Esther grew up alongside the crystal blue waters of Acapulco, Mexico with two sisters, a brother and her parents. As a child she attended school, played barefoot with her friends, and watched as tourists from abroad slowly infiltrated her hometown. She fell in love with a young man when she was just a teenager and the couple quickly got married. Although Esther and her new husband adored the beautiful beaches and vibrant culture of Acapulco, they couldn’t ignore the low standard of living, the high gang crime rates and the local drug cartels.
Esther realized she needed to find new opportunities outside of Acapulco so she decided to cross the US border. Based on what she heard from local gossip and the news, America seemed promising because she would have a safe place to raise her young family and the possibility of working for the first time. During her initial crossing, luck was on her side. “La primera vez era muy facil porque vine con mi mama y hermano con los papeles de otros personas”. Esther speaks of how it was much easier for her to cross the first time because she only came with her mother and brother using other people’s documents. The three quickly realized that they had to make a lot of new adaptations, which would be difficult without the support of the rest of their family. So the trio went back to Mexico and convinced the entire family to cross with them. Esther’s sister Maria Luisa was the most hesitant of all because she felt comfortable in Mexico but couldn’t bear leaving her family again. The women, men, and children left on the same day but crossed separately. The children crossed in cars overnight and pretended to be sleeping while the border patrol quickly scanned their documents in the dark. Esther describes her second crossing as much more difficult than the first because they walked all day and night without knowing the location of her baby daughter. Eventually, separate cars picked them up. Once Esther was driven to the immigration office she realized that Luisa was nowhere to be found. Esther remembers feeling frantic because there was no way to contact her sister much less find out if she was even still alive. Luisa’s coyote dropped her off and promised to come back but he never did. After a week of waiting in the immigration office, the Esther’s father finally received a call from Maria Luisa saying she is okay. Another family had come across her in the desert after a week and had temporarily taken her in. Once the family was reunited together, they entered American territory on November 20th, 2000. Esther said that her initial expectations for America were met but she never imagined having so much peace and quiet in her new life here. She misses Mexico because people always separated work from play. Here, she says people are always working and never have the time to go out. Unfortunately, a few years after they crossed, Esther’s mother became sick so the family thought it was best to accompany her back to Mexico leaving the two youngest daughters: Esther and Luisa here with their husbands.
Esther now lives in a townhouse in Durham, North Carolina with her husband and two daughters, Odalis and Yessica. While her husband works in construction six days a week, Esther works as a house cleaner four times a week as well as a babysitter. Prior to being a housecleaner, she never had a job. She has been working independently with three other women for the past three years and they clean around eleven houses every week, making around 50-100 dollars per house total. Esther likes her job because the hours are flexible and she can spend time with her family after work. She is glad that she is working independently as opposed to a commercial agency because she is able to talk with the women she works with so time goes by quickly. However, Ester does have frustrations with her job. She talks about how she often runs into trouble with the employers who insist she needs to clean up extra or accuse her and her coworkers from breaking and stealing things. On her days off work she also runs an in-home daycare, also taking care of her coworker’s kids. Before she was a house cleaner herself, she thought it would be easy work because she cleaned her own house all the time. Little did she know that it would be difficult work, leaving her back aching and spending long hours in very dirty houses. Despite these encounters, Esther understands that she has to keep the job so that she can send extra money to her family in Mexico and save up money for her daughter’s education. She is happy that she can provide for her family here and those back in Mexico. Esther’s three aspirations are to eventually buy her own house, have her kids study hard and for them to find a job other than cleaning houses.
After living in Durham, North Carolina for many years, Esther is hesitant to move anywhere else in America and certainly doesn’t want to go back to Mexico. She likes the American life. Her house has memorabilia of the Virgin Mary scattered and pictures of her childhood in Mexico intermixed with her children’s awards from public school, Wii games and English children’s DVDSs. Although it has been difficult for Esther to find time to attend community college English classes, her two daughters have no problem switching between English and Spanish. Esther has noticed that the way she speaks and the way she looks has made her a target for discrimination here in Durham. Esther feels belittled by some of the house owners who expect her to understand everything they want done for their house. She also feels targeted in her life outside of work. She distinctly remembers an encounter at Kohl’s where she bought a lamp on sale with her niece, but the cashier commented another cashier that the two women had switched the price tag on the lamp. Esther felt horrified when her niece translated their accusations into Spanish. In addition to discrimination in Durham, Esther also had several things to say about machismo. She says that machismo is very widespread in Mexico but less so here. Although her sister and her doesn’t have problems with their husband, she explains how many other Latina women who live in America, such as her cousin, still experience machismo behind closed doors.
When not at work, Esther spends all her spare time with her family. Her youngest daughter Yessica is much more Americanized than the rest of her family because she was born in America. According to her mother, she loves dance, playing with her friends and causing trouble around the house. Odalis is a sophomore in high school who is very serious about music and helping out her mother as much as possible in the house. They have a dog, Prince, who the family has raised together since he was a puppy. Fortunately for Esther, her sister moved from Philadelphia to Durham and now lives only a few minutes away from her house. Therefore the two women spend a lot of time cooking and talking together while their husbands watch soccer and their children play video games. She says her family is unique because they get together every weekend and don’t need special occasions such as a quincenara to have a reunion. She never forgets about her family in Mexico either because she makes an effort to call them or to Skype them every week.
Like many immigrant women, Esther’s journey is incredible. She is a brave woman who has sacrificed so much just so her kids can have a better life in America. Although she has faced discrimination and has two rigorous jobs, she is still very ambitious and optimistic for her life ahead. She embodies everything that makes her a luchadora, a fighter.
— Shirley Liu