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What Mexican maids really think

Like a flower in the dust

I begged my uncle to loan me money to go to Tijuana.

I come from very poor people, but when I was a baby, a neighbor girl took care of me while my mother worked and went to the market. I think most people in Mexico have maids or servants in the house, even many of the very poor. It seems this is not true in the United States, where people have more money. This seems strange, but maybe I just don’t understand.

For 30 cents more, a bus takes me to the border, where I walk across and catch the trolley.

For 30 cents more, a bus takes me to the border, where I walk across and catch the trolley.

It seems natural that younger women with no children would help with the families of older women who have many. What else is a young, unmarried girl going to do? Maybe they get meals or a few pesos or maybe it is just part of their obligation to their aunts or cousins. But most times if you are around a Mexican family, there will be a younger woman or even a girl of 12 years who is keeping the babies, helping with the food, sweeping the yard.

Our future patrones were not willing to smuggle us across in their own cars.

Our future patrones were not willing to smuggle us across in their own cars.

When I was in my teens I kept house for my uncle, whose wife had died. I did the same work I would have done in my father’s house, but I enjoyed it more because I was in charge. The children were all younger, and it was like having babies of my own. I cooked and cleaned and watched the children with nobody to boss me around. We atd better, too, because my uncle worked a syndicate job in the cane mill instead of farming like everybody else. And I had much more privacy in his house than in my own.

I was surprised at first by the way American men approached me.

I was surprised at first by the way American men approached me.

I was in the middle of 13 children, and we lived in three rooms with hammocks on the porch for sleeping so there was no privacy at all. In my uncle’s house I was older than his six children and had certain respect and obedience from them. They called me "Tia," though I was really their cousin, not their aunt. I even had a little space, a sort of curtained closet that had been my aunt’s, where I could hang my dresses, look in the mirror, be alone. Now, here in this country, it seems impossible that a young girl becoming a woman would not have privacy to dress up and to know her body, but then and there it seemed normal enough.

When there were those explosions in Guadalajara, everyone was asking me if I had any family there.

When there were those explosions in Guadalajara, everyone was asking me if I had any family there.

This was in Sinaloa, in a pueblito not far from Kosamorado. I was happy enough cleaning my uncle’s house and going to school sometimes, but my friends always talked about getting married or leaving town and going someplace more exciting. You understand, ours was a village with no zocalo, only streets full of dust or mud; no cinema, no library, no bar, no restaurant. It is still a very boring place, and if I went back there I wouldn’t stay for long.

Well, I didn’t see anyone I wanted to marry. The boys were all a bunch of burros, and the boys from bigger places like Rosamorado were not to be trusted. I’ll admit to being vain. My friends told me I was too pretty to stay there, that I should go where I would be appreciated by real men, have a fine life. It sounded like a good idea, and I thought that if I could go somewhere bigger, men would come to me, would like a girl who looked like the girls on TV but had small-town manners. Even my uncle told me I should go out into the world, not stay there. “Like a flower in the dust,” he said. But how was I to make my way?

There was one way. Go to the border and work as a maid in a foreign household. Everyone knew about this. Every year some of the girls would catch the bus to Tijuana or Ciudad Juarez and try to get jobs on the other side of the frontier. Some came back to visit at Semana Santa with nice clothes and money. Some never came back.

There were advertisements sometimes, looking for young girls to come to the frontier and work in houses. I wanted to do that, because they would pay my way. But my mother would not allow it. She was like most of the mamas, afraid of poquianchismo, white slavery. They would tell us of the dangers, and they would always tell the same stories; the Gonzalez sisters.

It must be 30 years now since they caught Eva Gonzalez Valenzuela, but they talk about it like it was last week’s newspapers. They would place announcements for work as maids in the North to lure young girls from their homes. They fished enough girls up, they say 3000, but that could be an exaggeration. Here in the poor villages, we have always thought that the border is paved with gold. But instead of jobs, the girls were enslaved into prostitution. They were taken to the infamous brothel in San Francisco Rincon to be raped and starved and beaten until they were docile. Then they would be sold to other houses and worked as long as they lasted. If they got pregnant they were killed. There were hundreds of skeletons found buried in Maria Gonzalez’s garden. I listened to these stories with shivers of fear. I could imagine the horror and the evil sisters burying the poor girls at night. The details of the raping and shaming were never made clear but seemed fascinating and terrifying to us. Of course, this was to frighten us from leaving home. These days everyone thinks the border is paved in blood.

Finally, my cousin Blanca made the decision to go to Tijuana. She was pretty wild, but of course even she wouldn’t travel alone, so she asked me to go with her. Her argument was that if we didn’t leave when we were young we would be trapped. Our families wanted us to stay because they didn’t want to lose us as workers and producers of more workers. She said, “If we are going to clean house, we might as well get paid for it.” I thought about it and realized it was true. They wanted to trade us among themselves, to always have somebody to have children, clean the house, care for them in their old age. I begged my uncle to loan me money to go to Tijuana. I had a little money of my own, and we could stay with Blanca’s aunt in Tijuana, taking care of her children while she worked on the other side cleaning houses.

He gave me the money but made me promise not to tell my mother he had given it to me. He wished me well and told me two things I never forgot. He said to be careful, that men would spoil my beauty in order to possess it. And he told me never to rely on my looks to earn my bread or I would regret it. I have been lucky, but I have seen other girls suffer for not following that advice, and I thank him for it. I didn’t tell my mother goodbye, just left her a letter. We caught a ride to Rosamorado and bought tickets to Tijuana. We were two very excited girls, giggling but half scared to death.

I’ll never forget stepping off the bus, that huge station full of men looking us over and coyotes offering us rides to Los Angeles. I was very excited and glad that I had come.

But after a few days of greeting everyone and being shown around by my cousins, we were right back to spending all day watching the babies, cooking and cleaning up the house.

I was reading the newspapers and seeing exciting opportunities for young women. There were jobs in factories and hotels, things I’d never thought of. There were schools to teach accounting and even computers, which fascinated me a little. But Blanca was not interested when I showed her the announcements. The truth is, I’m not sure she could even read them. She was always more interested in boys and games than in school. She said we should continue with our idea to get jobs as maids. In the United States. Well, that was a different kind of excitement, and I wasn’t so sure. To leave the hills for Tijuana was one thing; to leave Mexico for a strange, rich, violent country was another thing. But she insisted and did most of the work to find us jobs, while I watched the bambinos and read the papers and thought of myself wearing a nice dress and working with a computer in an office full of young men in smart suits.

