– an excerpt from the book: “Agave Marias – border crossers, boundary breakers.” by various authors.
When I refer to “my Mexican maid,” my Canadian friends cringe. I suspect they picture a stooped crone in a shawl, scrubbing my floors on her hands and arthritic knees. Lupita is young, a handsome woman with strong features, too strong to be described as pretty. She arrives for work wearing tight jeans and a sweatshirt, dons my Harrod’s apron and sets to work. She has her own methodical approach – bleach in the toilet bowls, shower curtains tossed over the rods, laundry in the washing machine, efficient methods I never interfere with.
While she cleans, she talks to me in Spanish. Our “conversations” are more like a weekly game of charades with Lupita always acting out the mystery phrases and me guessing. Over the past two years, I have learned that Lupita has four daughters and a husband who is a plumber. He works in Los Angeles eleven months of the year and recently bought them their first house. Before that, they all lived with her in-laws.
Recently I came home unexpectedly and found her listening to a Pepe Aguilar love song on the CD player and weeping silently.
“What is it?”
“I was thinking about my husband.”
And so began a tearful accounting of her problems. Last year, she lost a beloved sister to kidney disease. All her four pregnancies were difficult; she would vomit if her husband approached her sexually during them. Her two eldest daughters have bad menstrual periods with severe cramps. Her eldest is showing no interest in dating. All of this personal information was conveyed to me in Spanish with creative body language. Her hands grip an imaginary steering wheel when she tells me her esposo is driving home solo for Christmas. Her fingers trace imaginary tears down her cheeks when she speaks of her dead sister.
Yesterday was Lupita’s second daughter’s quinceañera party. This Mexican tradition marks a young girls fifteenth birthday. My husband and I were honoured to be invited. Just to make sure we could find the party, Lupita insisted that Paul drive her home the week before so she could show him the exact location. Normally, Lupita takes the bus to and from work; she has a car in her garage that she doesn’t know how to drive. I knew this was an important occasion, but had no idea what to expect. I asked two Mexican neighbours where the quinceañera tradition comes from.
“It think goes back as far as the Aztecs,” said Lourdes. “There is a wonderful song about what an Aztec father tells his daughter when she reaches the age of seven. “There are eagles and cougars in the world; the gods gave us laughter to keep us safe.”
I found this interesting, but was no further ahead vis-vis the quinceañera.
Laura didn’t know either. “Its tradition. Traditions are very important to us Mexicans.”
“Did you have a quinceañera party?”
“No, I was pregnant at fifteen.” Laura told me that the girl must be a virgin. A quinceañera celebrates a young girl’s entrance into the world. It marks the end of childhood and the beginning of womanhood.
When we arrived at the fiesta we were greeted by the guest of honour, Amparo. The budding woman looked terrific, dressed as a charra, or horsewoman. She was wearing a huge white sombrero, a white jacket and floor-length skirt with gold medallions sewn down the sides, made by her mother. Amparo’s thick hair, styled by Lupita, was braided and curled and hung down her back almost to her waist.
We presented her with a gift, which she accepted graciously and showed us to a table next to another of Lupita’s gringo employers. We watched as Amparo greeted each new set of guests, escorted them to a seat, took their gift and carefully placed it on a long table beside a gigantic decorated cake on display in the centre. Had Lupita made that, too?
The fiesta was held outdoors in a garden. At least fifty children climbed on play structures, swings and slides and bounced happily on an inflatable trampoline. Amparo’s little sister, Maria, recognized us and ran up to be admired; she was all dressed up in a white flouncy dress with a big sash. This didn’t stop her from racing around the lawn with five little boys chasing her. Adults sat at tables, drinking and talking. A mariachi band serenaded us. At the appointed hour, they played a special waltz. Amparo stood alone in the centre of the dance floor; a younger girl walked up to her and presented her with a doll. Amparo began to waltz slowly around the room, cradling the doll in her arms. Meanwhile, Lupita tied little Maria’s undone sash into a bow and pushed her youngest daughter towards her dancing sister. The doll changed hands, the fifteen-year-old presenting it to her baby sister. The crowd applauded. Little Maria beamed. Amparo had left her childhood behind.
Pedro approached his daughter for the first waltz as a woman. Next, her grandfather cut in, then her uncles, and finally male guests. Pedro came over to our table and touched my husband Paul’s shoulder.
“Would you care to dance with my daughter?”
Paul is almost six feet tall. After the waltz, he laughed: “All I could see was the top of her sombrero.”
I watched Lupita, my maid, all afternoon. She was busy. First she served a home cooked meal from cauldrons carried in from her husband’s pickup truck. Afterwards, she circulated throughout the room, thanking the guests for coming. She tied little Maria’s shoes when they came undone, and straightened Amparo’s hair to prepare her for the dance. Lupita herself looked lovely, in a long blue dress, her black hair styled and her face made up. It mirrored her myriad emotions: pride, sadness, happiness, concern. I knew it was her wedding anniversary, but she voluntarily stayed in the background, giving priority to her fifteen-year-old daughter. This was Amparo’s day and hers alone.
My Mexican maid is an exceptional woman. A firm, but gentle mother, she is forced to raise four daughters by herself for eleven months of the year. She loves her husband very much and wishes he could live with the family here in Mexico, but accepts the fact that he can make more money in los Estados Unidos. Lupita is proud to help support her family by working as a maid and makes a reliable, loyal employee. She is determined to teach me Spanish. She has already taught me much more.
I’ve been told that this new culture I now live in is a macho one; that it’s hard to be a woman in Mexico. Its also hard to be a woman in Canada. Do Canadians publicly celebrate a girls entrance into womanhood? No. We leave our childhoods behind by starting our periods in shamed silence or losing our virginity in the backseat of a boyfriend’s car. I think I’d prefer waltzing my favourite doll around the floor before I gave her away, saying goodbye to childhood and hello to womanhood.
Yesterday I gave Lupita some photographs that my husband took at the quinceañera celebration. “Amparo looks muy contenta,” Lupita commented when she saw the picture of her husband and daughter dancing. My Mexican maid puts family first and is grateful for the life she has been given. She counts her blessings and inspires me to count mine, including our mutual womanhood.
Muchas gracias, Lupita.
Mexconnect features full-length excerpts from the book Agave Marias – border crossers, boundary breakers.
- First Flight by Gloria Marthai
- The Virgin Dialogue by Judy Dykstra-Brown
- The Wedding by Gloria Marthai
- Going for a Mexican Ride by dory jones
- Maid in Mexico by Harriet Hart
- Three Señoras Named Lola by Gloria Marthai
- The Lady Is a Tramp by Nina Discombe
- The Delivery by Harriet Hart