This article is from the February 2000 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Maria

By Bruce McGovern

Maria is a fifteen-year-old Otomi Indian girl who works as a servant for my sister‑in‑law, Judith, in our Mexico City home, five days a week. From 8 am to 5 pm, she dusts, scrubs, and washes clothes.

She gets minimum wage, and every penny goes to her family. I thought she was spending her money on new clothes and jewelry, but later I discovered those were gifts from my nieces.

Maria is short, and her legs are very short for her body, but she is neither too fat nor too skinny. Her cheeks are slightly enlarged, and her jaw is slightly extended. I don't know if this is typical Otomi appearance because sheís the only Otomi I know.

Her hair is waist‑length, but itís not braided. While working, itís folded up, and snapped with a big, decorative clip. She wears jeans or loose shorts while working, and takes a shower and changes clothes before leaving for school at 5 pm. She has started using a few cosmetics for school.

She gets two free meals a day, plus an hour of study time on the job.

At first, she acted scared of me. Itís hard to be sure, because in this culture, itís considered rude for a young person to look at an elder directly. But, I tease and joke a lot, and now she jokes back. Of course, it could simply be that a man who cooks, washes dishes, and washes his own clothes is viewed as harmless.

Sometimes, when Judith is busy elsewhere, I see Maria pick up a newspaper in the storage shed, and read a little. If I go by, she just grins, because she knows Iím not going to squeal on her.

Iím allergic to soap, so in Mexico, I usually do my own laundry. Before we got the automatic washer, that meant washing by hand. One day, I went up to bring down my dried clothes, and Maria jumped up and offered to do it for me. I declined, which seemed to shock her.

Later, I asked her if she was dreaming about a husband who washed his own clothes. She laughed and said something I didn't get, but only giggled when I asked her to repeat it. Finally, Judith told me she had said what she wanted was a husband who washed her clothes. No wonder she wouldn't repeat it; that's awfully brave talk for a poor,15 year old Indian girl!

Maria attends a special school for workers, which is located about a block from our house. Classes are at night, so students who have jobs can go to school.

Maria, who is in her first year of secondary, has a dream of going to high school, and becoming a secretary. If she doesn't get side‑tracked, I suspect she can do it.