Before coming to the United States, Lucia lived in Mexico City. Lucia grew up with two brothers and her sister as well as her mother and father. Her childhood was filled with happy memories. She went to school until she was eighteen and did not pursue a higher education. She says now that this is one of her greatest regrets, wishing that she had tried to learn English then when she had the time. Now, it seems she never has time for anything. It was DF Mexico where Lucia met her husband Pedro. They initially met at a party and were together for a year and a half before they got married in Mexico. Pedro was a graphic designer in Mexico, and because this job had enough income, Lucia did not work in Mexico. The first member of Lucia’s family to cross the US border was her brother Rodrigo. He gave no notice that he was leaving. Lucia remembers that one day she came back from a vacation in Acapulco with her Mom and Dad and Rodrigo was gone. He left no note. No number to contact him. But they knew where he had gone. He had chosen to go to LA. Soon after, Lucia’s entire family would be living in Durham besides herself, her husband, and her two daughters.
Initially, Lucia planned to cross the border so that her kids could receive an education, she and her husband could make extra money, and eventually their entire family would return to Mexico for good. To say the least, it did not work out how she had planned. Now that Lucia has lived in Durham for five years, she wants to stay. However, her husband still has the desire to go back to Mexico. When I asked her why she did not want to go back, she noted the safety in the US, the opportunities for her children, as well as the treacherous and taxing journey to the United States. How could she leave a place that she had to fight so hard to get to?
Lucia says that people in the United States often think that traveling across the border is easy. She told me that, “they think one day you decide to cross, and then suddenly you are in the United States.” However, her story reflects the faultiness of this schema. Lucia tried to cross the border three times. Each border crossing is defined by fear, she explained. It is a fear that cannot be described or compared. It is all-consuming. The first time Lucia tried to cross the border she was pregnant with her second child. She said it was nearly impossible to cross the river pregnant. She got stuck in the river by thorns and deep mud and ultimately was brought back by a patrol officer and forced to stay in jail for the night. The second time she tried to cross the border she was in a car, and border patrol caught the car and the Coyotes opened the door and told them all to run. She was not able to run fast enough, and her, her kids, and her husband were all brought back to Mexico. On her final attempt to cross the border, she told herself “this was it.” She said it was the first time she believed she would truly make it to the other side. This time, she made it over successfully. It was just shy of a month’s journey to Durham. After crossing the river in Mexico, she was forced to cross another border patrol stop in Texas. Her kids were able to cross in a van, but Lucia and Pedro had to hike the mountains with hardly any water or food for four days. The plan was for Lucia’s mom to meet the kids and the Coyote past the border patrol in Houston. However, in the mountains, Lucia had no way of knowing whether they were safe. I asked her how she was able to do this. She said she had no other option; this was the best way for them because she couldn’t not trust the Coyote. Lucia remembers the four days in the mountains as some of the most difficult days in her life. They are part of the reason why if she ever went back to Mexico, she would never try to come back to the United States.
Seeing her kids for the first time was a surreal experience. She was reunited with her daughters at a McDonald’s, but was famished and dehydrated from the time in the mountains. It was almost too much to process at once. She could finally let go of some of the fear that had haunted her throughout her journey.
While most of the fear has subsided, there is still a constant, unwavering possibility that Lucia could be deported. After all, it happened to her brother a few years ago while he was living in Durham. One day her brother got pulled over by a police officer. He had purchased fake documents, so when the officer asked for his documents he handed them over. What her brother did not know was that these documents were the documents of an individual who had passed away. Her brother was sent to jail for three years. “He is not a criminal,” Lucia told me repeatedly. Ironic. The more I thought about it the more ironic and hypocritical criminalizing immigrants like Rodrigo seemed. Lucia, her brother, and many other immigrants are criminalized simply because they fight for American rights: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” As Lucia put it, she did not come to the United States to steal, kill, or sell drugs. She came here to work and to provide her children with a life filled with opportunity.
In America, Pedro can no longer be a graphic designer. Since he is undocumented, companies will not hire him. So, he works as a painter. Because painting is so seasonal, he often goes unemployed during the winter months. Therefore, the family depends on Lucia to bring in income to support the family. Lucia began cleaning houses as soon as she arrived in the United States. It is the first job she has ever had. It is by no means easy work. It is not as simple as tidying your room or picking clothes off the floor. Lucia and the team of housecleaners she works with clean about six houses a day. She is constantly facing discrimination from her employers. “They look down on you, and just think that they are better than you,” she tells me. They greet her, but keep their head down and make no effort to talk to you. She says she loves it when her clients will talk to her and ask her how she is doing. Another issue Lucia has with her clients is that the faster her and the rest of the team clean, the more work the clients assign without any pay compensation: “If we do the work faster, they just expect us to do more.” Lucia says that sometimes they will have to fold four times more laundry then they usually do and they just have to do it. The pay simply is not just. She told me another story where a client called their boss complaining that a woman Lucia worked with took a bottle of water because she was extremely thirst after working tirelessly. She was thirsty and tired—was she just supposed to not have access to water? In addition to the discrimination Lucia faces cleaning houses, she also expresses that occasionally the houses can be dangerous. Lucia once cleaned a house for a client who was not only addicted to heroine in addition to other hard drugs, but was also constantly ordering prostitutes to the house while she was cleaning it. She eventually told her boss that she would not clean his house anymore, and luckily her boss agreed to stop business with this man. While this is an extreme case of a client acting inappropriately while she was present in the house, there are other behaviors of clients that are inconsiderate. For example, Lucia says that often women will leave dirty tampons for her to clean up, and men tend to leave condoms on the floor. This is just gross and inconsiderate. However, Lucia always had a good sense of humor when telling me these stories. Laughing seems to be her way of not letting prostitutes, tampons, condoms, and drugs bother effect her outlook on life. She said she never judged her clients, but they sometimes just confused her.
Aside from Lucia’s grit, determination, and accepting nature, her qualities as a mother are truly outstanding. She embodies what it truly means to be a great mother—selflessness. Everything she does, she does for her two daughters. She hiked mountains for them, cleans houses for them, stays in the United States for them, and dedicates her spare moments to making memories with them. Whether it is bringing them to the state fair or dancing to “Frozen” in the bedroom, she lives to see them smile and bring joy into their life.
— Hannah McCormack