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.
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.
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 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.
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.