I’ll say this for Blanca, she found us both jobs in homes in San Diego in less than a month. With the help of our aunt and a thousand of her friends, of course. That’s how it works; a business that’s all from mouth to mouth. There’s no organization at all. The good thing is that the same position might re-open many times. Young girls move on or get married or get homesick or make enough money to go back home. So they give word to their friends and the news passes around. And maybe friends of the patron ask where they could find a maid, and the senora asks if there is a sister who wants a position.

We telephoned people we had heard of or that our cousins knew. Lots of the people we talked to spoke Spanish; many were Mexican citizens living across the line. But international phone calls are expensive and very difficult to place from the public long-distance booths. So much information in this business is carried by mouth or passed hand to hand on scraps of paper. There’s a huge net of relatives, friends, inquiries, whispers, lost phone messages, old women carrying tales.

I saw all this confusion and thought that there must be some way to organize it all, to bring the girls to one place and charge a fee to connect them with jobs. But I realized it would never work. You could not place announcements on the United States side because it is illegal. It would be possible here in Tijuana, but how would you collect your commission or finder’s fee once the girls had crossed over? Well, you could threaten to report them if they didn’t pay, but really that would be unthinkable. Americans don’t understand how much Mexicans hate the Border Patrol. They are always drawn as huge, cruel brutes with sharp, dripping teeth like wolves and massive weapons to massacre Mexican mojados. Even people who have never been near the border hate the migra, just like people who have never met Mafiosi or Gestapo hate them. You could not betray a person to them for money or nobody would come to you again. Everyone would hate you, as though you had betrayed Jews to the Nazis. Besides, the girls make very little money, maybe only $200 a month apart from their room and food. It’s too bad, but there would be no way to have an agency. Maybe with this Free Trade Treaty. Who knows? Mexico is changing. The world is changing.

Once we had positions, we had to find a way to get across the border to claim them. Our future patrones were not willing to smuggle us across in their own cars, which would have been the safest way for us. We would have to report to work by our own efforts.

We had heard the usual terrible stories of difficult crossings through dangerous terrain, of people being betrayed and sold, of people being robbed and raped and killed. After all people go through to arrive at the border, the last few meters of the trip are the worst part, and we were afraid to make any move at all. As it came about, we were lucky and contacted an excellent pollero who offered to take us across as easily as we could cross a street in the downtown. I’d heard of illegals being called polios but hadn’t heard the crossing guides called polleros, as though they were selling us . They also call them coyotes, which sounds even worse to the cars of the “chickens.”

It is a big business in Tijuana, of course. You are constantly being solicited to pay for passage, especially when you look like recently arrived carnpesinas like Blanca and me. In fact, the way we met Javier, he was complimenting me at a popsicle parlor where we had taken the children for a treat. He was trying to get me to talk to him, to seduce me...but in a way that was not embarrassing. Blanca ignored him (she was probably jealous). He was a good-looking man of maybe 24 years; well-built, well-groomed, very shiny hair, and a cute smile. He dressed like a border cowboy, but with style and expense. He was wearing black jeans and boots and Stetson when we met, American sunglasses, a red bandana at his throat, and a red denim jacket open to the waist. No shirt. And of course he was quite dashing, a man of the world who made his money through danger. I let him flatter me without answering him. I’ll admit to having been very vain of my looks back in Sinaloa, but in Tijuana I was not so special. Just one more country girl with an Indian accent and unfashionable clothes. I was enjoying his attention.

When he said he was a coyote, Blanca became more interested and started talking business (and some attentions of her own). He told us he was very good at his business, that we could cross safely with him without fear or discomfort. He said I could wear high heels and a long skirt if I wanted. Then he winked at me. Blanca asked for his address, but he gave it to me. Blanca’s uncle verified Javi’s “credentials” and references for us. He asked questions of people around Colonia Libertad, even the police. He even went over and had a drink with Javi himself. He told us that any crossing is a risk, but Javi seemed the safest he’d heard of. He wanted $300 apiece, which my uncle said was a high price but fair enough if he was as good as he said. Blanca’s aunt loaned her the fee and mine would be paid by my patron when Javi “delivered” me. In return, I would work the first month for them without pay. This had all been arranged through the network of calls and whispers and customs.

On the night we were to go, I was terrified. If Blanca hadn’t been going with me, I wouldn’t have left the house. We met Javi at La Dichosa, a large open-air taco stand in Lower Libertad. I couldn’t eat a thing from nervousness and fear. There were eight of us, five men in their 20s and another girl, one of the men’s fiancee. She was older than we were, maybe 18 years, but seemed glad to see us come to the table. Javi had told us there would be at least one other woman along on that trip, which was why we’d decided on that particular night. We waited in La Dichosa, everyone nervous, until after midnight. Meanwhile, Javi was taking people to another table, one by one, for little talks. It was his final check that everyone had the money or somebody to pay when they arrived. He didn’t care which. That was one thing that made me trust him more — if he’d insisted on having cash. I’d have been afraid that he wanted to rob us. He had an American partner who checked each person who was supposed to pay his fee on the other side. He was asking each person again who would pay, where they lived, maybe some detail his partner had learned when talking to the ones who would pay. He said, “I am a very careful coyote, which is why my pollos always come to the roost safely.” I was surprised when he waved me over to his table. He knew I had no money and the money would come from my employers, not family. But he didn’t ask me about the people. He looked at me and told me I could go across for free if I wanted to, could save $300. I asked him how, but I already knew. He said his services were free to his special friends and loved ones, that he would like me to be loved by him. I should have told him no, but I was silly then and more of a coquette. I asked him how I could trust him to keep his part of the bargain, once I had done my part. He smiled at me as though I had agreed, touched my hand, and told me that it was not necessary to trust him. He would deliver me across the border first, with faith that I would then complete the bargain in a nice hotel he knew in San Ysidro, with a bottle of champagne and some nice lingerie he would buy for me.

I felt like I had been trapped by my own foolishness and just shook my head until he started laughing. He said, “That’s why we call you chickens, you know. Because of the way you shake your heads and run away from the rooster.” I was red in the face and felt ashamed and stupid, but he told me I was all right and called for a guitarist to come play for me, a tribute to my beauty, he said. The guitarist played "Volver, volver, volver. ” It means “Return, return, return,” a very sentimental Mexican song, and it affected all of us who were about to leave our country. Javi leaned over to whisper to me. He said, “When you return, come and love me,” and kissed my ear. I went back over to sit by the other girls without looking at his face. He just laughed.

Finally a big red-and-black taxi came, and we all got in. Javi asked me to sit up front between him and the driver, but of course I didn’t. I sat in the back with my cousin and told her what Javi had said to me. She acted very shocked, but I saw her giving him an eye and realized she probably would have done it. Maybe even without the discount. He was not the sort of man one meets in our little pueblucho. Not at all.

