"María José" is also part of my novel MASKED MAN, the first 20 pages of which you can read here.
Who am I? You’re just now asking me? Ok, I’ll tell you my story, though you won’t understand me. I’m from Guadalajara, I was born there. My father worked in a panadería, a bread store, and mother worked in a tortillería, where tortillas are made. The real kind that smell good and you can eat them warm and fresh right from the over. My parents had three children. Me, my little sister Marta, and my little brother Arturo. Bueno, when I was twelve, my father left. He was sleeping with another woman and my mother found out. She didn’t tell him to leave, just got angry and called him stupid and a hijo puta, because he was, and then he left with the other girl. She was closer to my age than my mother’s, which is strange. They went to Mexico DF and we never heard from him again. In Mexico, a man doesn’t have to take care of the wife if he leaves. Yes, there are laws but they don’t matter.
You want to know how I learned to shoot a gun? We stayed with my Tío Octavio and his family a lot. The brother of my father. My mother had to take another job. His house was out in the country and he used to be a mili, a soldado, and he had guns. He taught all of us to fire guns, even us girls, because he said one day the people would rise and take back the country from los ricos. And also he said that mexican girls should know how to defend themselves. From who? From mexican men. And he was right.
As soon as I was old enough I quit school and started working at the tortillería, but even then there wasn’t enough lana, enough dinero. Tío Octavio paid for our house. Then his wife, Tía Linda, found out he was sleeping with my mother. Ay ay ay, she even came to the tortillería to scratch out my mother’s eyes!
After that, Tío Octavio never talked to us again and never gave us any more money and my mother had to sell the house. We had no family there, her parents had died before. She had a friend in Puerto Vallarta who could get her a job working at a hotel, she couldn’t take all of us. Or bueno, sí, she could have, but she had another plan. We have family in Phoenix. She wanted to send my sister and me, and later my brother when he got older, to Phoenix, where we could make a lot more money.
The problem was that we didn’t have enough money to get my sister and me to America. We could barely get to Santa Teresa by bus. There are men, even in Guadalajara, who will take people to America, but the majority of them are narcos, los narcotraficantes, the ones who sell drugs, and my mother didn’t want nothing to do with them.
But my mom’s plan was for us to go to Santa Teresa and work at one of the maquiladoras and make enough money to pay a coyote to get us across the border. My mother knew someone who worked here, and called her, one time only, and told her that we were coming. Then she put us on the bus. I just turned sixteen.
When we arrived in Santa Teresa, my mother’s friend wasn’t there. We called the phone number but the person we talked to said she didn’t live there no more and she didn’t know where she went.
In Santa Teresa, there are men who wait at the bus station, looking for girls to work in the maquiladoras. I didn’t know what to do. We didn’t even have a place to stay! A man said he could get us work, but that there was what he called a hiring fee, which was just a bribe. I told him we didn’t have no money and he said, That’s ok, we’ll take it out of your check. So I said yes. What was I supposed to do? And the man took us to an apartment building filled with other girls working at the maquiladoras and found us a room to stay and said he would take the rent out of our check too. I said ok because I’m stupid. But I was only sixteen and had to take care of my sister, you know? We didn’t have almost no money. The guy, he had us sign papers, and told us where to go to work. Then he asked me if we needed money for food. I thought he would just take that out of our checks too, but no, He said he’s give me some if I sucked him! He said it right in front of my sister! Hijo de puta! Of course I said no. He just shrugged like it was no big deal and left and I sat and cried, and my sister cried and there we were, we didn’t know anybody, crying and holding each other.
Our room was the size of closet and we shared a bathroom down the hall. But it was ours, and we started work the next day.
The other girls were nice. They were from all over Mexico. All of us doing the same thing, except some wanted to go to America and some just came because they thought they could make enough right there. I thought so too, until saw our first checks! Thieves! Ladrones! All of them!
What did we do? We sowed shirts. This shirt I’m wearing? My maquiladora probably made it!
Here’s what they do. They give you a job on first shift, during the day. The maquiladoras are filled with girls. Some guys, but mostly girls. The men are the supervisors, of course. Los jefes. But then there are the jefes of the jefes, the men who come in suits, they walk around, look at everything. They go in the office, they come out of the office. They drive around in their fancy trucks, theirs SUVs, watching, looking. When they see a girl they like, they take her. They ask her jefe, Who’s that? What’s her name? Then they wait outside for the girl, and tell her to get in. This happens a lot. And the girls get in. Why? Because the men have money. The men tell them they’ll take them out, to restaurantes and clubs. To dance and drink. Except, sometimes the girls don’t come back. I didn’t learn this until later.
Mostly it’s just guys. Regular guys. Meaning mexican guys, so cuidado anyways, but yes, girls go out and nothing happens. They drink. They dance. They fuck. The girls come back crying. Or not. They come back smiling. Or not. They get pregnant and have abortions. Or not.
The jefes of the jefes, they want a girl, here’s what they do. They tell the little jefes to change a girl’s schedule. Suddenly she’s not working the day shift any more. Now she’s working the night shift. Now the buses aren’t running. Now there’s not people in the streets. Now she has to maybe walk home in the dark. Now she’s a little scared. Then there’s a rich guy in a fancy SUV asking if she needs a ride. He and his friends will give her a ride. And why doesn’t she ask one of her friends if she wants to come along too. That’s another way. They get one girl, who will invite other girls. Not her friends. One time I had a girl that I didn’t know ask me if I wanted to go out dancing that night. She wasn’t even smiling. She looked scared and desperate and had a bruise on the side of her face. When I said no, she looked like she was going to cry.
