Home to Las Playitas

A maquila worker's 600-kilometer trek to the farming village where she was born

"I had only heard of this place before Carla came, because lots of the girls I worked with liked to go there," Brenda says. "When we went, we didn't like it. The people inside were acting bad, using drugs, and there were gang members, and the guys were bothering us when we said we didn't want to dance. It was scary, so we left."

Carla says she gets bothered by guys a lot more in Nogales than Las Playitas, especially at work.

"It's the supervisors, mostly," she says, Brenda nodding in agreement beside her. "The older Mexican men, they see all these young girls from the south, and think we will be easy to do whatever they want with. They ask you all the time, 'Go with me after work,' and I don't, but a lot of girls do, because the men buy them things."

Neither Brenda nor Carla say they were ever threatened by a supervisor or promised special treatment in exchange for sexual favors. However, both say they were forced to take pregnancy tests before they started work--a violation of Mexican federal labor law and a routine practice in the maquiladora industry, to which enforcers turn a blind eye.

According to Brenda, a few months after she started working in the Optimize plant, a group of women complained to supervisors about the pregnancy testing and were immediately fired. Another group of about 10 line workers, men and women, were fired soon thereafter because they started talking about forming a union to protest the first firings.

"They were going around to people, saying we should have a union, and then one day, they were all gone," Brenda says.

The twins finish their colas, and we leave the mansion. Outside, the sun is right, and we spot a scrape in the truck's paint where Joseph, our drunken friend in Bacobampo, crashed his bike.

The Sierra residence. Las Playitas. Sunday, 9:28 a.m.
Rosalda Sierra has a squirming, hissing turtle in one hand, and a long kitchen knife in the other. She found the turtle by the side of a road the day before and took it prisoner. A drink of warm turtle blood, she explains, is good medicine, a cure-all for anyone but the turtle.

Carla woke up with the sniffles, and Rosalda is debating whether to bleed the hapless reptile. Usually she waits until someone in the family is seriously ill, because it's not right to waste turtles. However, she also doesn't want her daughter going back to Nogales in ill health.

Carla shoulders her day pack and assures her mother she's fine, until Rosalda puts the turtle down and the knife away, and gives her daughter a lingering hug.

"I was very happy to see her, but now I will be sad for a few days," Rosalda says. "Then I will get better."

We ask how often she worries about Carla working in Nogales.
"Todos dias," Rosalda says, with a heavy look. Every day.
"Here, she knows everyone. In Nogales, there are so many strangers, I worry about something happening to her. I worry now that I will never see her again."

A son of a friend went to work in the maquilas a year ago and his family hasn't heard from him since, Rosalda says. Another boy from Las Playitas moved to Nogales, wound up working for the narcos instead of the factories and got busted running drugs to Los Angeles. Now he's in prison.

At Brenda's request, Hector puts a Puff Daddy Combs disc on the truck's stereo and pumps up the volume on the producer's hip-hop remake of the Police's hit "Every Breath You Take (I'll Be Watching You)." Puff Daddy's version is called "I'll Be Missing You."

Brenda holds both of Carla's hands and sings along with the lyrics.
Every breath you take/Every move you make/Every single day, every single way/I'll be missing you.

When the song ends, Hector turns off the tunes, and Carla gets in the truck.
We pull away, waving goodbye.
In the rearview mirror, we see Brenda and Rosalda with their hands still in the air, and the turtle, plodding off, trying to slip the grasp of fate.

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