The taxi took us up Otay Mesa, near the university. We seemed to be just driving around, moving towards the airport. Nobody was talking except Javi and the taxista. They were talking about the very latest in information about the movements of the migra. My impression was that they had a very special spot and were using it only with small groups to protect it from discovery. They seemed very relaxed and were sharing a bottle of tequila.

Everything seemed to depend on when two migra cars would go to a store for coffee, which they did at the same time every night. We were driving without headlights and stopped several times while Javi and the driver stared across into the dark and said things that made no sense to me. Then we entered a short alley that led to a fence. I looked at it, wondering if I could climb it. Javi got out, went over to the fence, and just opened it up like a door.

The fence had been cut very straight and hooked on nails on the south side of the pole so the cuts could not be seen from the other side. Javi motioned us out of the taxi and through the opening in the fence. The driver was closing it behind us. Javi told us, very casually, to just walk behind him and keep quiet. But if he said “Drop,” we were to fall flat on the ground, and if he said “Back,” we should run back to the fence and the taxista would be waiting to open it for us. But there was no need. We walked across the weeds like strolling through a park. And just when we reached a highway, a van pulled over, Javi opened the door, and we jumped in and drove off. Javi smiled at me and said, “See? You could have worn your high heels.” I realized that we were in the United States, that I was an outlaw.

We drove to three different places, just late-night stores, and men got out and paid Javi or someone waiting would pay. The van driver, who never said anything to us, was an American and probably the same partner that checked on those who paid, because he looked very closely at the men who came up to meet the van, and waited until he had heard them speak before he said anything. They would offer the gringo money, he would point at Javi, they would pay him. Then one of the young men would get down from the van and go away with them. One very meanlooking Mexican man paid for the young couple. He gave Javi money without speaking; Javi took it without counting it.

At the Vons store in Bonita where I was to meet my new patrones, Javi got out with me and walked me over to a parked car, a huge blue Cadillac. The people in the car looked like good people to me, a middle-aged couple that you could tell had been married a long time by the way they sat. As we walked up, Javi told me it was my last chance to save $300 and have the thrill of my life. I glanced at him and shook my head, but I smiled. He wasn’t a bad type, really. He smiled back and said, “Come look for me when you grow up. When you return.” Actually, I found him very attractive. He must be one of the very best of the coyotes, and we were very lucky to have found him.

He took money from the man in the car, counted it, then told me, “Get in, go with them. They just bought you for a month, a year, who knows how long. For what I’d have given you for a single night.” I told him he wasn’t a very good businessman after all. He laughed and walked back to the van and drove away. I got in the back seat of the Cadillac, and the lady turned around and smiled at me. She said, “Bienvenidos." She kept on talking to me, but I couldn’t understand her. I felt like I’d jumped off a bridge and was washing down the river. It was two weeks before Christmas. I had just turned 16.

My patrones are very fine people and treat me very well, almost as if I were a relative and not a stranger from another country who does not even speak their language. I have a comfortable room with my own television and bath, and I am free to move in the house and to eat from their kitchen. The senora has learned some Spanish and is always trying to learn more. She also encourages me to learn English, but I find it very difficult. I feel at home in their house, except for having nobody to really talk to. To tell you the truth, it is not that different from living with my uncle or Blanca’s aunt, except I am earning money. They pay me $300 a month. In dollars. This is a lot of money, and I never spend any for food or soap or any of those things. The oldest daughter is my age and sometimes gives me or loans me clothes. So I save most of what I earn.

I am given two weeks of vacation each year and could use it to go home for a visit, but then I would have to cross the border again. Maybe I will go this year. I’m sure Javi could bring me back across, but I don’t know if I want to see him. I am too young to marry and too old to play dangerous games with men like him. The truth is, I don’t know if I want to go back home. It was not such a happy place for me, just a dirty little mudhole. I would like to use my vacation to travel and know this country, but I am afraid I would be caught and deported. I usually spend my free time in local Mexican places with Blanca and other girls who work in houses.

We have rented an apartment together, eight or ten of us, I don’t really know how many. All friends of friends. We share the rent, which is only $30 apiece, and have a place where we can go on our free days. We have parties there, invite boys from Chula Vista. I keep some nice clothes there in case I want to go out. Blanca and some of the girls date a lot, and the apartment gives them a place to be picked up and taken home. You couldn’t have a boy call on you at the home where you work. Of course, nobody likes to do housework on their free days, but we keep it clean enough. We have a stereo and television and kitchen, but only what furniture the landlord lends us. He is a Mexican and likes us. Most of his tenants are illegals because he asks no questions. And if people come and ask, he answers no questions.

We have to be quiet when we have fun. It seems strange in this country to be young and have money but have to enjoy it carefully. If we enjoy ourselves enough to attract attention, we could lose it all. Sometimes it’s like living as a spy in foreign movie. But one of the girls has an older sister who also came here mojada like us but now is married and lives here legally. She worked in Mexico City as a maid for several years before coming here, and she says there is not that much difference in things here. She told us about walking in Chapultepec Park on Sundays, and all the young maids would walk together in twos, with their eyes down. Very careful. It was the same thing, even without the border. Young poor girls from the country would come to the big city to work in the fine homes of the rich people. There were dangers in the city, and they had to behave carefully. But they didn’t want to go back to living on some miserable little rancho. It’s not so different from what we are doing now.

I’ve spent a week of vacation right there in the apartment, laughing and drinking with the other girls if they are there, maybe going to Horton Plaza or the cinema if somebody has a boyfriend with a car and good English. I like being in the apartment alone; just fooling around, listening to the radio, smoking cigarettes on the bed. I’ve never had my own house, but I can imagine it there. Doing what I want, walking around naked, singing in the shower, dropping ashes on the floor, dancing in front of the mirror. I like lying around in bubble bath and drinking coffee, but only if there’s nobody around. At such times it’s a long, long way from where I was born. Blanca wants only to marry a boy who is a citizen and get a place of her own. (And get pregnant and fat, clean house, and raise children.) I’m not so sure. Maybe I will go to school, learn English and computers. I like the life you can have here. I just haven’t learned how I can make it my own place. But I’ve only been here three years. I’m still learning a lot of things.

As far as working goes, it is not bad. In some ways it was harder to keep house in my village. Most of our houses were made of posts with palm thatch roofs, which would get full of spiders and scorpions. The walls were split cane, nailed to the posts with bottle caps to keep the nails from tearing through. It was like looking through miniblinds, and the dust came right in whenever the goats or burros or trucks went by. The floor was dirt and chickens would run through the house and the pigs would try to lie on the patios under the roof. The light was a propane lantern that made smoke. So things got dirty quickly, and there was no water heater. We bathed in the river and heated dishwater on the stove. We carried the propane tanks several kilometers to get them filled. It sounds strange to me after living here, but it’s common enough in Mexico. In the countryside.

