She can see her fingertips cracked by the use of so many chemicals, her hands that have worked the land for 24 years cleaning restaurants and shopping centres. Originally from Camotán, Chiquimula, Guatemala, Tana left her indigenous clothing, from the Mayan Ch’orti’ ethnic group, and put on canvas trousers, a T-shirt and tennis shoes and emigrated along with 15 other girls from her community. Her village, a dry corridor, has for decades ceased to be the fertile land that nourished the roots of the crops; without water and food, Tana and hundreds of other villagers have been forced to emigrate, some to the capital, others to Honduras and the most determined are on their way to the United States; some with financial help from relatives already in the country and others with only the cost of the ticket to the capital and with the faith that the Lord of Esquipulas will open the way for them.

Tana emigrated in this way, like the majority, with one hand in front and the other behind; the eldest of 11 siblings, her parents are peasants who plough the drought-ridden land that has stopped producing. She left at dawn, at 16, she told them she was going to the capital to work as a maid, but the plan was already made and there were 55 from Camotán and Jocotán who took the road together, most of them under 18 years of age. Inquiring among the hundreds of migrants they met on the Tapachula side, they managed to reach Naco, Sonora, on the back of the Train of the Flies, which in southern Mexico is known as La Bestia (The Beast). When they crossed Veracruz, they ate from the bags of food that Las Patronas throw to the migrants on the back of the train; it was one of the few times they had a bite to eat, from there they made the journey with a gallon of water, some oranges and some cold bread that they bought in a bag in Tapachula.

The 55 who left Camotán and Jocotán arrived safely on the other side of the Sonora desert, and in Arizona they were picked up in cars, relatives and coyotes who were going to transport them to the different states of the country. Tana stayed there in Arizona with the relatives of one of Jocotán’s acquaintances, who gave them a place to stay and found them work. Since then, Tana has lived in a community, with people coming in and out of the mobile home where they rent, which they call trailers; she has met people of all religions and regions of Mexico and Central America, although once two men from India and one from Mauritania also lived there, with whom they only greeted each other with signs because neither they nor she spoke English. In the early morning she works cleaning restaurants from 2 to 5 am and at 7 am she goes to another job cleaning shopping centres, from there she leaves at 6 pm, when there is extra work there are days when she goes to clean offices afterwards, on those days she sleeps only 3 hours. At 1:45 in the morning she is already standing in the office, waiting in line with the other undocumented migrants from where they are taken in panel cars to the different workplaces, the same cars pick them up. She doesn’t have a car, she travels by train or bus.

She has been doing the same ritual for 24 years, with her remittances her parents managed to build a block house, put a terrace on it and are in the process of building a second level; they put up a shop and built a pond to store water when it arrives, they enrolled her siblings in school, none of them were left without studying because Tana made it a condition when she called them from the United States two months afterwards, only three of them have yet to graduate from high school. For 24 years Tana has not eaten an ice cream, enjoyed a day off, works from Monday to Sunday. She buys her clothes in a second-hand shop so as not to disrupt the remittances. She sometimes goes to her workmates birthdays, but only for a short time so as not to stay awake. She doesn’t know parks, museums, swimming pools, cinemas and has never been out of Phoenix, where she lives.

But that day is her birthday and she wants to celebrate it for the first time, she doesn’t feel like going to work, she wonders what it will feel like not to go to work, she wants to wear a dress like the ones she used to wear in her native Camotán; then she takes a deep breath, stretches her arms, fills herself with courage and for the first time in 24 years she unwraps the remittance money. She ate her breakfast and went to buy fabrics and a sewing machine, she started to walk around the shopping centre looking at the shelves, she had never seen so many things in all the years she had been cleaning, it was lunchtime and she bought a plate of Chinese food for the first time and afterwards she fancied a pistachio ice cream, she bought it for herself. She continued walking and came across a shoe shop, one of the many branches of the shoe shop where she mops the floor in front of her work; she went in and started to look at shoes, she has never bought new shoes, like clothes she buys them in second hand shops, but she has never worn sandals because she has seen them as a luxury to which she has no right. After three hours walking in the shop and struggling with the guilt of spending the money on her instead of sending it to Guatemala, she buys two pairs of shoes and one pair of sandals. On the way out of the mall, she comes across the bicycle shop and says why not and buys a bike, hops on and rides to the park near her house where she spends the night riding around.

Tana learned to ride by practising in the early mornings on the stationary bike that the owner of one of the restaurants she cleans has in his office. When she saw it in the shop, she thought it wouldn’t be so hard to get on it, if she was able to cross a desert. Excited by her purchase and her ride on the bike that gave her the feeling of freedom, Tana looks at her cracked fingertips and thinks that it would be good to learn to drive, buy a car and permanently adjust the money from the remittances so she could make more use of her time and move around more; maybe also for her next birthday she will learn to cook the cherry pie she sees in the restaurants’ bakeries, which would be her 40th, because from that moment on she plans to celebrate them all.

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