Claudia’s life history is filled with traumatic experiences and tragedies, but they are not the most important part of her story.  It is the strength with which she has come out of these negative experiences and the happiness that she feels today — how how far she’s come, and most importantly – what she has triumphed over.  As to her story, Claudia told me “Y eso [mi historia] lo puedes poner donde quieras, porque es verdad, y es mi historia”. “And you can put that [my story] wherever you want because it is the truth and it’s my story”.

When Claudia was born, she says, her mother did not want her and her father said that she couldn’t be his daughter because she was ugly. Her father worked in the Guatemala airport carrying luggage for the tourists visiting. Working in the airport meant that Claudia’s father got good tips from Americans and other tourists. From what I understood, the first eight years of Claudia’s life were mostly normal. Unfortunately for Claudia, her father died when she was just eight years old. Claudia didn’t say how he died, but she did say that that was when everything started to turn from bad to worse.

Her mother got remarried with someone who Claudia described only as “malo”. He mistreated and even abused her and her mother, but Claudia’s mother stayed with the bad man because he had a well-paying job and provided the great majority of the income. She also described her mother as being “mala” but never dealt into more detail about what her mother did to make her bad. One of the bad things about her mother that Claudia was able to talk about, was the decision to stay with her second husband even though he was mistreating and abusing both of them. At the age of twelve Claudia started babysitting and cleaning houses to help her mother with finances. When Claudia was only sixteen years old she met a man who traveled back and forth from Guatemala to the United States. He got her pregnant and then returned to the United States. A short time after she met the father of her second child. She says that she actually did not know almost anything about him except his name and age. This relationship was a much better experience for Claudia, until she found out that he was married with kids. When she was twenty-two, the father of her first son came back with the intention of bringing her to the United States. The next twenty-three years would be full of violent domestic abuse until the death of her husband in 2007. Claudia said that the only time that her husband did not abuse her was when she was pregnant with her daughter, although she said that one time, while she was pregnant, her husband kicked her really hard in an attempt to kick her down the stairs of their apartment. She re-enacted the scene for us showing us that if she had not grabbed on to the railing alongside of the wall then she would have fallen all the way down the stairs pregnant. Seven years ago her husband died of cancer marking the end to over two decades of domestic violence. About this Claudia said, “Cuando se murió fue mejor, ya no estaba el que nos pegaba”.

Claudia’s brother disappeared on Friday, October 8th 2010. On Monday October 11th Claudia went to the local court with the assumption that her brother had been arrested and jailed for something. She waited all day for the officer to announce who had been locked up the previous weekend. At the end of the day the officer told her that there were no more people to announce. Claudia left extremely worried and someone convinced her to file a report as soon as possible. She flagged down a police car and filed the Missing Person Report. The next day she was contacted that an unidentified person was in the ICU of Duke Hospital. She was asked if he had any identifying features. She told them he had a tattoo on his arm with a family member’s name on it. That’s when they confirmed that it was him. He spent three days in a coma.

Claudia spiraled downward into depression even to the point of thinking about suicide. She planned to kill herself by overdosing on the very pills that she had been given to control the depression. The craziest part of this already surreal life story is that she was going to kill her daughter before she committed suicide because she did not want to leave her daughter behind without a mother or a father. She recalls one night even going into her daughter’s room, watching her sleep and thinking about killing her right there in her sleep. That very night she went to church service as part of her suicide plan. She wanted to go to one church service before she committed suicide for some reason. At this church service she was moved by the message and changed her plans of killing her daughter and herself.

“Yo me tire al piso y me puse a llorar, y decía ‘No lo acepto, el [mi hermano] me dijo que nunca me iba a dejar’, y cuando me levante, me levante con una fuerza…”

Claudia’s love for her children is incredible. “Ellos son la razón de mi vivir” “Son mis tres amores”. This love for her sons was tested last year when her youngest was detained for getting involved in a conflict between his streets and some other people in Raleigh. Once he was detained, they discovered that he did not have legal papers and he was deported to Guatemala after about a year in custody just months before this interview. His daughter-in-law Ana is married to this son with two beautiful young daughters. When he was deported, Ana moved in with Claudia so that they could take of the three girls together.

As far as her work is concerned, Claudia is really happy. She loves the people that she’s working for and comments on how much they have helped her and her family. There was a dark time though when Claudia and her husband were in California and went to a place for undocumented immigrants where you could hand in $100 and they would find you a job somewhere in the United States. They found her a job in North Carolina as a live-in nanny. The problem was that when she got there, things were not as they should be. She worked a couple of weeks and did not receive payment. She kept working for another two weeks expecting a monthly payment but it never came. She went two months without receiving any kind of payment and without being allowed to contact her family or even venture outside of the house. She was a captive for two months before she decided to take action. She waited until the owner of the house was in the shower and then snuck to the house telephone and called her husband to tell him what was happening to her on the other side of the United States. Her husband was still in California so he was unable to directly do anything. He called the police to tell them what was happening to Claudia. Eventually word got through to North Carolina police and she was freed.

Something that struck me as Claudia was sharing her story was that she kept repeating: “Es fea mi vida” or “Que feo todo lo que ha pasado, no me gusta hablar de esos tiempos”. What’s amazing is comparing that to when you talk to Claudia about how she feels now. “Estoy feliz, gracias a Dios” is the most frequent response that you would get from Claudia, always smiling while covering her mouth.

— Santiago Bejarano