On the other hand, there was no need to wash or wax the floors; I would use a broom to sweep the inside, then the patios, then the yard. Spills just soaked into the floor. There were not so many dishes or things to clean. There were maybe three towels in the house; in the house I work now, there are dozens, and they take a long time to wash and dry. You have to spend a lot of time with the clothes dryer, instead of just hanging things on a rope. That was something I could make the children do. Same way, watching the children was easier in Mexico because I was making them work. In a way it was less bother there. Here, after meals I put the food that remains into the refrigerator. I have to wrap it up and put it in plastic dishes. There is a lot of it. There is a lot of garbage to take out, and it takes more plastic bags and moving things from one plastic container to another. It is easier just to throw it out the window for the goats to eat, let the old man come around and pick out the cans.

There are hours of work to keep a bathroom all shiny, to keep even a toilet shined and free of odor. The first time I was in this house, that was what most amazed me — the bathroom. The bowl and toilet and tub are all the same color of ceramic. The floor is carpeted — even the toilet seat is carpeted. One whole wall is mirror — you can study yourself using the toilet. Everything is silvery and shiny. A fan comes on to blow away smells, a red light in the ceiling warms you when you get out of the shower. There are mountains of clean, soft towels in beautiful colors. You can drop toilet paper straight into the toilet, and it goes down without ever stopping up the plumbing. There is even a bottle in the toilet to turn the water blue to match the walls. There is a rack for magazines to read while you are there, even a telephone. I found it even more marvelous than the kitchen. I would spend all my time in there if it were my house, maybe put the television in there. But it’s strange, too; like a shrine to defecation. And it takes hours to keep it clean.

The kitchen is also incredible. Everything is electric; there are no flames. So it isn’t so hot to cook in the summer, but neither is it nice and warm in there. There are tables and chairs in the kitchen, but nobody ever eats there. I don’t understand that. But during parties, everyone ends up standing in the kitchen, even though there are large, beautiful salons like in a movie or Casas magazine. There is a radio that’s always on, usually on Radio Latina. There are small electrical things to do everything: open cans, make popcorn, peel vegetables, make pancakes, cook a single hamburger, melt cheese. My patrona was surprised to see me peel a potato with a knife. She showed me a special tool for doing it. Now, I can barely peel vegetables and my friends laugh at me — a paid United States housekeeper who can’t even peel a cucumber. But they can’t pat tortillas like my mama could either — they buy them rolled out by machines. When my patrona cooks, she uses dozens of dishes and pans and tools. Of course, all these marvels must be cleaned and put away. And everything must be sprayed with poisons and germ-killers and insecticides. This is in a house with doors sealed by rubber, with no cracks in the walls, with floors covered by a single piece of linoleum, where the windows have screens and are never opened because of the air-conditioning.

It’s a dream world really, like the advertisements on television. Everything snowy white, everything soft, everything new, everything bright. The senora watches Mexican television sometimes, to improve her Spanish. She is learning well for a person of her years. She has asked me a few times about the commercials on the novelas she watches. They always have tall, blonde people in expensive houses wrapping blue-eyed babies up in wonderfully white cloths. She knows that very few people in Mexico live like that and has asked me why people accept this, how they could believe in a commercial where things are so unrealistic. I told her that everyone knows that television is fantasy, not a real place or real world. Of course things are beautiful and perfect — it’s television. Who’d want to buy soap or toilet paper if they showed a lot of ugly negros using it in filthy shacks? She doesn’t understand. I believe that Americans think what they see on television is real, more real than their own lives. They want to live in Dallas or Dynasty and think they can get there if they buy the right things. Maybe that’s the famous American Dream. I don’t know. For the rest of the world, the American Dream is just to live in America. I live here now. So I know it’s real.

GABRIELA

I’ve been working in the United States for almost 15 years now, and this entire matter of trans-border working is completely misunderstood and misrepresented. On the northern side, that is. In Mexico people understand it perfectly. It would be a pleasure to explain a few things to you. Let me warn you, I’m not a woman who is afraid of having opinions.

One thing, it’s important to realize that many of the Mexican day workers in San Diego, people who cross the border every day with micas or pasaportes, are just as illegal as the “wetbacks” that come across at night and live in orchards. The resident permit I carry, that most domestics carry, is only good for coming across the border for a day. For shopping or things like that. And not every day or overnight — it’s not a green card or work paper. So I am working illegally. But there are so many of us. It’s not hard for people who live in Tijuana to obtain a border resident card like mine from the U.S. consulate. You fill out the famous form 30 and prove you live here and have a job and home and aren’t trying to jump out of the country. They quiz about Tijuana...Where is Fundadores? Who is El Gato? What shops are in Plaza Rio? It’s funny like a contest show on television — “Answer the questions and you could win a trip abroad!”

All my illegal status means is that I must get up early and cross very carefully. I dress as though going to shop, I carry an empty shopping bag. I have money in my purse, some coupons, maybe a shopping list. I approach the lines carefully, watching without appearing to be watching. If I went in front of the same guard for several days, they would start to remember me. So I choose my line and do nothing to draw attention. I keep underclothes and hygiene supplies at the houses where I work. Some women sneak across a pair of panties or toothbrush in their purse, but sometimes these are found. It is possible to lose the card, to be barred from legally crossing in order to illegally work. This is a great hardship, a disaster.

However, it isn’t incurable — there is a great black market in papers and cards. If you look like I do, a Mexican women of Indian appearance but with the clothes and manner of a worker, you can walk to the lack In The Box restaurant in San Ysidro near the trolley, and men will approach you to sell false identification. It’s like a farmer’s market for forgers and thieves. For the price of $1000 I’ve been offered a pasaporte that would pass any inspection. (By pasaporte I mean a resident card; an official United States diplomatic passport would sell for much more.) A friend of mine bought some documents there. For one of them she walked across the street to the big parking lot where the forger had a camera apparatus in the back of a van. He took Polaroid pictures of her in the van, and she had her papers within minutes. The police have secret agents that patrol the area, but they are apparently very obvious and almost nobody is ever arrested. When there are police agents in the Jack In The Box, the paper sellers are in Burger King or the Greyhound station. Everyone knows where they are except the police.

So, I walk into this country legally, then work illegally. Just as Americans work, hunt, and fish illegally in Mexico. There are thousands that do the same, a taxless economy of millions of dollars. There is no mystery about why people do it. The pay for even menial jobs in this country is very high compared to the pay in Tijuana — frighteningly higher than in the interior of Mexico. Personally, I like the pay and find the work educational.

