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
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
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.