Their mothers called them Daniela and Ana and Maribel. They are five and fifteen and forty and every age in between.
Desperate to escape poverty and drugs, they saved, borrowed, and stole to pay dangerous men to take them north, to a place where their children could be safe at school and not have to work for bad men with guns who sell drugs. Where they could work long hours for low pay but have something to send back home to their families.
They didn’t know that if they survived the journey, they would still owe the bad men more, that those men would own their bodies too.
The coyotes called the women pollos, chickens. Later they would be called nuevo carne, fresh meat.
Crossing the barren desert, they heard the smugglers yell, “El migra, run!” They did run, but toward Border Control, not away. Foolishly, they thought the authorities were their saviors. They learned bad men were everywhere, sometimes wearing uniforms instead of ragged jeans.
The coyotes threw them into the backs of cars and vans and trucks, like bags of trash. The rides were long and rough, with no food or water. They were jammed together with strangers, stench of their shameful waste choking them all.
They jumped out of moving cars to escape, only to be caught again and threatened at gunpoint.
Their mouths were duct-taped. Their brown wrists were scraped red and raw from ropes tied too tight.
After they arrived at the promised land, some were tied to trees where men in uniforms took their bodies for themselves. They tried their best to make their minds go blank as men did unthinkable things to them. Those men would have killed to protect their wives and daughters and sisters from such things.
Some of them were held prisoner, called puta, shackled to beds in makeshift brothels, drugged so they could not escape.
Poor and damaged, all of them, they have been bitten and beaten, their hands and feet tied up like animals. Back home, their families treated their goats and chickens better than these women were treated in the promised land.
People asked them stupid questions. Why didn’t you report it to the authorities? As if they could.
Safer to have their secrets burn inside.
In the end, some of them found safety and sometimes even peace. They have tried to wash away or bury their shame. Fear and nightmares, sadness and rage haunt them all.
They have studied the innocent brown faces of the children who came into this world as a consequence of their journeys, hoping to forget the faces of the men who violated them. They held back their tears.
The sweet faces of their children are the only reason they have not tried to kill themselves.
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