Maybe by now you realize I am not illiterate. Let me tell you about myself. People look at me, riding the trolley, sweeping floors in somebody’s house, and they see a middle-aged Mexicana; dark-skinned, stocky, fiat-faced. An ignorant peasant, right? Actually, I’m not that typical peasant at all. I’m not sure that “typical” person actually exists. I’m very well educated and intelligent. I read books. I mean real books. I see what people read in the houses I clean. Other than professional books, they read popular trash. One family I work for reads nothing but TV Guide. Nothing wrong with that. But I have a time finding books to read. The Tijuana library is a joke. The bookstores are expensive and there is no selection. The Salamanca I’ve been reading has passed through the hands of four of my friends. Four friends that went to the University with me, by the way, and are Licentiates in social work like me. None of us have ever done any social work. One is married, one sells jewelry from office to office. Two of us clean houses. Tijuana is a very expensive city. I could not live and raise my family on what my degree would bring me. Cleaning houses I make more than $75 a day, a quarter million pesos.

That is what attracted me to the field in the first place. I was careless and had a daughter with no husband to support us. I needed money and heard people talking about making very nice money on the other side of the border. Doing what almost any woman (at least any Mexican woman) is taught to do from childhood — cleaning the house. I had my resident card, which almost any University student can get, so I started crossing over and answering newspaper ads for maids. In a few weeks I had jobs lined up. Plenty of money.

Look...how can I explain this? It’s important. You understand that most Americans, especially writers and teachers and social workers and other well-to-do people, think of personal service like this as low-class, as poverty, as a shame. They act like it shouldn’t exist, want to think of it as racism and imperialism and colonialism and all those tired old words from the 1920s. But when you talk to people who actually work cleaning houses, all you hear is how much money they’re making, what a good thing it is. Every day people in Tijuana ask me if I know of houses that they or their daughters can clean.

I’m sure you’ve heard rumors that there are rich women living up in neighborhoods like Cachos and Cumbres who drive Mercedes but clean houses on the other side. The rumors are true, though such women seldom admit it. I used to drive across the border five days a week in a Thunderbird with a woman who lives in a fine house right beside the Town and Country golf course and is in all the Tijuana social pages. She was divorced and wanted to support the image of her fine house and her parties in designer gowns, so she tied a rag around her head and did housework.

There was another reason I worked in houses and why I continued instead of trying to advance a career in Tijuana. I was a socialist in the University, like most Mexican intellectuals. Like many American intellectuals, too, I suppose. But when I left, instead of marrying some lawyer or working for the government, I became a worker. I felt that any Marxist should experience actually being a worker. Most of my Marxist companions adored the “proletariat” but would rather have talked with a rabid dog than an actual obrero. Working led me to abandon my leftist beliefs and “convert” to a faith in capital, in the middle class, in the bourgeoisie. That’s what almost all workers everywhere actually want — to be bourgeois and have some money invested for their old age.

By now I’ve come to like the work. I like working with my hands, simple repetitive work that leaves my mind free to think. Maybe vacuuming a floor would be boring for an uncultured person, but for me it is a place to think my own thoughts. You’ve heard, “Work is Freedom.” It’s very true for me. It’s not my life, but it makes my life possible. And the work I do leaves my mind freer than working in some office. I wear what I want, I believe what I want. I am doing what I want. I am very well off.

I say well off. What do you think? I own my own house in Colonia 20 de Noviembre; not a fashionable neighborhood, but safe and convenient. I never work on Saturday afternoon or Sunday — those are days to spend with my family. I have a 15-year-old daughter and have also taken in two of my sister’s children, a boy of seven years and a girl of five. My sister is recently divorced by the pendejo she married. Girls in our family are seen to be idiotically passionate when younger, then recover their mentality later in life. I send the children to Mentor, a very good private school.

I could easily afford to own an auto, and friends who earn less than I do have them, but I don’t. There is no need. To go to work I walk to the comer and within five minutes a collective taxi comes by and takes me to the downtown for 1200 pesos, maybe 60 cents “in English.” For 30 cents more, a bus takes me to the border, where I walk across and catch the trolley or the “Amarillo y Rosa’ bus, depending on where I’m going. Sometimes I clean a house or two and go home, other times I stay two or three days in a house, doing full service. You know: cooking, laundry, children, maybe serving a party in a white cap and apron. Parties are always interesting; worth a year of sociology graduate school every time.

I develop strong ties with the people I work for. Especially with the children. I would describe my clients as average American families, as near as I can tell. They look like and live like the families on American television. The Bundys, the Cosbys. I watch American television. As I say, I find things educational. I like these people. In time I come to love them. I think anyone who spends a great deal of time in a home with anyone comes to love them. And maybe more when the time is spent serving, doing intimate things in the home.

When I speak of the home...you know, the Spanish word hogardoes not mean “home” like it’s used in English. In Mexico you can’t sell “homes,” you can’t go “home” to a single apartment. Hogar is the hearth, a home of people, nonmaterial things that go on between those people. This, more than anything, is what I study now, what I think about, what I live. I learn a great deal from these families, from talking to “my” people.

From what I have seen, and from what I hear, it is most common in this world to have maids. Don’t laugh, I may be just a Third World woman, but I talk to people. A man I work for was a ship commander and lived all over the world. He always had women working in his house, sometimes cooks and gardeners. He told me that in the Philippines and Japan and Panama it is like it is in Mexico, almost all families have servants or housekeepers or babysitters. He is from the South of the United States, from Carolina. He said he was raised by a black woman, that his children were raised by Asiatic women. He said his childhood friends, even though some are very racist, remember loving those black women, remember them almost as much as their mothers. I think it makes sense that anywhere there are families, there will be a woman to help and that she will have a girl to help her. It seems very natural.

One thing that makes me really angry is that people think I should be ashamed to work in another woman’s house, to work with my hands, to clean things. There is nothing wrong with this work. If Americans believe that, fine, it makes more work for Mexicans. But I resent it when people think I’m some sort of slave who does bad work because there is no choice. A man I work for, a social worker, showed me some pictures that some artists had done. Well, it wasn’t very good art, but it said, “San Diego is America’s Best Plantation” [sic] and had pictures of Mexicans working in chains. He explained it to me and was surprised that I got angry. Who are these people to say I am a prisoner? My life is my own. I am lucky to be able to come here and make as much money as I do, when strong men in Mexico work all day for five or ten dollars.

Why are they saying Mexicans are hired out of racism? Mexicans do the job better, American people don’t want to do it. We are hard workers, honest people, trustworthy. We are handy because of our situation. Why should there be shame or negative propaganda? It works good for both parties. Who are these people who try to paint it negative? Artists, that’s who. What do they know about work? They are like the Communists, always with their posters, always ready to save people who don’t want or need saving. “Save” people to be true slaves. Are they offering me money? Are they saying I should not work here? That I should get more money? Ridiculous. I hardly speak English. I’m extremely lucky to be getting the money I get now. And I am treated better in this country than I would be in my own.