So I start to learn what’s going on. Our friends, the other girls, start to talk, tell each other what we heard. Help each other survive. Tell each other about when a girl is found out in the desert, dead. Killed. And more than killed. Tortured. Raped. And then one of the girls was someone I knew. Tatiana. She lived in our building. One day she never came home. Nobody knew what happened to her. We thought she just left. Some people do that, just leave and go home. But then two weeks later we knew what happened to her. Two boys found her out in the desert. It was on the news, but you know what? No police ever came to our buildings to talk to us. No police ever came to our maquiladora. They didn’t ask us anything. Only because her family came to Santa Teresa and asked did they know anything.
And then my sister got moved to night shift. I told her no, don’t do it, but she said it was ok, she would always go with friends, and that it would be better for us to work different shifts so that we weren’t crowding each other in the room all the time. And I said ok, está bien, because you know? That sounded good. I was tired of living in the building and tired of being with my sister all the time. I was egoísta and said, está bien. And then after a week, just one week, she didn’t come home. I knew, but I had to ask anyways. I found some of the girls she was friends with, the ones she said she would always come home with. And you know what they told me? That she got in the car with a man. She said it was ok, she knew him. And then she never came home.
And so...And so I had to be the one to call my mother and tell her. I had to be the one to listen to my mother cry over the phone. I had to be the one to listen to my mother ask why I didn’t take care of her. I had to be the one to listen to my mother get angry with me, yell at me, for letting my sister get killed. It was my fault.
I never went back to the maquiladora. I just never went back inside. But yes, I did go back once, to look for the car. I waited outside for two days looking for a car that fit the description of what my sister’s friends described. And then it appeared. It was parked out front, down the street from the entrance, where they could watch all the girls leaving. There were two men inside. I walked to it and pounded on the window. The driver, he rolled down his window and I started yelling, Where’s my sister! Where’s my sister!
And the man asked me, Who’s your sister, and I said her name and without even thinking about it he said, I don’t know her. Then the hijo puta asked me if I wanted to get in the car so we could go look for her. And they laughed. So I kept yelling, calling them names, insulting them.
Then the driver, he pulled out a pistol and pointed it right at my face and called me a puta and told me to shut up. The other guy kept laughing and I hated them both. The driver said that my sister was a puta and that she got what she deserved and that I was a puta and that I would get what I deserved. Then he told me he would come find me some night and show me where my sister was. And he asked me if anyone would care if he shot me right there in the street.
What could I do? I was so angry, but I backed away. I thought if I turned around he would shoot me in the back, so I backed away, down the sidewalk, and when they stopped looking at me I turned around and started walking.
So what does a girl do to earn enough money to pay a coyote if she doesn’t work at a maquiladora? What does she do when there are thousands of other girls the same age who are coming to Santa Teresa to do the same thing? Well, I’ll tell you. She can’t work at a restaurant and even make enough to survive. Or a supermercado. So, she can become a puta, just like that man said. They call us putas and then make it so that’s all we can do if we don’t want to die. So I become a dancer, because being a dancer is the least bad way of being a puta.
It’s not so bad. You get used to it. You separate yourself from it. You separate yourself from your body. You act they way you know you’ll get the most money. And men don’t care. They don’t care if you are pretending. I don’t know if that’s because they’re stupid or because that’s they way they really want girls to act. Which is stupid also. So either way men are stupid. Or that’s how it is in Mexico.
In America men must not be like that. Both of you are caballeros. That’s a joke. You are caballeros, but you are also crazy. That’s ok, está bien. I’m crazy too.
So why did that pendejo hate me so much? Well, because when I left the maquiladora, I just left. I didn’t go back to my apartment. There wasn’t anything there anyway, just clothes. I left. Vanished. Everyone probably thought I was another dead girl they’d never see again. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to have anything to do with that place or those people.
But there was another reason. Before I started saving my money to pay a coyote, I started saving my money to buy a gun. And dancing at El Torre gave me plenty of chances to buy one. I never did some things, like drogas, neither sell them or do them, or prostitue myself like most girls do. Never. But I did buy a gun. I made sure it was from a guy who wasn’t a regular.
And then I went back to the maquiladora and waited for that car. Three days waiting. Then it was there. I walked by it to see who was inside, and it was the same two men. I would never forget them. They didn’t even recognize me the first time I went by. They just whistled and asked me if I needed a ride. I walked past them. I was scared. I wasn’t sure if I would do it. Then I heard one of them laugh and call me a puta. That did it. I walked down the street and back, and when I got to the car I walked up, raised the gun and shot the driver twice. Then before the other guy could get out his gun I shot him twice. Then I kept shooting until the gun was empty and I left.
It was easy to disappear. People saw me do it, but I just walked away and no one said anything. I walked a couple blocks, took a bus into the city and got off after a couple blocks and took another bus. No one knew where I was, or where I lived. Just another girl. Just another puta. But I was a ghost, come back from the dead for vengeance.
So now you know why I want to go to America. Not because of my mother, not because it’s what she wants, but for me. To leave. To leave Mexico forever and never come back and all the mexican men can go to hell and die.