By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Paramedics arrive to assist the elders, who are placed in legitimate residential-care facilities with the help of the FBI’s Victim Assistance Program. The girls are whisked away to undisclosed shelter locations. Pelayo and Darwin are taken into custody.
“Oh, are they filming Dexter again?” asks one of the neighbors, noting the abundance of cars, trucks and vans. By strange coincidence, the majority of location filming for the TV series about the serial killer is shot in the areas immediately surrounding Vernon Street. The house that stands in for Dexter’s childhood home is down the block from Pelayo’s house, a two-minute walk away. When the show’s fictional “Ice Truck Killer” stops his car near a school to check on the woman bound and gagged in his car, the intersection where he stops is two blocks away from the house where the half-dozen real-life Filipino slaves were being held. The juxtaposition of sinister activities occurring within a placid-seeming location is playing out in actuality.
Mary begins working in America in 2003, but has been back and forth between the Philippines and the States five times in the past 20 years on a multiple-entry tourist visa, a fortunate score from before the post-9/11 immigration crackdown. The first time she comes to the United States is in 1989, as a bona fide tourist with her two daughters. The fifth and final time, she and one daughter decide to overstay their visas and become TNTs.
She arrives at LAX, then travels to San Diego to stay with her husband’s cousin. It’s difficult finding work there. Mary’s 19-year-old daughter goes to work, illegally, at a Chinese restaurant in Twentynine Palms, near the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, after a Filipino friend promises a house to live in and full-time work. Instead, the house turns out to be a trailer. The work is grueling, and pays less money for more hours than promised. Mary cries when she sees how her daughter is living. But she gets a job at the Chinese restaurant as well. It’s run by some Filipino friends from Negros City. Mary and her daughter share the trailer with two other people, and all four of them sleep on the floor like pigs in a cage. Her first night, she cries again. “Is this what life is like in America? But what can I do? I’m already here.”
“It is hard in America. Why are we here?” she says to her daughter in the nights that follow. “If we go home, there is nothing in Manila.”
Finally, she concludes, “America is the land of opportunity — if you have papers.”
Mary and her daughter work 14 hours a day, seven days a week. Between them they make $1,500 a month, a massive amount compared with the family’s combined wages back home. The restaurant opens up into a ditch in an alleyway. Mary cleans out that ditch, scrubs the floors with steel wool, scours the tubs and walls, chafing dishes and pans, and cleans out the sticky soda fountains. For the first time since it opens, the restaurant receives an award for cleanliness.
When a Marine takes an interest in her youngest daughter, Mary pays him for an arranged marriage.
Los Angeles presentsmore opportunity for work. Here, she buys a fake green card for $60 from a friend of a friend who also tells her about the retirement home in Sherman Oaks. They don’t ask for your actual green card, just a photocopy, another illegal tells her. She starts as a server in the dining room, having gotten the job through someone who is friends with the manager. She waitresses, buses tables.
Eventually, she starts taking care of old folks. She picks up an hour here, two there, relieving other workers when they need help, at $10 an hour. She is referred from old person to old person. She performs small chores: sewing a torn dress, accompanying someone to his or her doctor’s appointment. The hustle doesn’t stop.
Soon, she is referred to a woman named Sylvia and ends up taking care of her for three years. “I was like her mother,” Mary says. She not only gives Sylvia her medicines, they trust each other implicitly. Mary knows where Sylvia’s diamond rings are, her safety-deposit-box keys, the notebook containing investment information. She even packs up Sylvia’s things when her son decides to move her closer to him. Once Sylvia leaves, it’s back to the scrambling routine at the nursing home. There is no time for proper lunch breaks, so she keeps crackers in her pocket and eats between shifts.
She meets her current charge, Fred, at a beauty parlor, while accompanying another older lady. Fred’s wife is having her hair done. He needs someone to cut his nails. “They were overgrown and curling in, like the nails of a parrot,” Mary recalls. By coincidence, she has a nail clipper in her pocket. “How much?” asks Fred, once she’s finished.
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