Yes, that is true and anybody who works here knows it. In Mexico they call house servants gata, a very rude term that means a female cat. There, the gata would never be allowed to eat with the family; they are treated like menials, in some places almost like animals. There is a more democratic attitude here. Most Americans welcome maids to the table, treat them like family. I have eaten Thanksgiving dinner at the table with my employers every year I have worked here. I never hear of girls being mistreated here.

Well, I have heard of young women being sequestered into service— imprisoned in the basement and forced to work without pay. But do you know, every time it turns out the kidnapper was a Mexican — like that chilango on TV who was forcing that girl to free labor. And of course there is sexual harassment. I suppose you could call that mistreatment. I don’t think of it that way myself. Anything other than physical force, that is. It doesn’t hurt anybody, it’s something a girl learns to deal with in life.

But when a young girl is living in the house, it’s harder. Of course it’s not uncommon for the men to get involved with the girls, maybe pay them. See, I can tell you were thinking only of a man forcing himself on a girl, but it’s not always the man who thinks of these things first, as it often is in life. You find this a lot. Oh, there are sexual traps here as well as in Mexico. I’m sure there are in the whole world. But it is not like in Mexico, where a girl must protect herself every minute. I’ve had American men I work for try to talk about sex. I just tell them, “You know, I don’t like this conversation.” I walk away. That’s the end. None of them ever followed me or touched me. Some of them have never even looked at me in that way. In Mexico every single man would look at you like that, every one would at least press up close and try to seduce you.

I was surprised at first by the way American men approached me. Talk. They talk. They ask the questions without really asking them. I refuse and they look ashamed. It must be the way here. A Mexican man would step into the maid’s room, lock the door, and demand her. Maybe he would threaten to fire her or disgrace her if she did not give in — he would not accept any form of rejection. She’d be afraid to scream, afraid of the wife. Lots of girls are afraid of the woman of the house, that he’ll say she was trying to get him to do it for money, and she will fire the girl or beat her. It’s a lot better here; if anybody touches you they’re in trouble. But down there it’s hard for the girls. They’re young, know nothing of law, nothing of love, of men. They’re afraid of the wives because they’re still afraid of their own mothers.

So it is almost inevitable for Mexican maids to become sexual toys for the men of the house. In fact, it’s really an institution. There’s even a word for it: gatear. It means to seduce the servant girls, the gatas. This is the way young Mexican men are supposed to initiate themselves into their manhood — on young Indian girls who work in their houses. Of course, their fathers have broken the girls in first. The little sex comics have cartoons about that joke every week. It’s expected, really. So of course being a maid in Mexico is like a badge of sexual servitude. Many women won't admit to serving in a house.

Mexican men are so sexually aggressive, they can’t permit themselves to leave a girl under their roof unmolested. They’d be dangerous around a dog in heat. There’s a saying, “A broom with a skirt would be woman to them.” When I was 14, I was babysitting after school for my schoolteacher in Tijuana, and he asked me to have sex with him, wanted to put me in an apartment. I told him to forget it. He was saying, “Nothing is going to happen, you won’t get pregnant. I’ll take care of you.” And I was one of his students.

It is much easier here. But I have to tell you, I don’t think women respect this as much, these halfhearted seductions that go nowhere. These men seem weak to me. Very nice and easy to deal with, though. I have respect for the men who don’t try to take advantage of me. American women have a much easier life with their men, I think. But they divorce more, don’t they? Anyway, it is much nicer and safer for a young girl to work in an American home than a Mexican one. But still — girls are girls, men are men.

And women, let me tell you, are women. I could do other things than clean houses and cook. But I like woman’s work, it comes naturally to me.

My mother trained me to do these things so I could make a good home for my husband and children. Now they are job skills. Like Mafalda’s friend Susanita says in the comic strip. I’m not one of those effeminates who wants to do a man’s job. I’m not afraid of work. The longer I live here in the United States, the less I understand the attitude towards women’s jobs. Leaders of women’s movements depreciate the jobs women do and glorify men’s jobs. Why? Manual labor is also looked down on for some reason, as if it were dehumanizing to work with the body. They want to eliminate it. People pay more attention to the body here, as a sexual and vanity thing, but working with the body has no prestige. Women seek “professional” men, men who work at desks. It’s considered better to sit at a desk all day than to build a house or tend a garden or lay bricks. Then, after work, everybody drives their cars to a gymnasium to try to have the body of a physical performer.

Service is looked down on, like some class of slavery. Yet who does not serve somebody? Most people work for wages doing something so somebody else will not have to do it. Those who are self-employed have even stricter service relationships with clients. I am self-employed myself, when you think of it. All it means is having more than one master.

What I do is natural work, very basic to life.

In Mexico this is recognized; it used to be said that Mexicans live our lives to the rhythm of a woman patting dough into tortillas. I work in the home. I am a woman, I naturally feel more comfortable in the home. There are those who say different, but in fact women produce children, produce homes, are more oriented to the home by their biology and spirit. Yes, spirit. I am not a Marxist anymore, no longer a materialist. The reason there is so much controversy about women and men these days, why so many stupid things are being said, is because people no longer recognize normal sexual nature. This is because people — especially the rich, pampered academicians and writers that say the stupid things — are divorced from nature, live in fantasy worlds. Any farm child knows that male animals have different attitudes and spirits than female animals. A male pig, a male horse, a male fowl — they have their maleness.

People in suits and deodorant who live in cars and glass cubes think people are not animals, that we are equations of technical problems that can be manipulated. It’s not true. Marxism tried to pretend that people have no inner spirit, that they have no individual nature, that they don’t need to control their own financial destiny. See what happened? Forget that people are animals and watch what happens. Women are foolish to try to cut themselves off from the home because it is truly the position of greatest power on the planet. Personal power, political power, healing power.

The home is not a building, it is a series of rituals. I saw a program about lapan; to make a cup of tea is a ceremony almost like a religion. I can understand that. Cooking, washing dishes, cleaning the children’s clothes; really, these are sacred things. But here nobody wants to do them. You buy a machine, you hire somebody, you send your children off to be raised by somebody else. And why? To have more time to do something more important than living your life. To have more time to watch television. I have had dozens of families here. I have watched children grow up. I get Christmas cards from many children; I hear gossip and news from dozens of families. I’ve lived many, many lives here just working as a maid, being the one who keeps the house. I believe that some of these people have led no life at all. They’d paid me to do it for them.

