Araceli was born and raised in Comonfort, Guananjuato, Mexico. She comes from a big family, and is the middle child of 13 siblings. Araceli began working at a young age to help support her family, and would often work in the morning and then attend school in the afternoon. At a mere 15 years old, Araceli left her family in Mexico and began her journey across the border with a female companion from school in order to find a better job in the United States. This was at a time when crossing the border was nowhere near as common as it is today. Although Araceli is open to talking about her border crossing story, it was by no means an easy journey.

Araceli and her friend set off for their journey with few possessions, and their coyote (a person hired to help someone cross the border) in 1989. Due to the risk of this endeavor and the amount of time it would take to cross, the coyote charged them $700 each. He first took them across the Rio Grande, a journey of 3 days, and then another 3 days were spent in a house waiting to cross to the mountains. Once they reached the mountains, the coyote convinced Araceli and her friend that he would have to leave them to go and check the next leg of the journey to make sure it was safe. After two days of waiting for his return, Araceli and her friend became suspicious of his return and decided to continue the journey alone. They “walked all day and all night” until they came to a gas station where a kind man with a trailer helped them, and let them call their families. They were “covered in scratches and cuts from the cacti,” but Araceli was able to reach her sister in Texas who she had been planning to stay with once she crossed the border. Shortly after arriving at her sister’s house (a 10 hour drive away), Araceli’s sister received a call from the coyote claiming that he “[had] her sister, and she would need to pay more if she wanted him to deliver Araceli.” Needless to say, she did not pay him extra. In total, it took them 9 days from the time they left Mexico to the time Araceli arrived at her sister’s house.

Shortly after arriving in Dallas, Araceli found her first job in the U.S. at age 16 as a live-in housecleaner for a family in Richmond, Virginia. The father of the house was the “dueno” at the construction company where one of her brothers worked. This family made her work long hours from 7:30 am until 3:30 p.m., 6 days a week, and only paid her $100 for the whole week. In exchange for this low wage, the family promised that they would hire a lawyer to help Araceli earn a Green Card. According to Araceli, “without a Green Card, one cannot have securities and benefits.” After a year of performing this underpaid labor, Araceli inquired about the Green Card again. The family finally looked into getting a lawyer, but the lawyer they “hired” claimed there was nothing they could do to help Araceli. She doubts if this family’s intention was ever to help her get a Green Card and she felt “very taken advantage of.” Lack of sufficient pay and a Green Card forced her to flee back to Mexico for 3 months.

After returning to the U.S. for a second time, Araceli began work as a waitress at a restaurant in Durham that didn’t require a GreenCard. She chose Durham because some of her siblings were already living there, and today 7 of her 13 siblings currently reside in Durham (2 of the others live in Dallas and 4 are still in Mexico). When asked about her opinion on food service versus housecleaning, Araceli admitted that if it weren’t for the weekend shifts, she would still be a waitress. For the 13 years that she worked as a waitress, Araceli said that she enjoyed getting to know regular customers, and often received holiday presents and large tips from them. Sometimes, however, she would encounter a racist or rude customer. One incident involved customer who told Araceli to “keep away from her” when she attempted to take the woman’s order. Ultimately, Araceli’s decision to switch from waitressing to housecleaning came from her desire to spend more time at home with her three sons on the weekends, and her desire to attend church services that sometimes conflicted with her waitressing schedule.

The one good thing that came out of her job in Richmond, VA is that the family taught her how to clean, and improved her English. Since Araceli had no prior housekeeping experience, the family bought her a book in English on housekeeping. She first learned the basic terms for cleaning, and then moved on to memorizing which supplies would be used to clean which rooms. When she switched from waitressing to housekeeping, Araceli had a thorough knowledge of the basics of cleaning. This allowed her to work independently, instead of through a company, and establish her own hours and pricing. Currently, Araceli has 5 main houses that she cleans, and she alternates her cleaning every two weeks. For example, one week Araceli will clean two of the houses on Tuesday and Thursday, and then the next week she will clean the remaining 3 houses on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Although this schedule is very flexible, Araceli wishes she had a few more clients in order to bring in more income for her family. She mainly finds new clients through the recommendation of current ones, and even found a client at one of her son’s soccer games. When a new client contacts her to clean, Araceli visits their house to give an estimate. Then, if they are willing to pay she accepts the job. Depending on the client’s preferences, Araceli either brings her own supplies or uses those of the client. She was more than willing to show off her impressive array of over 15 different bottles that range from wood polish to bleach. In addition to liquid supplies, Araceli almost always works with latex gloves to protect her hands, a vacuum, a scrubber, a sponge, and a bucket.

Her experiences with her clients have been both positive and negative. Most of her clients remain in the home while she cleans. In one house, she explains, the woman was very bossy at first and would stand behind Araceli and instruct her to be very careful not to break anything. Now, the woman realizes Araceli is very serious about her work so she trusts her, and doesn’t boss her around anymore. A few years ago, Araceli took on a cleaning job for a young couple. What she didn’t realize at first, however, was that the husband was abusive towards his wife. He was always very rude to Araceli and would give her extra jobs to do once she finished cleaning. He even threatened her one time and said that if she didn’t do the extra work he gave her, “he would not pay her at all.” Needless to say, Araceli did not work for them after that incident. In a similar incident, Araceli took on a one-time cleaning job for a female client. Araceli gave her an estimate, and she accepted. After Araceli was done, however, the woman noted that “Araceli cleaned the house very quickly” and she believed she was making too much money. Thankfully, she still agreed to pay Araceli in the end, but Araceli never cleaned for her again. The only client that is never home when Araceli cleans just leaves her money on the kitchen table. They have done this since Araceli started working for them so she has only met them once. In one house, the family dog adores Araceli and follows her around to every room in the house while she cleans. When asked if she thought her pay was fair, Araceli admitted that she thought one family underpaid her for how far away the house was, but she needs the money and does not have enough clients to drop them. Although Araceli has a car, her license is expired because a law was passed after she first got one that requires North Carolina residents to present their social security number in order to renew it. Her favorite part about her job is “when the people are nice and appreciate her work.” She feels bad when her clients do not appreciate when she does extra work, or when they “don’t thank her.”

Araceli, however, is much more than a housekeeper. In her free time, Araceli enjoys cooking, cleaning, cheering her sons on at their many soccer games, taking English classes at Durham Tech, and going to church. She is a wonderful mother to her three sons (ages 16, 17, and 20). Her eldest son currently attends Appalachian State College, and her two younger sons are hoping to attend college on soccer scholarships as well. Soccer is a favorite past time of their family, and it is even the way Araceli met her husband. They have been happily married for 21 years, and were introduced through Araceli’s brother, who played on the same soccer team. Her husband currently works in construction. Araceli’s goals for the future are to improve her English and get more clients or a better job. When asked to describe herself in three words, Araceli chose “persevering, optimistic, and sensitive.”

— Lauren Fox