Doris was born and raised in Honduras in a community plagued with poverty and crime. The limited resources and impossibility of upward mobility resulted in her husband leaving the country in the hope that he would be able to send enough money back home to ease the financial hardships they were facing.  Doris stayed behind for a year.  During this time, she worked as a teacher at the local primary school.  She was also enrolled at the university, eager to finish her education so she could teach more advanced classes in the secondary school.  Graduation was a small guarantee that she would be able to provide more for herself and most importantly, her son, Oscar, who was just a toddler when his father left.

The time apart was very difficult for her family, so she decided to travel and join her husband after a year of separation.  She left her son behind with her mother, too afraid to risk the trip with a toddler.  This was before the Mexican Drug War, and her journey was nowhere near as dangerous as it would have been had she crossed just several years later.  She had to pay almost a thousand dollars for the coyote to smuggler her safely across the border, at which point she boarded a bus that would take her across the country.  The remuneration was lower than it would be now, but it still took a lot of hard work for her and her husband to raise the amount.  She had given the coyote all of her money, and when the bus made rest stops, she was starving without the ability to pay for her food.  The smuggler let her borrow enough to buy a single hamburger to satisfy her hunger.  Soon enough, she arrived in Durham, NC.

The trip exhausted their savings, and she came to realize that she would be separated from her son for longer than she intended.  She had to work for two and a half years to earn enough money to bring her brother and her now five year old son to the US.  Once they were in Mexico, the smuggler said he would not risk taking a child and left them without money. Doris’ brother and son were stranded in Mexico without relatives or friends. Worried, Doris and her husband rushed to raise enough to hire another coyote that would take their son across the border. At work, Doris’ Mexican colleagues helped her and her husband figure out where her family was and put them in contact with their relatives so they could stay somewhere safe.  Eventually, they found another coyote, and Doris was reunited with her brother and son.  The entire experience was nerve-wrecking, and Doris says she will never again risk being separated from her family. If she or her husband were to ever be deported, they would all leave together, especially now that she has a second young son.  She would not encourage anybody else to try and come to the United States without their children by their side.

Family is extremely important to Doris. When asked to describe herself in three phrases, she said that she is a hard-worker, responsible, and loves her family. She works hard because she wants to provide a life full of opportunities for her two sons, now 13 and 4 years old. Even though she was a teacher and university student in Honduras, in the United States, Doris has limited employment options due to the language barrier and her lack of legal status. She began working for a Durham house cleaning company called Carpe Diem. She worked there for two and a half years, making $7.50 per hour and working close to 40 hour weeks.  Throughout her time at Carpe Diem, she was never granted a day of vacation.  She said that the company was unfair, and so she left for a new job. Now she works at The Maid and says that she enjoys her job. At The Maid, Doris works in a team of four women who travel to 5-6 houses each day. At every house, each woman has a specific assignment to clean: kitchen, bathrooms, floors, or living spaces. She now makes $8.00 per hour but hopes for a raise each year she continues to work there.  Ultimately, Doris hopes to clean houses independently because the pay is better and there is more flexibility with scheduling.

Although her time at The Maid has been better, this does not mean that she is entirely happy with her employer.  She wishes she were paid more – at least ten dollars an hour- and that they would give her the raise she was promised.  She also expressed her desire to bring about change for herself and her coworkers.  “Me gusta defender mis derechos pero si lo hago yo mismo, nada pasa. Sólo puedo hacer el cambio si me uno con mis compañeras de trabajo.”  She says she likes to defend her rights but if she does it herself, nothing happens.  Only when she is united with her coworkers can they make changes to their situations.  Furthermore, although the majority of the clients are friendly, she has occasionally been verbally threatened and yelled at by them.  She is thankful that the one time a man threatened to get them fired over false accusations, the company protected them and said that they deserve respect.  Doris also notices that in addition to their increased pay, a lot of the Americans leave the job because they think it is too hard or pays too little.  She says, “Muchas de nosotras no tenemos los documentos y estamos desesperadas por trabajo, así que tomamos lo que nos dan.”  The majority of them don’t have legal status and are desperate for work, so they take what they are given.

Doris wants to learn English as soon as possible. There are classes offered at Durham Tech but between her responsibilities as a worker and a mother, she has little free time. Both of her sons speak English fluently and actually prefer to speak it over Spanish. Doris wants to learn English because it would give her more opportunities.  If she were to return to Honduras as an English teacher, she would make a lot of money because people there are willing to pay a lot so that their children can learn the language.

Before leaving Honduras, Doris had no idea what the US would be like. She is glad that she feels safer here; however, there are many challenges of being an undocumented citizen of Durham. For example, in North Carolina, undocumented people cannot get a driver’s license. Doris passionately described the unfairness of this saying, “Necesitamos trabajar. No quedamos en casa” [We need to work. We don’t stay in the house all day]. The fine for driving without a license is $200 in Durham, so daily errands like driving to the store, school, or work become huge risks.  That risk is amplified in counties that partner with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), where a traffic stop can result in deportation.  Although she hasn’t felt discriminated against much, it saddens her whenever a Hispanic is on the news for doing something bad, because she feels that all Hispanics are looked at negatively if one does something wrong.

In spite of these difficulties, Doris is happy that she decided to come to the United States.  She feels safer here and is glad that her children are able to get a better education.  Her children benefit the most from her decision to leave Honduras, and she is thankful for that.

— Alex Villeda and Emma Wright