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Survival is Painful for Immigrant Women: Dreams turn to Ashes

When Carmen came to Casa Juan Diego, she could barely walk with a walker. Children’s Protective Services returned her children to her soon after she arrived.

I, Carmen from Honduras, here tell you my sad story. When I decided to come to this country, I didn’t think I would suffer so much.

When we arrived in Tecún Umán, which is on the border of Guatemala and Mexico, we had nowhere to go and so we went to a park, where a man approached us and told us he could help us. We went with him. When we were in his house he put us to work in the kitchen to cook food, which they sold. They told us they would help us to get through so that we could go to the United States. But this was a lie. What they wanted was someone to work free for them. With this lie they took advantage of
people. They got us up at 4:00 in the morning and we went to bed at midnight each day. As you know, this was many hours of work.

My friend and I were pregnant and we were very tired. When we asked them when we were going to cross the River Suchiate into Mexico, they said tomorrow, and it went on like this. We were there two months and they never took us anywhere. When we saw that they were never going to help us, we decided to try to go on our own.

We went to ask help from tractor trailer drivers. Yes, they told us they would take us. They took us across the border into Tapachula and then decided to park the trucks to go to eat. They took us out to eat and during the dinner became very drunk. When it was time to go, they said they were going to take us to a hotel. When they were getting a taxi for us, we escaped, but five minutes later they were looking for us with pistols. We were hidden under a tree surrounded by brush.

When we saw they were no longer looking for us, we went out and passed in front of a house where a woman was sweeping outside. We were very frightened and asked if she could take us in. We told her the men were looking for us with pistols, but she said she couldn’t help us because she didn’t know us and didn’t want any problems.

We went on and finally remembered that we were near the station for buses that were going to Veracruz. When we told the bus driver what had happened, he said he would take us as far as Veracruz, and he did. When we arrived in Veracruz the driver told us, “Here I leave you.”

There where the driver had left us was another bus terminal; this one was for buses going to Mexico City. We watched a bus arrive. We waited a little. In a little while we went to the driver and told him our story. He told us he would take us to Mexico City. We did arrive there and in all this time we hadn’t eaten or bathed.

This driver left us at a Metro station in Mexico City and gave us tickets so we could get on the Metro. When we got on the people held their noses because we smelled so bad. At the next Metro stop we got off and walked and walked because we couldn’t find anywhere to go. God is very great, because we didn’t know where we were going. We went along like a blind man whose hand people take and carry him along. Thus it was with us, as if someone had taken us by the hand and led us straight. We arrived at another bus station and saw a man there.

First, we asked him where he was going and he said to the border, to Reynosa. When we asked if he couldn’t give us a ride, he asked where we were going and we told him our story. Then he asked if we had eaten. When we said no, he took us to eat. Then he took us to buy clothing and he paid so that we could take a shower, and then later we left for Reynosa.

When we arrived in Reynosa, the gentleman went and bought us food and he gave us money, about 50 pesos. Then he said goodbye. The important thing is that this man helped us from his heart. Not in any moment did he suggest taking us to a hotel. There are bad people, but there are good people, too.

When we were there where the man had left us, a muchacho arrived and asked if we were going to cross the border into the United States. We said yes, and he offered to help us cross. When he said this, we told him we had no money. He asked us if we had family in the U. S. We told him no. He said he could take us and that he would find work for us when we arrived. We very happily agreed. Yes, he brought us to Houston, but what we didn’t know was that the work he had for us was in a cantina.

When he took us to what we thought was a job, we never imagined that it was a cantina. When he was with the owner where we could stay to work, we learned that the work was to sit at a table with three men, drink beer with them, put on music and dance with them. We didn’t want this work and we started to cry. The cantina owner said, “Take these girls
out of here–they’ll run off all my clients crying like that!” The man angrily took us back to his house.

When we arrived at his house, the man was very angry. He said, “Since you don’t want to work in a cantina, today you are going to sleep with us!” He wanted my friend to sleep with his friend and I with him. We didn’t want to. Then he said, tomorrow I’ll take you to Mexico and we’re going to do whatever we want with you. Afterward we’ll throw you out on the road.

In the house there were two other young men and they heard this. In the morning we were preparing breakfast. At that moment these young men helped us to escape. We ran, but since we were pregnant we couldn’t run very much. We saw some brush and hid. In about two minutes the other men passed by looking for us. But thank God, they didn’t find us.

