On the Margins
Previous - Next


Finding My Space

Guadalupe Rosales has a gruelling story to tell. Raped and married against her will at thirteen years of age, Guadalupe's lifestory is one of courage and determination. She can, however, finally say that she has some space, her own space.
By Guadalupe Rosales  
  In 1971, when I was 13, my mother took me to a dance. A man there saw me and wanted me, but I told him that I didn't want to do anything. I was just a child. I hadn't even started my periods. Thirteen people dragged me away. They beat me, and the man who wanted to marry me used an instrument to find out whether I was a virgin. He did this to prove in front of 13 people that I was worth marrying. Then they held my arms and legs while he raped me. If I had not bleed, all of them would have raped me.

I was married by force. Before they took me to the wedding, they beat me for a long time. My whole side was bruised. They made me say that I was older and that the man was younger. I also had to promise to stand by him in all situations. They swore that I would never marry anyone if I didn't obey their commands.

My mother was quite pregnant when they abducted me. When she finally tried to find me, they beat her and threw her into the bushed. She went to the police station and tried to tell them to help me, but the man's sister had paid the police officers not to interfere. The police told her to leave me where I was because I had already been abused and had no value. My mother said, "If it's the clothes they bought her, we'll take them off her now. I'll wrap her up in my shawl and take her home", but the police would not interfere.

I was concerned about my marriage certificate because my husband's brothers had covered up everything. It was not a marriage of good will because they had been paid to sign the paper, and I hadn't said "I do". We didn't have a regular marriage like other people. Even the paper was different.

In 1973, I had a child, and my husband made me stay inside the house. He and other members of the family beat me regularly. Two years later, my second child was born. I was 17 years old. Again I was not allowed to go outside, to leave home, or to do anythingexcept care for the children. I couldn't even go to the store to buy food. One of my neighbours would bring me various foods that I had never tasted. She would tell me, "Lupa, open your eyes. You've got to look. You've got to understand. You know how these things are". When my brothers-in-law came to the house, they beat me. Everybody had a chance to beat me.

My sisters- and brothers-in-law were beating me to death, so I asked my husband if I could defend myself. He told me to do it if I could. I started fighting back by kicking, biting, and doing anything I could. By the time I had my third child, I could go to the store to buy what I needed, but I had to use the dress that I wore to wipe my children's bottoms.

After that child was born in 1977, my husband came to the United States. He had to pay a debt and thought that he could make the money here. During the year that he was gone, he didn't send us any money. We had to sustain ourselves any way we could. Two older women started showing me how to do things for myself. I started taking in wash and finally found a place to work. It was 45 minutes away, but at least I could find work. One of the women told me that I had to stay with my husband and do what he said. If he didn't support me, that was too bad. I didn't care anymore about my husband. I had to feed my children. During the week I cooked, washed, and ironed for a large group of people in a rich house. My aunt kept the children, but she thought wives should stay home with their kids. On Fridays, I would bring home all the food that I had saved during the week.

Then a neighbour wrote a letter telling my husband that I had a house and was making money. Because the letter didn't say that I was taking in wash, my husband thought I was selling myself. He came back with a gun, ready to kill me. The youngest child didn't recognise hi,. so he accused me of telling them vad things about their father, too. He wanted to take the kids away. My aunt kept saying that we should get back together and work things out. My husband asked my father and brother what they thought about the way I was raising mu children.

He hadn't written me for a year, but they sided with him and beat me. They invited me to go to the movies. My stepmother walked ahead with the children while my brother, husband and my father started telling me that I shouldn't be selling myself. I told them that I was making money honestly, but they called me a bitch. I said, "I'm not guilty of that, but I don't care any more. I'm going to kill, steal, and do whatever you want me to do because that's what you're saying. I'll do whatever it takes for my kids". My father and brother beat me while my husband stood by saying, "Don't beat her".

Afterwards, my father sent spies to my house, and they made up lies about the women who brought food. The only thing they were guilty of was bringing me tortilla, even if it was hard, but my father believed the spies. He dragged me into the streets, stood on my breasts, and beat me. He said that he was showing me how to be a woman.

I had to leave my children in Mexico. I hid from them and didn't tell them that I was leaving. We walked ahead of the others so they would not see us. I left an orange for each of them.

In 1980, my husband was getting ready to return to the United States, and I wanted to go with him. My sister-in-law, who used to beat me, told me that I shouldn't go because the work was very hard. My husband told me that I shouldn't go because they treated women badly here. I just wanted tp do my work. I wanted to go so I could help us get out of debt. I had to leave my children in Mexico. I hid from them and didn't tell them that I was leaving. We walked ahead of the others so they would not see us. I left an orange for each of them.

