in Mexico during their trip to the States, she says. The girl, Rosa, sits beside her, eyes down, hands on her swollen, pregnant belly.

Sotelo, like his audience, is riveted.

But the singer Lorenzo, who is also in the studio and agreed to donate money, notices something: Rosa's stomach. Didn't the mother say the baby was about due?

"The belly is bigger at that stage," Lorenzo whispers.

Sotelo stares into the mother's crying eyes. Part of his charm is his big heart, and sometimes people take advantage. He opens the phones to 500,000 upset listeners.

"Mentirosa!" cries the first caller. Liar! Caller after caller says the same. Lorenzo voices her doubts about the timeline. Finally, Sotelo weighs in. " Es un gran contradicion, mami, " he says to the mother. That's a big contradiction. "┬┐No hay novio, esposo? " Is there no boyfriend, husband?

The show's over, and one by one, Sotelo, Lorenzo and the crew push past the disgraced mother to hug Rosa.

"This happens a lot," Sotelo says. "And it's sad, because so many people really need help. I want to help them."

* * *

In 1986, when he arrived in the United States from his home of Ocotlan, in Jalisco, Mexico, at age 16, Sotelo crossed over from Tijuana and clawed through the desert. He was almost captured by the Border Patrol when a helicopter hovered over him with a searchlight.

"I prayed to God to make me invisible," says Sotelo. The helicopter flew away.

Sotelo ran and jumped in the trunk of a waiting car. "At one point I couldn't breathe, so I lifted up the carpet and breathed through that tire hole," he says. "There were so many fumes. I thought I was going to die there."

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