I grew up in an Indigenous village in Guatemala. As a child, I loved being surrounded by my community, but being part of an Indigenous community made you a target. My parents didn’t want to teach me their dialect because they were afraid that I would have an accent when I spoke Spanish. They said people mistreated “Indios,” and justice was never on our side. I discovered what they meant when I turned 15.
I was on my way to buy medicine for my mother, who was ill, when a man who had been stalking me for over a year and was 10 years older than me grabbed me from behind, pulled me into his car, and took me to an empty lot, where I was tied up and raped numerous times. He took me to his house, where a friend of my father saw me and told him where I was. My father came to the house but couldn’t help me. Instead, he told me it was best I married this man because I was “damaged goods.” He said that even if we went to the police, my attacker was still going to be free, because “that’s how things are.”
From that moment on, my life in Guatemala became a nightmare. I experienced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse every single day I was living with my attacker, who legally became my husband. He told me that if I ever left, he would kill me. In 2003, after the birth of my first child, the abuse intensified. When he started laying hands on my son, I knew I had to stop him. I went to the police to report the abuse, but he was detained for only a few days — a slap on the wrist for him and a slap on the face for me. I remembered my father’s words — “that’s how things are.”
I endured abuse from his family, too. I was mocked by his mother and sister for being Indigenous, and they would tell my husband that my children weren’t his. In 2018, I was frying food in the kitchen when my husband and his sister came in and grabbed my head and pushed it inside the pan with hot oil. I heard their laughter in the middle of my screams. This was the last straw — it was time to leave and never return.
I grabbed my three children and ran away to another part of Guatemala … but he found us. I knew our only option was to flee the country. So, we left again, and this time we didn’t stop walking. We travelled north with a migrant caravan that was heading to the U.S., and when we reached Tijuana, Mexico, we presented ourselves to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to seek asylum. After waiting for several months in Mexico, on February 5, 2019, we were finally allowed to enter the U.S. while I waited on a hearing for my case. Initially my case was denied due to asylum policies implemented by the administration at that time. I was forced to wear an ankle bracelet while I waited for my deportation date. Thankfully, my lawyers at the Tahirih Justice Center fought for the removal of this device that only reminded me of the trauma I had endured and could face again. My lawyers have also given me hope, as they are currently fighting to appeal my case.
Living in the United States, I feel safe and free because no one is abusing me and my children. However, I am also anxious because until my case is resolved, I cannot work. Thankfully, we are able to live without paying rent in the house of some acquaintances, and in return I clean, wash their clothes, and cook for them. In the meantime, I pray God touches the hearts and consciences of those who will review my case again. Single mothers who share my story deserve a chance to rebuild their lives and provide a safer future for their children.