“See how there are trees around here? And when i walked through here there was nothing like this, it’s incredible,”
“every year i place myself there, forced to stay there against my will and i wish to no longer revisit, not even in memory, nor do i want to return, like do every year, because I’ve done it for the past 24 years, this will be the 24th year. I wish to no longer return… I want to be free,”
It is for this reason that Araceli decides, with our help, to return to sarita in person, retracing her steps of that summer.
After asking for a man by the name of “Juan”, we were able to locate the house where she was allegedly held captive.
But even after Araceli confirmed the location and questioned Mr. Juan Lerma, he acknowledged everything she ran by him except remembering who she was.
“well there was a lady that once stayed here stayed here for a while, but i don’t recall who you are,”
There is no criminal history on Mr. Lerma that would tie him to any of the accusations made by the 64-year-old housekeeper. This according to Kennedy County Sheriff’s office.
However they are not surprised to hear about immigrants exposing themselves to such dangers.
“there is just so much ranch land that people come from Raymondville, from Harlingen, and they go through the ranches and they get lost with no water people are dying out here,”
FBI agent Michelle Lee from the San Antonio division says that even though many cases go unreported, it should never be silenced.
She believes there are more than the 300 reported cases in 2012, because victims fear retaliation.
“it is important to understand what happened, perhaps the individuals that were involved in that activity then are still doing it, and then there is significant intelligence value in understanding how the perpetrators of that crime, even 20 years ago, were able to carry out their criminal activities,”
But even after escaping from Sarita and reach San Antonio, Araceli claims to have been re victimized several times as a domestic worker, a profession that is usually mistreated, suffering abuse in other places of work.
“this thing here, doesn’t eat or what? Isn’t it a human being or what? Or what is this thing here? Cleaning for me, housekeeping for a miserable salary.”
It didn’t matter where she went, without documents without support, she was prone to continue the cycle of abuse…
“part of the therapy is being able to face those situations again. Being able to put everything into perspective so they can work through these issues and be able to go on with their lives,”
A cycle of fear, which together with a prolonged impunity, complicate matters in court… But attorney Jaime Diez says, there are visas available that allow a legal solution.
“there will be an option for you, that’s what i’m trying to tell people, there will be an option, the option is not to remain silent about the crime,”
For Araceli, writing to her family was a means to therapy.
Being able to reply back and forth initiated a reconciliation process with herself.
An even though she never sought a psychiatrist, time helped her heal and meeting other housekeepers in similar situations, helped her rebuild her courage.
“that is when we decided to form the group”
“the abuse that araceli endures over the years in the united states wouldn’t be in vain. That’s when ‘domestias unidas’ or ‘united domestic workers, was founded in texas, becoming the face of an organization that represents many others like her.
“you need a lot of courage to convince yourself before taking that decisive step and say: ‘i’m going to denounce them and leave from here.”
An important example these days given that with the rise in illegal crossings there are higher chances for the undocumented to become victims.
“13th amendment abolished slavery here in the united states but it is thriving and increasing in numbers.”
“some times they endure years of abuse because they don’t know where to go and the first thing for those people is to find one of those organizations that help women, help them get out of that abuse.”
By helping other people she helps herself and at the same time set an example for the people to do the same to conquer their fears and to go out and face their problems.”
“i will no longer be angry, i will not hold resentment anymore… Im going to remember this with happiness, as one more experience in my life,”
Araceli Herrera is no longer at a crossroads. She follows one path, where she continues the fight and the struggle to seek justice and peace.