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“I want to make women open their eyes and lose their fear.”
Many women believe that they don’t work. They believe that their labor — be it washing other people’s clothing or selling products — isn’t real work. We don’t notice that it is because it’s a role that we don’t even think about. We say that our husband or partner is taking care of us, without realizing that we are taking care of ourselves, we’re surviving.
The person that made me realize this was actually a man [the doctor who was treating my daughter for asthma]. In those days I was taking my daughter to see the doctor for her asthma. I would blame myself because my daughter had developed the illness. My husband would make me feel like it was my fault. My self-esteem was very low. When I would get to the doctor with my daughter, he would tell me “you are crying on the inside. Your eyes are always crystalline.” In reality, I wanted someone to listen to me, but I couldn’t tell anyone what I was suffering on the inside. I would tell him, “I don’t work. My husband takes care of me,” to which he responded, “what do you mean he takes care of you?”
The doctor explained, “You women have a lot of jobs: You’re doctors, financiers, accountants and many more things.” And it’s true. We women are lawyers fighting for our kids; we’re administrators managing our homes; we’re nurses who care for our husband and kids late into the night. The doctor also told me “you’re our chachas (maids) when you feed us, our psychologists, too, but who listens to you? You’re our masseuses.” You are a lot of things and you don’t even notice it.” You don’t value yourself… At that time I was listening to a lot of psychologists.
I was pregnant with a baby in my arms, always helping my husband at our family business. We had a fruit and vegetable stand in Mexico City. The work was truly slave-like — I would wake up at 3am to leave my house spotless like I thought a woman should and then I would have to put up with my husband who was a drunk. He would belittle me. There are some men who will dance on you when you’re down. It makes a person get filled with fear, that he won’t take care of me anymore, while they don’t share even a bit of the housework or childcare. They don’t know what their own child’s personality is like or what time of care they need because they’re never there. It may be because of friends, because of work, or because of parties or whatever. Sure, some of them are providers, but others aren’t even good for that.
We women don’t even notice. Wake up, women!
In our meetings I always see women who look so tired. It’s not just tiredness from the doldrums of work, but emotional tiredness. You can tell they’re carrying so much on their shoulders, their kids’ problems, the problems of their spouse.
I know there are some men who do take care of their partners. There are women who appear to have a marriage worthy of envy. For many, it’s a golden cage. My house before I left my husband was a golden cage. We lie to ourselves, we get frustrated. We stay in situations like that because of what others might say. Some feel privileged because they think, “my husband has me well-dressed or he takes me out to eat on Saturdays.” Unfortunately, sometimes we women can also be very cruel with one another. The truth is some of us stay in situations like that for the sake of our kids, but we’re not doing them any favors. For example, my son sometimes will tell me, “mom, I don’t understand how you put up with my dad for 20 years.” That’s when you realize that you’re giving your kids a bad example to follow. I don’t want my kids to be like their father. Sometimes without knowing it, we are giving them a pattern — this is how women should be and this is how men should be.
I left my husband. I made the decision to leave him there and I came here with my kids. When I got here, I arrived in Staten Island. I left my husband because of domestic violence. He would marginalize me and belittle me frequently.
I had high expectations for my life. I would have loved to be a doctor, a nurse or even a receptionist because sometimes they are like therapists. I would have liked to study something. God willing, I would like to become a nursing assistant. I’m really attracted to helping others. But my relationship with my husband didn’t permit it. Sometiemes you believe that you are to blame and that you deserve to be mistreated — you start to blame yourself and you have a justification on hand about why you deserve mistreatment. Until you open your eyes.
Unfortunately with the Donald Trump presidency a lot of women are afraid. They say, “if I want to file a complaint about my husband I have to give the state my name.” In Mexico we have a saying, “I leave a bad situation to go into a worse one.”
Living in this country isn’t easy. Sometimes you are deceived by the money. If you come here without your feet planted on solid ground, you can end up in the same situation that you left behind. You have to know where you’re going and where you come from or you’ll end up in the same situation. Both of my pregnancies were high risk and I’ve fought so much for my kids that I would never imagine abandoning them.
Now my daughter is a single mother. Her daughter’s father helps her out financially. My daughter, it looks like, wanted to follow the same pattern as her mom. Her boyfriend would blackmail her, he would tell her “quit your job and I’ll support you.” I had to put a stop to it because they would fight all the time. My daughter is looking for work now that she finished her GED. She wasn’t able to finish high school because of her pregnancy. She’s also a member of the co-op. My son works and goes to school. He has a part time and helps me with rent. My oldest son moved to North Carolina. He’s made some life decisions I’m not happy with. Between the three of us, we stay afloat. I say that we stay afloat and not that we’re thriving but we stay afloat.
