I Am Here, But My Heart Is There

A Mexican mother’s divided world

By Kathryn Gonzales          

She holds the phone as if her life depended on it. As if the phone call is the only way she can finally breathe.

Te amo mis vidas” [I love you my lives], she says “nunca olviden

[Never forget]. She bids her kids good-bye for today, but seems like forever as the eyes of Maria Juarez close as she ends the call.

It is 6 a.m. on a Monday as she sits at a bus stop waiting. She takes out her wallet where she carries two photos of her kids Martin, 10, and Rosa, 6, in the front of her wallet—the one she brought with her when she left them and the one her mother took of them on Rosa’s sixth birthday. Juarez, 35, stands as her bus stops, she puts the photos away and enters.

* * *

They were barely getting by in their town of Cardenas, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Juarez’s husband and father of their children had suddenly passed away from a heart attack. He was the breadwinner of the family, as Juarez stayed home to take care of the children. Grief struck her for a short while, but what followed was a wave of worry and uncertainty. She now had to be both a mother and father to her kids. To care and to provide.

The well-being of her children impacted her decision to leave home. The only consequence was a physical separation from Martin and Rosa who were only five and one. The only person to entrust her children was to her mother, Guadalupe Lopez, 55, knowing she would take care of them. It was a decision made only after Juarez was having a hard time financing the living expenses of putting food on the table, paying for the house, and for the kid’s education.

Mexican migrants headed for the U.S. border

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Juarez takes Bus 23 from Hunting Park in North Philadelphia to Chestnut Hill, a neighborhood with houses that look like fortresses. She walks to a white-bricked house and uses her key to enter. She is met with the warm hugs of the twin five-yearold boys of her current employer, a wealthy business executive who work long hours. She scoops them up in her arms and twirls them around.

She is their nanny-housekeeper. The twins own parents kiss them good-bye as Juarez begins the day with making them breakfast. She has been their nanny since she came to the United States in 2014 and was connected to the position through another fellow nanny.

“This is the everyday for me, five days a week, cleaning and taking care of the children,” she says “I make much more here than I did when I was home”.

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