CARMELA

I started cleaning other people’s homes for a very good reason. I had no other choice. I was happily married with three kids, living in a nice house in El Mirador, working with my church, trying to lead a decent life. Then one day I came home and found my husband’s wedding ring lying on top of the television. He just took it off and walked out.

I didn’t see him again for over four years. Then he just showed up, told me he wanted the kids, and called me a whore because I had married another man. Even though he left me for another woman and was still with her. I spent four hard years trying to feed those kids with no help from him, then he wanted to take them away from me. It was only through Christian spirit that I kept from hating him. Hating is a sin because it harms you as much as the person you are hating. It was hard, but I learned to think of those times, of that man, as teaching me patience and faith.

I remember the worst, the lowest I ever got. It was in a very cold winter, it even snowed a little in Tecate. He had left me pregnant, and I was walking through the cold with my youngest child and two big bags of groceries, struggling to get up the hill to the house. And who passes by but my husband’s new woman, driving his new Topaz. When I got up to the house, she was waiting in the car with the heater and radio going. She rolled down the window to tell me my husband wanted the children to come to his house for Christmas. Then she drove away. I went in the house and put up the groceries, then I got down on my knees and prayed that I would learn, that I would not have rancor or teach my children to become bitter. I knew that we would survive. God may try us, but he does not abandon us. I never said a bad a word to my children about their father. Well, almost never. I learned to forgive him, and it has made a great difference in my heart. Forgiveness is not just an act or an attitude, it must be learned and practiced.

Finally a man asked me to marry him and move to Chula Vista. I wasn’t desperately in love with him or anything, but I respected him and thought it was the best thing for my family. Five years after that he left me, too. He wanted a younger woman, to have children of his own. I never saw him again and don’t want to. It was much easier to forgive him. Maybe because I had learned, maybe because I didn’t care as much and knew I could take care of myself and my kids.

All those years alone I supported my children by cleaning houses. It was the only thing I knew how to do, the only thing I’d ever done. I never feel bad having to work, even when it’s hard and the hours are long. I am never ashamed to work. I thank God I have this way to feed my children. The first time I was left alone, in Tijuana, I lived with my family until I had my youngest daughter, then I came to the American side every day to clean houses. I was helping a friend, cleaning a house one day to give her time off, helping her serve new customers so we could make more money. She was getting old and tired of all the traveling and cleaning, so I took over most of her business. She would still come one day a week because she was very close to one family. Whenever she talked about quitting, the children would cry. Even the wife would cry. She used to say, “What will they do without me? That big house? I’ve run it for nine years.”

There is not too much to tell about cleaning houses. You clean the house. The only interesting thing is the people. You live and work in their lives; your “shop” is in their pictures and music and books and dirty clothes. You know what they eat and drink and how much. Sometimes I find something like a Pepsi can or a candy wrapper and I think, “Oh, Josh shouldn’t have that because of his pimples.” Just like a mama — I laugh at that sometimes. Or I find even more secret things in the rooms of the older children. Things that worry me, that their mothers don’t know about. I don’t think anyone has any secrets from the people who clean their houses.

When I first started working in this country, I felt like an explorer. What do you call those scientists, they go into old temples and pyramids to study things so they can know about the people who lived there? That’s how I felt. The things in the trash cans and ashtrays and medicine cabinets were all clues to who they were, to where I was. I would look at the magazines to see what they were seeing. I’d see a record and play it to hear what they were listening to. Or I’d notice things like the way people here don’t sit down and eat meals together. They just run in one at a time and microwave stuff then run out again. In Mexico, sitting down to meals as a family was almost like a sacrament, and you were really in trouble if you didn’t come home in time. I do that with my kids, but now we sometimes schedule dinner around some TV show or Little League game.

The children where I work come home, and I have something for them to eat and drink, they tell me about their day. That part is simple, too. Like being a mother. If you know it, there is no need to explain. If not, there is no way to explain.

Children are children. It doesn’t matter what they are wearing or what they like to eat or what games they play or what language they speak. Sometimes I would be alone with people’s children for a whole day, or noon until after dark. I learned from being with different children, children I couldn’t talk to so easily because of the language. My own children have turned out well, in spite of losing two fathers. Maybe it’s because I learned from others. Of course, much of the time my own children were watched by my mother or nieces.

In Mexico most people have a housekeeper or cook or something. Almost everybody has a babysitter. Even when I was poor, I had a girl to look after the kids. Now I clean houses for a living, but I have a girl who lives in my house. See, I’m actually low-income even though I make good money per hour. I have five children and a big house. But I have a babysitter who lives in my house. I pay her $100 a week. She doesn’t have to pay for rent or food. I give her clothes, shampoo, etc. She cleans the house and keeps an eye on the kids. She is from Mexico, doesn’t speak English. She’s illegal. She came up from Jalisco and called me up one day. I get a lot of calls because I’ve had five housekeepers. I drove her across the border in Tecate in the trunk of my car under a pile of cleaning supplies.

We’re pretty close and my kids really love her. They’d rather be alone with her than me, I think, because she spoils them. She looks at my house the way I looked the first time I went into a big mansion in La Jolla. She wants to meet a local man and get married, live here in the United States. One thing I tell her, you can’t count on a man to make you happy and take care of you. You have to be ready to get by on your own, to be happy by yourself. She doesn’t believe me; she’s 17.

I made a lot of money working across the border. Sometimes $50 a day, which was a lot of money in Tijuana at the time. But I was lonely and tired of working all the time and glad to marry a man I met in the United States. What I remember most in those days wasn’t working. You don’t remember scrubbing the same bathtub or soap dish every week. I always think of riding the trolleys and buses to work. There are certain times on certain buses in San Diego when everybody on board is a domestic going to work or back home. It’s almost like a club where everyone speaks a special language and understands everyone else. You get to know people. The Friday night trolley, the late bus down from North Park, the Saturday morning bus to La Jolla. Quiet rides, but in good company.

Now it’s different. I am an American citizen (the only thing my second husband couldn’t take away with him). I speak pretty good English. I’m not really a housekeeper or servant anymore, I’m more like a contractor for cleaning houses. I come, I clean, I get paid. After all these years, I wouldn’t say cleaning houses is my favorite thing to do with my time. But it’s not the worst work and I’m used to it. Where else could I make this kind of money? If I work fast, I can make up to $20 an hour. I probably average $15 an hour. This for someone with no schooling or training. I come into a house during the daytime and I do everything. The dishes, the laundry, the floors.... When I leave the house there is no dirt left. I charge $35 for a one bedroom house, up to $ 100 for a big three-bedroom. So it is not hard for me to make $100 a day. You can make that in this business, if you have a car; $100 a day.

