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American Voices: Mopping up

This week, in our “American Voices” series, Marcos Villatoro profiles an immigrant housekeeper whose son fulfilled a boyhood dream to become a soldier:

Aminta cleans my house every other Thursday. It takes her six hours. I work at home, so we always chat about our kids, and I always make sure to ask about her son David, an America soldier. “Under Bush he was in Iraq,” she says. Now with Obama Afghanistan.”

You can hear it in her Guatemalan Spanish: a military mom who’s gone from fear to anger to exhaustion. David’s not an officer, and she knows that’s not good. She squeezes the mop into the laundry room sink. “And why are we there? Why don’t we send our troops to Mexico? God knows the drug runners are killing people right and left on that border. That way, well, at least he’d be closer to home.”

Now, I know a little bit about conflict. I lived in Nicaragua during that country’s war. Soldiers and their AK-47s walking the street. Troops coming into a village after a battle in the mountains, dropping themselves like exhausted carcasses on the dusty plaza ground. Civilians killed weekly by the dozens. Now, I was no soldier; I witnessed the war as a civilian; but it was enough to make me swear that my children would never go to war.

But I’m in a position to say that. I am now part of the Los Angeles multicultural bourgeoisie. Not rich, but certainly not poor. My kids have choices: they can go to college, and not depend upon the military for a job.

Aminta cleans my house before a dinner party, where my friends and I will talk about the war. We’ll also chew over what Washington should do about the homeless and the broken education system and the unemployed.

Aminta’s got a job. She’s got fourteen jobs. After my house, thirteen others in one week. But she still worries about employment: during a recession, the first luxury many families cut is the cleaning lady.

But it’s David who’s her major worry. I see it in her eyes as she drags a cloth over my bookshelves. She leaves my house sparkling. But her mind is eight thousand miles away, walking alongside a son who, like Aminta, is cleaning up someone else’s mess.