We met Ana the moment we entered Claudia’s apartment for the first time. Greeting us at the door, Ana is young and smiling. As Claudia’s daughter-in-law and close confidant, Ana sat in the living room as we interviewed Claudia, an obvious support system for her mother-in-law. During the course of the interview we discovered that Ana too was a housecleaner and would in fact like to be a part of the project. At our next few meetings, Ana, formerly quiet in the corner, began to relate her life story and how it intertwined with the life of Claudia.

Ana was born in Chapel Hill, a fact that separates her experience from most of the other house cleaners we have gotten to know. Born to a Salvadoran family, her birthday came in September, one year and one day after her older sister’s first birthday. Her sister would hold onto this fact begrudgingly, reminding her sister that she was a mistake for years to come. Ana always felt that her father loved her older sister more than herself, potentially because her father and sister spent more time together as Ana was in daycare while her mother worked at the Sheraton.

When Ana was about four years old, the family moved to the area around Southpoint Mall before Southpoint was built. They initially rented a room in a house where the man who lived there abused Ana. Her parents had to work and could not stay home, so Ana was left daily in a vulnerable position. Around the time that Ana began school, a year under her bigger sister, Ana’s three other siblings came over from Salvador. Ana remembers fondly spending time with them, walking together, although they were significantly older.

When Ana began high school, she had for the first time different friends from her older sister. Rather than working in her favor, this separation allowed her older sister to gossip about Ana to her friends who then thought horribly of her. Ana also recalled that every day after school instead of playing sports or joining clubs or taking part in a wide variety of extracurriculars, she would dutifully go and work at the restaurant that her family now owned by their house in Southpoint.

Her sister graduated in 2007 and was accepted to Peace College in Raleigh where she began to take classes. This was also Ana’s dream, and the next year when she graduated at the age of seventeen, she was accepted to the same school. However, when she approached her parents with the good news they forbade her to go. They told her that she had to stay home and work in the restaurant. Ana felt this was unfair, as her parents would not lend her any money to take classes while they were lending her sister money for classes as well as a car. Ana began to work multiple jobs, continuing her work at the restaurant while also working at a dry cleaner, in order to make enough money to afford her own education. She also became a certified nursing assistant (CNA) by taking classes at Durham Technical Community College.

Also around this time, Ana began to “salir” or go out with friends. She had one friend with whom she would often go out and dance with from Thursday through Sunday. Her family was not approving of this friendship, or of this lifestyle. She would go to Church on Sundays and then immediately go out dancing with her friend afterwards. She relayed an experience where one time her friend was stuck in her house fighting with her partner and Ana, trying to get in from the outside, had to break into the house in order to help her friend.

This lifestyle was not making Ana happy, and one day when at Church she began to plead with God. She asked him, put someone in my life and I will stop this lifestyle. She promised that if she could create a life with someone, she would leave all the going out behind. Three months later, in October of 2010, she met Claudia’s son. When talking about him, Ana stated that he was different from the others that she had met. He was real, an authentic person with an attitude that she admired. They began to do everything together. The time when they began seeing each other coincided with the grave attack on Claudia’s brother’s life. Being present with their family through this horrible ordeal, Ana began to see how kind these people were.

Two months later, Ana was pregnant with her first child. And shortly after that, her partner was deported for the first time. Claudia helped Ana through her pregnancy and throughout the time that Ana was unable to work. When Ana was ready to rejoin the workforce, Claudia helped her find a job. When her partner was able to return, Ana became pregnant with her second daughter, who everyone says looks like her father. Then one day, he was out with some friends who started fighting. He was taken to jail and deported once again. When we asked if he had plans to return, Ana stated that potentially yes but they needed to wait and see what was going to happen.

For Ana, the most important things in life are to be united at home and to dedicate yourself to God. Ana exemplifies both, staying up all night once a week to perform a vigil to pray for those around her. She finds the wee hours of the morning to be a peaceful time to pray, while her usually rambunctious daughters sleep. Quoting the Bible, as she often does, Ana also stated that the early morning is also when your connection with God is the most powerful. One of our interviews was the day after Halloween. They had a special vigil in their church the night before because bad things often happen on Halloween. Though Ana had not believed this before she dedicated herself to God, she sees now that Halloween really is a celebration of evil and the devil. She has this reaction to a lot of things in her life; that before she did not think of something a certain way but after having her eyes opened by prayer and studying the Bible, she sees things differently now. To demonstrate this, she read Corinthians 2:10 to us, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”

When not doing a vigil, she and Claudia will generally wake up at three or four in the morning to pray and read the Bible in their shared apartment. They will sometimes pray in the living room together, solidifying their appreciation for each other as well as their shared goals for their lives and families. While Claudia is more focused on prayer, Ana believes that God has plans with her which are intimately tied with reading the Bible. She reads the Bible extensively, studying it in massive binders and notebooks that she has made. For her the Bible is where people share their testimonies of what God has done for them in their lives, which is extraordinarily powerful.

Ana spends all her free time either with her family or at Church. In the mornings, after waking up to pray for an hour to three hours, she takes the kids to their babysitter and then goes to work, cleaning houses. She will usually pick up her girls around 3:30 or four in the afternoon before returning to their apartment or going to Church. Ana is at the church usually four days a week or more, she often helps them with computer stuff like creating logos and flyers for events. Ana wants to continue her studies with the Bible as well as to return to studies at college, but with two young girls, an arduous job, and her dedication to the Church, there never seems to be enough time.

— Christine Costello