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He laid down the law. Since she was grown and probably pregnant, she was responsible for herself. So he ordered her to leave. Reina wandered the city, sleeping outdoors for a time. She stayed briefly with an aunt and uncle. She took a job in another bar and there met a nice young man, whose kindness she felt she didn’t deserve. She figured he wanted her sexually, and she made herself available. Soon she was pregnant. The two decided to marry, but the boy’s mother opposed the union. Come wedding day, he didn’t show up, and Reina was devastated. Her aunt and uncle helped her have the baby. After Manuel was born, she was back working in the bar where she’d met the boy’s father. And there, Arturo, this mysterious benefactor, found her, promising America.

La Porfa

Someone was shaking Reina. “Wake up, wake up, muchacha. We’re going to San Diego.” It was the next day, late afternoon. Darkness was coming. Reina was put between La Porfa and Daniel in the back seat of a car, traveling east to Tecate on Highway 2. How many men did as they pleased with her last night? Men who had no faces, whose boozy smell remained in her hair. El Chivo was driving. Beside him sat Arturo. El Chivo, the goat, was the one getting paid, the coyote. Reina heard her price — $2500. A lot of money, but then she was a girl who could make a lot of money. Arturo kept boasting about the ring that brought women from inside Mexico and placed them inside California. The ring had the same name as the woman beside Reina — La Porfa, from por favor, Spanish for “please.”

Some 40 miles east of Tecate and before the Rumorosa Grade, El Chivo made the “jump” over the border. The car rumbled and rocked over mountain roads during the small hours of the night until the passengers felt pavement below the tires. The United States, at last. El Chivo got his cash and the four transferred to another car. Later that day, according to court documents, Reina, La Porfa, and the López-Rojas brothers entered 955 Postal Way #3, in Vista, where the brothers lived. It was a plain apartment at the top of a steep hill, terraced with blocky buildings. Along the road going up the hill is a sign: Despacio, Niños Jugando. Slow, Children At Play. The silhouetted figure on the sign shows a boy running; it may have reminded a weary Reina again of leaving Manuel behind.

At #3, the group was joined by another brother, Pedro López-Rojas, a year younger, though much taller and darker than Arturo. The double-bolt lock clicked behind Reina, and Pedro smiled, his top front teeth encased in silver. Pedro’s common-law wife, the slender Liliana, 25, five and a half feet tall, with long dark hair, looked her over. Another man gawking at her was the stocky Quinas, whose dark curly hair was concealed under a baseball cap.

Reina was in the house only briefly when Arturo told her she must begin working the next day — just as you did in Tijuana. You dress up nicely too. But Reina preferred the maid’s job, the one he had promised. Arturo laughed. There’s no money in cleaning houses. She pleaded; she didn’t want to prostitute herself. She would work in the fields, clean the migrant camps. Anything but those men ordering her to pull her pants down.

She said no. Arturo hit her. She screamed, No. He hit her again, harder. And again. Harder. She ran into a closet. Arturo was on her again, beating her until he was stopped. He shouted that if she ever went to the cops, if she ever talked against him, if she ever tried to run away, he would have Manuel killed. One phone call. Live baby’s a dead baby. Finally Reina agreed, but she did not agree in her heart.

The next several months either Arturo drove Reina to various brothels or Daniel and La Porfa took her in Daniel’s white Lincoln Continental. La Porfa worked the brothels too. Camps and ranches, houses and fields. Reina, La Porfa, other girls and women, took care of the men. Gave them condoms. Told them they had ten minutes. Motivated them to finish. Handed each a paper towel. Four or five customers an hour, six hours on Sundays. La Porfa liked it, she said. She chose this life. Reina would too. In time.

To get the johns was easy. One pickup hub, said a Vista policeman, was Las Palmas, a drive-up restaurant in Vista, smelling of fried fish. The cocky pimps, Arturo and Pedro, would pace out back by the toilets, a signal for contact. “Got any girls?” four johns would ask, packed side by side in the cab of a pickup. Directions taken, they’d speed away.

A pimp with a clutch of 20 girls and women could, on a good day, service 300 men. That’s $6000. The pimps bought clothes and food for the girls, spent the rest on bills. The smuggler’s charge; a little something for the girls’ families in Mexico; expenses incurred in running vans, renting apartments, buying two-way radios. On occasion a girl might turn a trick behind a pimp’s back. Reina learned to do this, stashing $5 and $10 bills in a sock to finance her freedom — if she ever escaped.

Beatings and threats kept the girls in line. One threat the pimps didn’t have to initiate. They knew that once a girl had sex with a number of strangers, she felt ashamed for what she’d done. Once the family in Mexico knew, they would feel the shame as well. All the pimp had to say was “I’m telling your loved ones, ‘I’m sorry to report that your child didn’t want to clean houses, so she started prostituting.’ ” To soil the family’s reputation was the worst disgrace the girls carried.

At night Reina cried, remembering Manuel’s real father, whom she had loved because he was nice to her but whose mother suspected that in Reina was a prostitute who could never be banished. She dwelled on Manuel, in the hands of Arturo’s sister; no, not in her hands — he was alone in a crib, neglected, missing his regular feedings, growing skinnier, dying like a plant without water or sun. Maybe he was already dead. How would she know?

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