Alejandra's Difficult Choice

— 'Let me explain it to you slowly, because my life is very complicated. When I was 15 years old, I went from my small town in Puebla to Tecate, where I crossed into the United States on foot. From Tecate I went to San Diego, where I took a plane to New York. I worked in Brooklyn. And then I went back to my hometown and Puebla and then I crossed back into the United States in Arizona. I went to Tucson, then to Phoenix, where I took a plane to Chicago, then to New York. I worked again in Brooklyn. Then I went back to Puebla for a while, and then I decided I wanted to cross back into the United States, so I came here to Tijuana with my cousin. That was three months ago. I came with only $300, and on the first day I was here, it was stolen. My cousin had a job waiting for her in Los Angeles. She couldn't stay with me. She had to cross the border. So, here I was with no money, no job. I had to work. I have to send money back to my parents in Puebla. My two children are living with them. My father lost his foot in a car accident. He can't work. My mother has diabetes, and she can't work. Everyone has to eat. At times in life we have to make difficult choices. I made a difficult choice."

Alejandra is one of the women who stand four feet apart in front of the shops and restaurants along Constitución in Tijuana's Zona Norte. She works out of one of the neighborhood's labyrinthine one-story hotels, and her going rate, for Americans, is $20 for 20 minutes. (And an additional $5 for the hotel room.) She wears her hair up, with elaborate bangs, but her makeup is discreet, and her smile reveals four blue sequins glued to her front teeth.

"My father is a campesino, so even when he could work, he didn't make much money. There were four of us children. I finished only elementary school. I had to work. But in Mexico, in the countryside, there isn't much work. Where I'm from, a town of maybe 3000, people mostly grew corn.

"I had heard of New York, the words 'New York,' on television. I knew it was a big city in America, and I always wanted to go there. But where I'm from, that was an incredible dream. A girl like me, going to New York. So, I have an uncle who went many years ago to New York, and he knew my family needed money, that I needed to work, and he wrote to us and said that if I could cross the border, he'd pay my way to New York. That's what I did. I was only 15. That was six years ago. So much has happened in my life that it seems like a long time ago.

"I went to Brooklyn. I got a job sewing in a factory and I also got other jobs. I had to make money. I sewed clothes in a factory, which almost ruined my eyes, and I also got a job working in a pizza restaurant for Italians. I met Italians in New York, in Brooklyn. I met Chinese, Arabs, Jews, Italians. I got to know all these races we didn't have in my hometown, people I'd never seen before. The Italians helped me the most. They were very kind to me, in the pizza restaurant. But the one thing I regret is that I didn't go to school to learn English. I really wanted to go to school to learn English. I told the Italian man who owned the pizza restaurant that I wanted to go to school to learn English, but he said I wouldn't have time. That I would learn English in the restaurant. I only learned a little. I was too busy cleaning dishes, cleaning the kitchen, washing pots and pans.

"I had to work hard and save up money because my brother wanted to come to Brooklyn. So I worked, I saved. I paid for him to come. It wasn't an easy life, but I loved living in Brooklyn, in New York. It was very exciting. I never thought I'd ever get to see such a big, rich city. Then my other brother wanted to come, and so my brother and I worked and saved for him.

"The first time I got pregnant, I went back to Mexico, to Puebla, to be with my family. I left my daughter with them. Where I'm from, that's not an unusual thing to do. I would say the majority of young people leave my town to come to America to work. A lot of times, they come back and leave their children with their parents because it's hard raising children in America, where you have to work all the time. I went back to Brooklyn, worked some more. The second time I got pregnant, I had my baby, my son, right there in Brooklyn, at the Lutheran hospital. I was very well taken care of.

"That's a big difference between the United States and Mexico. President Clinton took care of everyone, no matter where you were from. I didn't have medical insurance, but I was well taken care of at the hospital. What do Mexican presidents do? They get rich. They don't even help the people of Mexico. Even with Fox, the new president, he makes promises and promises. Like all the others. But even if he's a good president, he's only the president of Mexico. The American president is like the president of the whole world. I want to say that I'm very grateful to America. It's a very rich country and a very generous country. They treated me very well at the Lutheran hospital. My son, even though he's living in Puebla with my parents, has an American Social Security number, and someday, when he's older, he'll be able to go and work in America. That's the gift that I've given him.

"I've worked here in Zona Norte for about three months. I'll maybe work three or six months more here. It's a real job, like any other. On a good day I can make as much as 600 pesos. On bad days, I make only maybe 150 pesos. Americans are the most difficult clients. They're very abusive. Often they don't want to use condoms, and when I refuse, they swear at me. They think I'm stupid. They think I don't understand. But I lived in Brooklyn. I understand some English. They call me 'bitch' or 'motherfucker.' When they do, I say in English, 'Don't call me like that.' And they're surprised. They don't think I understand. I'm not stupid.

"I usually send my parents about 2000 or 3000 pesos each month, and that's enough for food, gas for the stove, and clothes. This work is expensive because I don't have an apartment. I have to stay in hotels. And I have to buy clothes. A pair of pants, 150 pesos. A blouse, 100 pesos. Shoes can be expensive, maybe 200 pesos. Also, I have to eat. So, I have to save up a little money to take back with me to my family. I tell them that I'm working at a restaurant here in Tijuana, that I make good money from tips.

"What are my dreams? My hopes? Right now my biggest dream is going back to Puebla to be with my parents and my children. I want to spend time with them. Someday I'd like to go back to Brooklyn, to work. But who knows? People say I'm very brave because I've crossed the border twice on foot. I would even try now, but it's too cold. They say there's snow in the mountains. My brothers are too afraid. They crossed only once and are afraid to go back to Mexico to visit my parents because they don't want to have to cross the border again.

"The other dream I have is that I'd someday like to go to Ecuador. I know it sounds like a strange dream, but when I was in New York, I met a lot of people from Ecuador, and we became very good friends. Some of them had passed through Mexico, and they said they were surprised that Mexico was such a rich country. That made me think. Mexico? A rich country? They said Ecuador was very poor, and I want to see that, to see how people live there, how they get along in a country that's poorer than Mexico. I want to see the country. I want to see how they survive."

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