This week we bring you the story of "Maida". An immigrant from Guatemala, she recounts for us how she travelled to the United States, as well as the heartbreaking obstacles she faced before, during, and after her journey.
Maida's story also reminds us that those who are already marginalized are also more vulnerable to sexual assault, having little or no power to change their situation, speak out, or seek recourse.
Trigger warning: descriptions of sexual violence.
This story has been translated from its original language and individuals’ names have been changed to protect their identity.
My name is Maida and I am from the north western part of Guatemala. I have been in the United States for 16 years. I have had a sad and difficult life. I have suffered too much.
My family was very poor and we lived in a poor house. I am the oldest of 10 children. At first there was work for my parents to pay for food and then work became hard to get and then there was no work. The water often had microbes or things in it that were not clean. I only went to one year of school when I was 6. In my family and village we speak Mam, not Spanish. I have been working since I was 12 years old to help support my parents and my family. Often when working and with being so young, I was alone and I was in not safe situations. I was assaulted violently when I was 16.
It was during this time of working away from home that I began to learn Spanish. I worried about my family. I wanted to help them get a house and I could not earn enough. Then when I was a young adult I worked for 4 years in Cancun Mexico. I worked for a family as a nanny. They were good to me. I got room and board and they paid me some money so I had money to send home to my parents. My Spanish got better.
During that time I had a boyfriend and I got pregnant. My parents wanted me to come home to Guatemala. They did not want me to go back to Mexico. My daughter was born in Guatemala. I continued to worry about making more money to help my sisters, brothers and parents. My boyfriend was going to the US and I wanted to follow him and he had been a very good man but in the US he started to drink. He also had a wife and children in Guatemala so I broke off the relationship.
I had heard that in the US I could get a job and that it paid more. I was 26 years old and the first one in my family to leave for the US. I left my 3 yr old daughter with my mother, father and younger siblings.
I borrowed $2,000 US dollars to pay a coyote who got me to the Mexican side of the border of the US. It took a week on the bus. When I got to the border I did not know anyone except one man. He said he would help me get across the border and to California and I could work there. I walked for 2 days and 2 nights in the desert.
He pressured me to be sexually involved with him. I did not want to and as we traveled and when we arrived in California he told me things that made me very afraid to be alone. I was afraid to go to the laundromat to wash my clothes or to the store for food. He told me immigration would get me if I went anywhere without him. Eventually I did get involved with him. He also had a wife and children in Guatemala. Sometimes I would stay up all night on the couch to try to stay away from him. He would listen in to all my phone conversations with my family in Guatemala. He tried to control everything I did. I worked taking care of children and had to pay for my crossing to the US. But he did not want me to work. My family and people I knew, thought I wanted to be with him, they did not know that I was afraid of him and afraid to leave. After about a year I finally made some friends and left him and went to live at their house. He found me and threatened to kill me. He said that I would be deported if I did not return to him. I did not know what to do.
I left for Shelton and worked in the mountains picking brush. He followed me to Shelton and found me in the mountains and raped me. I did not know what to do. He was a very bad man. I have suffered so much. My life has been difficult.
An American woman who was in a relationship with a Guatemalan man told me to go to the police and get a protection order. I got some help and I did that. The police contacted the man and told him to stay away from me. That made the man very angry. One time when I was at a laundromat he sent 2 men there. They forced me into their car and drove to a lake. They said if I did not let them rape me they would throw me in the lake. I do not know how to swim. They ripped my clothes and hurt my body. I went to the hospital and they admitted me and took care of my injuries. They were nice to me at the hospital.
While I was in Shelton my aunt arrived to live in Bremerton. I went to live with her. I did not have a room only a corner. It was very difficult there. My aunt had friends who got drunk and were at the house a lot. It was a bad place to be. I do not like to be around people who drink.
I wanted to learn English but I was so tired after work I would fall asleep. I got to know more people and to learn about things. I wanted to get a legal work permit. People told me if I tried I would be deported. I told them, “Then they can deport me, but I need to try to become legal”. I was still working as a brush picker when I applied for a work permit. They did not want to give it to me. I talked to a lawyer in Seattle who said that I could not apply because there was no violence in Guatemala. He said there needed to be either violence in Guatemala or in the US in order for me to be eligible. I told the lawyer that I had been the victim of violence in Guatemala and in the US both. He said I needed to prove it. In Guatemala there was no proof, the police do not help with these things. But because I got the protection order in Shelton and had gone to the hospital, I had proof. I took the proof to the lawyer and that is the way I got legal residency.
Now I do not work brush picking any more. I worked shucking oysters for a while but I was always cold and wet. I had to buy my own boots and warm clothes and it seemed I was always sick. Now I work in a hotel and I clean houses.
I worry about my family at home. My mother is very sick and also one of my sisters. I send home money whenever I can.
I have thoughts in my head of all the bad and sad things that have happened to me sometimes. I have a hard time sleeping. Sometimes I do not feel safe. I am worried about Trump. Sometimes I do not know where all this will take me. Sometimes I dream that I am back in Guatemala and I do not know if that means that is going to happen. I worry about being deported. When I can not sleep I read the Bible or talk to God and ask God to protect and care for me and my son, who is 10 now. But I have to say that at least part of the bad things and suffering that I endured had the purpose of making it possible for me to obtain my legal residency.
I want to learn English and become a citizen but I have to work to take care of my son, and also care for my family in Guatemala. My son's father was a drunk too, so I separated from him. Now I am alone with my son. I work hard and get so tired that it is hard to study. Right now I am taking a class for citizenship and also to help with my English, but it is very hard for me. I am afraid to live with people who are bad and are drunk so we live alone, which is more expensive.
Many men want to take advantage of women who need favors like a ride to the store or a ride to the laundromat, so I knew I had to learn to drive. I saved my money and bought an old car and learned to drive.
Now I have 2 brothers who have come to the US and who live here in Bremerton and a sister in Shelton but I do not see them much or talk to them too much. They do not call much.
I want my son to get ahead and have a better life. My son speaks 3 languages, English, Spanish and Mam but does not study too hard in school. I want him to do well.
I have only told 2 other people about the sad and bad things that happened in my life. My family does not know. When I told my story before, I felt like I was drowning. Bad memories came into my mind and I got incredibly sad and cried. This time it feels different to tell my story. You are my friends and I do not feel so bad to tell it.