I have an office that I clean every Saturday and two houses I clean each month. I also sell Mary Kay products in addition to my cleaning job. I take my time with my clients. I love helping people. I love changing their little faces. It was an important feat for me when I learned to make myself up. I’ve struggled with depression — because of my situation, because of financial issues and other reasons. Whenever that happens, I make an effort to put myself in front of the mirror and I wash my face and once I’m made up, I feel transformed. I may not feel great, but I look it. Sometimes I meet women who’ve had bad experiences wearing the wrong makeup and they tell me “I don’t like makeup.” I like taking my time with those women. I say, if I’m gonna do something I want to do it right because they deserve that and more. I’ve learned about skin types, colors, tones. I try to make my clients feel good about themselves so they can have confidence. I also talk to them often, they give me the opportunity to give them advice and opinions. If I can help them with an opinion, I try to do it. Or I’ll tell them my story. I’ll tell them “I’m not telling you this so you can feel sorry for me, or so you will laugh at me, nor do I tell you so you can talk about me.” But if my story can help them in some way, I hope it serve as an example.
I’m here without any family. I came here without family, without money and without acquaintances nine years ago, but I’ve made myself known. At first my sister lived here, but she left. We didn’t talk much when she was here because her husband and I didn’t get along. He was a male chauvinist, even worse than my husband. She’s left him, thank God.
My partner now is the one who invited me to join the co-op. He belongs to the handymen co-op. He told me they were starting a co-op in Staten Island. At that time I was working at a dry cleaner. There was a lot of abuse — the boss wanted us to do everything and to be grateful for two extra hours. He had us all working part time. Because I knew how to do a little of everything, he would have me wash, iron, translate and manage the place to the point where he drove me almost crazy. Additionally, some of my coworkers began to dislike me because they were upset I got two extra hours and not them. The boss had me rushing all the time. He didn’t care that I constantly told him I was uncomfortable.
I’ve been working at the cooperative since last November. I was looking for a fair job, an equitable job. I was also looking to raise my voice. I want for us not to be marginalized and for to be targeted for being immigrants or undocumented. I want all of us to share the perspective that we need to support each other to thrive. I like that idea a lot. We share the same idea, even if each one of us has independent thoughts. At the end of the day we all arrive at the same conclusions and are on the same path. I would like for this path to be open to more women who don’t value themselves or their bodies because they either have a need to pay the rent or send money back home. When I was working at the dry cleaner, I was very unwell. I looked like I had a hunchback. I went to get a massage but it wouldn’t go away. My joints hurt from doing the same repetitive motions. That labor isn’t valued. You get $50 to leave a house spotless. Sometimes they don’t even pay you because you’re “illegal” or don’t speak the language. I would like for us to be respected and valued. We don’t come to steal, we come to work.
I want to tell women that they should love themselves. Sometimes we don’t believe we deserve better because we’re full of negativity. “I don’t deserve respect because I left my kids back there, because I was a bad mother or daughter.” It doesn’t matter what happened. You have to respect yourself to be able to say stop. Every woman is powerful. Sometimes I amaze myself when I make someone up and I say, “Wow! I did that?” The doctor used to tell me, don’t ask ‘what if’. You can do it.
Now I’m a grandmother. I don’t live in the lap of luxury. I started off in a tiny bedroom, then a bigger one and now I have an apartment with my kids and granddaughter. It’s not easy to carry the responsibility of the house — to be mother and father at once even though in reality I’ll never be able to be a father.
God willing, I would like to be here legally. I would love to study to be a nurse so I could help people. I want to set an example for my kids, more than anything for my daughter so she can live without fear. She fears being separated from her daughter. Even though she has a strong character, she has a legitimate fear. I want her to know that the human spirit is powerful. I don’t want to depend on any man. I want to work and save up and I want to someday finish my house in Mexico.
Well, I can’t attend the marches on May first because I’m trying to process my citizenship and I’m afraid of what might happen. In any case, I think we all have to make an effort daily. We have to better ourselves as individuals, especially women. I try everyday to tell a woman she’s beautiful. Tell her to have a good day and give her blessings.
*This interview was done in collaboration with Public Seminar and the International Women’s Strike NYC. The names of the interviewees has been changed.