We came across the border in a raft on the eightd of January. The coyote didn't want to take me because I was a woman and couldn't run. My husband had brought me some shoes. My feet started bleeding because they didn't fit.

Someone gave me socks, and I just started running in them. My feeet were full of sticklers because I couldn't see where I was going. A man in the group had an extra pair of sandals, so I put them on, and then I could travel a little better. I ran faster than any of them. God really did help me a lot, and I was able to move forward. I had to use my sweater to erase the footprints as we crossed one particular place. I was afraid. We had to hide in a deep ditch, and all I had was two pictures, one of my children and one of Virgin Mary. We stayed there all day without food or water. Everybody co-operated to send for some chicken, but we didn't get the breast or leg or thigh; we got the parts that nobody wanted.

Two more boys asked the coyote if they could cross with our group, and he allowed them to stay. We had to board a train in San Antonio. Some dogs had been dropped off at the station, and we had to get in the box car where they had been, right in their mess. The original 20 of us got on, and the train started to move. The two boys ran to catch it. One of them tried to get in, but he slid off. The other man was caught by the man at the train station, who could have been a member of the border patrol. They picked him up by the back of his belt, and we watched them beat him up real bad.

We had to be ready to jump off when the train passed under a certain bridge. Water covered the ground, but we had to jump. We fell on top of each other. My husband wanted to catch me, but I knew that he wouldn't be able to hold me. Finally, the coyote told him to move out of the way and to let me do it by myself. I fell hard on my kness and arms, and one of the men hit me right from behind as he fell off.

When we got off the train, it started raining. For eight days, we had hardly eaten anything, but we had to stay in the woods for a couple of days, It rained very hard, and it was cold.

While we were waiting for the other coyotes from Dade City to take us the rest of the way, two outlaws woth knives, guns and arm bands, and longhair came along in a van and kidnapped us. We thought they were police, but they were not the border patrol. They kept us locked in a trailer for eight days. The coyote instructed us not to tell them anything, but my husband stuck his foot in and said he had a brother in this country. They told the brtoher to come get us at a certain place. They ran us all over San Antonio, telling us that could work it out, that they were going to get us to the place, but nothing was happening. The coyotes tried to help us. All this time, we didn't eat.

The outlaws stripped all the men to see if they had hidden any money. I had sewn a little boy's money into the front part of his pants because i didn't think that they would check him there, but they did. There was one woman among our captors, and she took all of the women in our group through the same process. She told us, "Either you do this nice and easy, or I have other methods". After this, the called the coyote to come get us. He reported them to the police because they had done some really bad things to us. One of the men who had taken us prisoner likd me and wanted to separate me from the group. I begged the coyote not to let anything happen. I am a good woman, and I did not want to end up in that situation.

It cost us $600 just to come from Texas to Florida. My brother had to pay the coyote when we were delivered to his trailer. We worked very hard to pay him off and then started sending money home for the children. Every 15 days, we sent money, food, and school supplies so that they could continue going to school. It cost around $100 each time I called my children. I told my husband that I wanted them here, but he said, "You go get them. I'm not going".

We picked 17 boxes of oranges each day and got $6.00 a tub. It was very, very hard work, and the tubs were not little. We had to leave at three or four in the morning and come home at ten or eleven at night to avoid the border control. My husband wanted to leave, but I wanted to make a life here with my children if God would permt us to be together.

In 1984, I was pregnant again. My husband told me to return to Mexico and have the baby there, but I refused because immigration had never out its finger in me. I asked God to bring my children here nd to give birth here. My boy was born on the ninth of April. A week later, I told my husband to go get the children, and he went. The border patrol caught them in Texas after they had crossed the border. They threw my husband in jail and put each child in a different room. The officers thought that he was stealing children and that he wasn't really their father. When they were finally turned loose, my family went back home. My husband was going to leave them in Mexico, but I asked Isabel, the oldest girl, if she wanted to come, and she said, "Yes". She was about ten years old. I warned her that it was dangerous, but she wanted to be with me anyway. She said, "We already know what it is to suffer, so we want to come". I told her that they would have to pass through some bad times, but she said that they understood that now.

My husband had left me $500, and I tried to save it for the children. I was staying with a nephew, but he wouldn't take me anywhere or help me in any way. I talked to a man in town who understood how much I had suffered and how bad it had been. He promised to help me get the kids if I gave him money for gas. I told my husband to count me as a man, not as a woman. I gave him my word that I was going to pick up those kids. I told him to respect what I said and to complete what I asked him to do. We arranged with my husband and oldest daughter exactely where to meet. I prayed to God and the Virgin that our plan would take place, and they got here at the right time.