One thing I really like about it is that I’m free. If I don’t want to clean a house on Monday, maybe I’ll do it Tuesday. The hours are completely flexible. I can go do things with my kids if they get a day off school. How many jobs can you do that? There’s almost never anyone in the house when I’m working, so it’s like having no boss, working alone at my own pace. I can laugh or sing when I work. Most of my customers are not really wealthy, just middle-class people with no time to clean their houses. Most of the houses I clean look just like mine. Some of my clients are single men; professional men in condos who need a maid. I work for a pilot, a lawyer, a computer technician, an engineer. They are yuppie bachelors who don’t want to clean up after themselves, is all.

I also do some expensive houses in La Jolla. It seems like they’re always more trouble. It’s funny, but rich people from La Jolla or Coronado are really cheap. They want to pay you less, they never give you anything, don’t like to give any bonus. Like for Christmas, middle-class people give me, oh, $100 or even $200 for a bonus, but these rich people in La Jolla give me maybe $10 or $20. Or maybe they just give me Christmas presents they got before Christmas and don’t even want. A box of chocolates, maybe. Rich people are tighter than other people. Most people who work for them say the same thing. They say, I guess that’s how they get rich. But I don’t think so. I think having too much money can change you, make you think too much of money, harden your heart.

I don’t like working for rich people, but I enjoy being in fine homes with beautiful furnishings. Who wouldn’t? But that’s another funny thing about rich people. Some of them have such bad taste. One place I used to work, the whole house was full of such cheap-looking furniture; all made out of beaten-up, unpainted boards. The floors were unpainted wood with rugs made out of rags. Everywhere there were clay pots and raw cotton cloth and iron fixtures. It looked like peasants lived there. They had crude Mexican masks on the wall, rough ceramic and paper artwork by country hicks. The senora always wore ropa tipica, cotton pajamas like a refugee. What good is money if you live like that? When I told her I was buying a new table for my house in Tijuana, a nice glass table with chrome legs, she acted like she was sorry for me, couldn’t meet my eyes. You know where her family ate? On an old table made out of worn lumber; like something a farmer threw out 50 years ago. And she treated it like it was precious and expensive. Well, maybe it was expensive. Who can tell in a place like that? All their dishes were rough ceramic, and the glasses were all cheap green glass with bubbles and imperfections. This is a very rich woman! She could have gone down to Price Club and bought the very best, but the whole downstairs looks like poor farmers live there — it’s very primitive. Sometimes I felt sorry for her, paying somebody to keep that junk clean.

Another place I work now, also in La Jolla, has nice, expensive leather and silver furniture and fine polished wood. But the house is full of art — well, she calls it art. She says to be careful, it’s very important. You should see this garbage! She has plastic boxes on the wall, with big pieces of ugly homemade paper in them. Nothing painted on the paper, maybe some stains or cuts or bird feathers or something. And there are these “sculptures” made out of junkyard metal welded together. There is a huge canvas in the living room — with no frame — that looks like somebody used it to clean tar off their paint-roller. She told me it cost over $60,(XX) and now is worth even more. It is pure junk. I’m sure you could find something similar in any garbage dump.

But most of the people I work for are really close to me. They talk and tell me what’s going on in their lives, I tell them about my family, my kids, just like a friendly relationship. I feel like if I needed help I could go to them, or they could come to me. There is no feeling of different status. Why should there be? l)o you look down on a dentist because you pay him to work in your spit? Everyone does something for somebody else in order to live. That’s what the economy is, what life is. The greatest among us must serve the lowest. You know that’s from the Bible. But you also know that it’s true.

What I’m saying is, the people I work for take an interest in my life. Sometimes they tell about movies I might like to see or ask me for advice. When there were those explosions in Guadalajara, everyone was asking me if I had any family there. Lots of them give me clothes and toys and even money for the work my church donates for needy people in Tijuana and Chula Vista. They are all people I am glad to know.

There is this one old woman I’ve worked for seven years. She is very difficult, but I put up with all her old lady things, like an old hen in the garden. She’s something else, very crabby, but I love her and take care of her and am very close to her. I feel like she’s like my mother and that I’m here to take care of her. Well, it’s not like she’s my mother.... It’s that I think she needs a daughter and here I am. Not just to take care of her; they could pay a nurse for that. Of course. I’m also somebody they pay to take care of her. But it’s different. I care about her and love her. I believe that the Lord brought me to her.

She was mean to me in the past, though. I used to clean for her sister, too, and she left me stuff in her will. The lady found out and lied to me, made me sign some papers. She said they were legal releases, but actually she got to keep it all, didn’t give me the jewels or nothing. Or the car, an Oldsmobile worth $3000. I forgave her, though. I’m still working for her. I could have taken her to court, I guess, but I don’t work like that. I believe the Lord pays everyone back.

And you know, she’s changed towards me. She used to give me nothing; she was very greedy and tight. This year she has given me over $700 for my kids, apart from my pay. Clothes, toys, a $100 Cabbage Patch Doll for my girl, a Nintendo for my boys, a cupboard, clothes for Christmas. She gives me $50 for my birthday, $25 for my kids’ birthdays, sends beautiful personal cards. Some people say it’s guilt, but I don’t see it that way. She’s a different person than she was five years ago. She’s more openhanded, and more openhearted. She laughs more, listens more, asks me about my kids. She was a miser, holding onto money and things when she was too old to use them or enjoy them. Now she’s learned that things are nothing unless you give them away. My actions changed her heart. I never suffer from my way of thinking, from following the lx>rd’s way. If you don’t like religious words, call it the way of a loving heart.

You know what I should tell you? I don’t know why I just thought of it, but it means something about all this; I don’t know what. One house I used to clean every week, there was a little boy about seven or eight. He was a very pretty boy, but very quiet and shy, always around the house reading books instead of playing outside or watching TV. He would follow me around and try to talk to me while I was working. He used to ask me about bullfights. He was fascinated by bullfights. But I noticed he was shy about food, I would put out a tray of cookies for him every day, a glass of milk. He would eat the cookies but never let me see him. If I walked in and caught him eating anything, he would try to hide it. He would offer me cookies, ask me if I wanted to take them home with me. Once I told him I had plenty of cookies at home, if my children hadn’t swallowed them all down. He seemed surprised by that.

He started asking me about my children, the things they had, the way we lived. He would be very surprised when I’d tell him we had a television or something, got very upset when he found out my kids had no bicycles. Once he told me that if my children wanted to ride his bicycle, he would loan it to them. He has a very sweet boy, but I finally understood him. He was ashamed to eat his cookie in front of me because he thought I was poor and wretched, that he was enjoying something I couldn’t have. He was ashamed to be rich, in a way, because he thought I was poor. So he couldn’t enjoy his cookie, poor thing.

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