The two young men took us to the house of an elderly couple, who allowed us to stay with them for three days. But afterward, they told us we couldn’t stay any longer. That is when we decided to return to Honduras because there would be nothing but suffering for us here. We didn’t know anyone and we decided it was better to go back. We had already made our decision and were walking when we saw a big truck, another tractor trailer. We went to ask where it was going, but the man didn’t speak Spanish. We saw a woman nearby and asked her to translate. The woman began to ask about us and we told her about our situation. She told us she would help us and took us to her house. A week later she had obtained work for us.

Part II–My Way of the Cross

Well, after telling you a part of my life, I’m going to tell you about the second part.

When I had been in Houston a year alone, I got married again. What I didn’t know was that from this moment would begin my way of the cross. Within a year of being with this person, he began to beat me. The first time he beat me he just left me with two black eyes. The second time he sent me to the hospital.

He hit me with the butt of his pistol. He cut my finger and my arm, and cut the nerves. The doctor told me that if I had stayed a little longer in the house, I would have lost my arm. But God is very great. For this reason I did not lose my arm. I am only telling about the times he sent me to the hospital. (He always insisted that I use a fake name at the hospital so no one would know what he had done.) The days were rare that he didn’t arrive to mistreat me.

One afternoon I remember that he arrived and told me to serve him some food. I did so. He demanded to know why the food had no salt. I replied that it did have salt. Just for this, he pulled my hair. Then he swept the floor of the house with me. This time I escaped and went running. After a while when I returned he had calmed down and asked me to forgive him, as he always did after he beat me.

The next time he sent me to the hospital it was because he burst a blood vessel. The doctors told me that I had an operation from the mouth of my stomach to my navel. This time he had beaten me because he told me he was going to work on his truck and told me to take him his tools. I had my two little children and I had to fix their bottles. In the middle of this I forgot the tools. He hit me so hard that I was near death. The doctors asked me if I wanted to see a priest, to go to confession, and I said yes. I was very afraid to die because I had my little children and I have no family here. I am alone, alone with my children.

Well, I want to tell the last part that was the worst and the last. One day he beat me simply because my little girl spilled the medicine. I was really tired of being beaten and I decided to leave with my children. I went to stay with a woman friend. Three days later I got a job. One day I went to work, as I always did, believing that he didn’t know where I was. When I came out at abut 11:00 p.m., he was standing at one side of the door. He grabbed me by the arm and took out his pistol. He ordered me to get into the station wagon. Very frightened, I got in. He told me he was going to kill me and got on the freeway. I begged him not to do it. He said, OK, I won’t kill you, but I’ll take out your eye and I’m going to cut off your ear.

In the middle of all this, I told him how much I loved him and please not to do anything to me because of the children. He finally agreed. But then he said, “Let’s go get the children.” I said yes, that we would all go to live with him, but the children had to go to school the next day and that we should get them the next day. “No!” he shouted, “I have to work tomorrow and I don’t want you going alone, because I don’t trust you any more, stupid!” Then he hit me in the face.

Next he put the pistol on my leg and pulled the trigger. The shot destroyed my knee cap. That was when he told me he was going to kill me. He took me way outside of Houston to where he was going to kill me. He made me get out of the station wagon with my leg that was hanging there. I had to take my leg in my hand and put the other hand out on the sand in order to get out–he said if I didn’t get out by myself, he would kill me. Somehow I managed to get out. Then he kicked me and said he would kill me. I cried and begged that he not kill me because the children love him very much. He finally agreed, put me back in the station wagon and brought me back to Houston, where he put me out at a gas station and left me there alone to call an ambulance. It was 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning.

I wanted to call the ambulance, but I couldn’t, because I fainted. When I came to, I saw a red truck and signalled to the driver. He asked me what had happened and then called the ambulance.

I was two weeks in the hospital. When I was released, Children’s Protective Services had taken my children. Two days later the police came to my apartment and I told them everything. About a month after shooting me, the police arrested my husband. Now he is in jail. He got sixty years.

And my children are now with me in Casa Juan Diego, happy and contented. Because now there is no one to bother us.

Thanks to Señora Luisa and Señor Marcos who helped me so much so that they would return my children.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XVII, No. 3, May-June 1997