After the children came, we started having problems because I wanted to be here, but my husband didn't. He accused me of wanting to stay here to do the kind of stuff that I liked to do. Here at least I could live from the second-hand clothes and from the food that was given to us as a gift. In Mexico, there are no gifts. We migrated up to Michigan and back again every year. Then I started working at a place where they make mulch, and my husband started working at a nursery, and we settled down a little bit. We were both making money, byt he would give me only $40 for the bills. That wasn't enough to make it. We had to pay $270 for rent, water and lights. Finally, I told him to leave if he wasn't going to help us for the sake of the children. He accused me of wanting him to leave so that I could continue my life with other men, and he beat me. The beatings never stopped through all of this.

I found out that he was buying other women and drinking, so I told him again that it was time for him to leave. One night he started to abuse me while his friends were there. He was going to have sex with me in front of the men, but I said, "This time, No! This is not 1971. I amnot going to let you do this to me. It is not the same time, and it is not the same place. If you've been sleeping with other women, you're not going to sleep with me!"

The next day, the boss man asked me, "What's wrong? Why are your eyes red? It looks like you've been suffering". All of us women and men lie. We cover up the things that hurt us. When I raised up my face, the boss man saw that I had been beaten and asked if I was having trouble with my husband. I said, "I've always had this problem, but I've always stayed quit". He told me, "Report it. That's not right. That's not the way you're supposed to treat a woman". I said, "No, I don't want my five children to hate me because I put their father in jail". The boss man told me, "Those kids are going to grow up and leave, and you're going to end up being an old lady alone". About an hour later, I could hardly work because it hurt really bad, and he told me to go to the doctor.

I had internal injuries and some blockage from the beating. My blood was not circulating like it was supposed to. The doctor told me that some of my injuries were caused by all my anger. I had gotten so angry! He said I needed an operation right away. I signed for my own operation and called the Farmworkers Self-Help office. I only had the five kids to take care of me. A woman there promised to look after them and brought them to the hospital to see me, but I didn't explain what had happened.

I had only been out of the hospital for a month when my husband came back from Michigan. I would not receive him in my home anymore, but he came anyway. He tried to abuse me in front of the children. Some women who used to take me to work came in while he was arguing with me. He accused me of sleeping with one of the men who took me to work and started to beat me again. He got on top of me and started beating me and banging on me whole the women begged him to leave me alone.

I feel better as a woman than I did in 1971. There is more space for me now... What happened between (my husband) and me is dead and buried. I feel nothing. I just respect his right to see the children. I won't keep him from seeing them.

We were picking oranges then, and the women were always careful not to let me carry anything heavy. I had a small bucket, and they would actually do all the picking and give me part of everything that they did so that I could make enough money to feed my children.

Around 1991, after the oranges froze, I went to work at one of the biggest nurseries in Florida. I had to work like a man. The men did not treat me right, so I hurt myself. I was carrying some very heavy buckets of plants when I fell into a hole and hurt my waist and back. I haven't been able to work since May of last year. The doctor told me that I can't pick up anything heavy. In December, I had a bad attack of asthma, which I had never had before, so I cannot work in the fields any more. The doctor said that I got the asthma from inhaling may pesticides over the years in the fields.

I got tired of paying $270 a month for a broken-down trailer, so I applied for a government house. I was really scared because I had never been seperated and had never thought about a divorce. All this time, I had tried to get my husband to buy a trailer or a house, but since he never wanted to make that step, I decided to take it and to see what would happen. I am living in the house right now, but I might loose it if my divorce doesn't go through. I have a Legal Aid attorney who has been processing it for almost a year. I want the divorce, but my husband has been trying to make it difficult because he thinks he will loose all his legal rights. He refused to to give me permission to get the divorce, so I asked the attorney if I could get it whether or not my husband wanted to give it to me. He said, "Sure you can. You can get it if you wnat! You can make your life. You do not have to ask him for permission. The judge is not going to force you to live with a person that you don' want and never wanted. We are going to get you the divorce even if he doesn't want to give it to you".

I feel pretty good because they have been patient with me. I'm a little better off now that I get food stamps and a small cheque for the two children who were born here and now that I get food stamps for myself, too. The cheque helps me pay me rent and bills, and I buy all of the food once a month. When I don't have enough food, I go to the church or to an agency for help/

I feel better as a woman than I did in 1971. There is more space for me now. Sometimes the children don't understand. My oldest daughter wants me to go back to her father. I tell her that when her time comes and she likes someone, I'm not going to tell her that she has to like someone that she doesn't like. What happened between her father and me is dead and buried. I feel nothing. I just respect his right to see the children. I won't keep him from seeing them.
Published here with permission of the author, this article was first published by Common Ground, A journal where grassroots women speak from the heart. Vol. VII 1993. Common Ground is published annually by Common Ground Centre for Nonviolence. Editor: Lilith Quinlan. P.O. Box 64717, Baton ROuge, LA 70896, USA.
Previous - Next