When MD received the telephone call from the office of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service with a request for an interview about Marta, her stomach sank. What could Marta have done to merit such a call? Why was her employment by my family of any concern to the government? What was this all about?
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the National Museum of American History
Several days later, a man from the INS came by our house to interview MD. He explained to my mother that he was a case officer and was gathering information about Marta. He informed MD that Marta was in custody and that the INS was preparing a case to deport her, for reasons that he would explain to MD once he had completed his interview. With that agreed to, they proceeded.
"Mrs. Darling, what kind of employment did you provide Marta when she worked for you?"
"She was a maid and cook, and she took care of my children. She and her daughter lived with us for about a year and a half. I let her go a year ago."
"Why was that?"
"Well, although Marta was a nice person and a good worker, and I liked her, she had issues of truthfulness, and she got herself into hot water a few too many times."
"Hot water? What do you mean by that?"
"She got caught shoplifting at Woodie's once, and she did some things that made me uncomfortable, and which I had asked her not to do."
"She had a 'gentleman-friend' who would visit her, and he would occasionally spend the night in her room, even though I expressly forbade it."
"Who was this 'gentleman-friend'?"
"He was a chauffeur at the Ecuadorean Embassy, and we all called him 'Big Daddy.' I don't know that I ever learned his full name."
"Were there any other things that Marta did that made you uncomfortable when she worked for you, Mrs. Darling, that you can recall?"
"Oh, there were other things, yes. One problem we had with her toward the end, and which was all rather straining, is that she had too many visitors come by in the evenings, mostly her friends among the domestic staffs from the other embassies. I had to put a stop to that, you see, because I felt my own house was being overrun!"
"Did you see these visitors, Mrs. Darling?"
"From time to time, but since Marta lived in a room in our basement and she had her own door to the outside, these people would come and go without us ever laying eyes on them, unless I or one of my children went downstairs to get something."
"What did they do, Mrs. Darling, during these visits?"
"As far as I can remember, officer, I think they mostly sat around talking, all of them, listening to Spanish music on the Hi-Fi. Social stuff, really."
"Do you know how Marta's visitors got to your house, Mrs. Darling? You live in a neighborhood that isn't exactly easy to get to from the embassies downtown, and these people typically don't have cars."
"Well, I suppose that some of them may have taken a bus. But most of them, now that I think of it, would come with Big Daddy, who would give these ladies rides back and forth."
"What was it that led you to let Marta go, Mrs. Darling? Was there a specific incident?"
"The final straw was that Big Daddy moved into our house when Mr. Darling and I went out of town on a trip, and they all moved upstairs, and made themselves right at home. When I found out about it I had to let her go. You see, I just couldn't trust her anymore."
"Was there anything else about her that you didn't trust, Mrs. Darling?"
"No, officer, that's about it. That's all I know."
The man form the INS closed his notebook and looked at her.
"Mrs. Darling, as you know, we have taken Marta into custody, and we are planning on deporting her. We have determined that she is an undesirable person, and we are sending her back home to Guatemala."
"Yes, I understand that, officer, but would you please explain to me why?"
He drew in his breath and paused.
"After Marta left your employment, Mrs. Darling, she set herself up in an apartment downtown, where she went into business performing abortions, mostly on maids and such from the embassies. She worked with this fellow, whom you called 'Big Daddy,' and for a while they had a pretty active business going. That is, until she mangled some of her customers, and the whole thing collapsed. We picked her up just in time. She was packing her suitcases when we arrested her."
MD was shocked beyond belief. She had difficulty comprehending what the man from the INS had just told her. It was all too horrifying.
"But—where is her daughter, Telma?" she asked, her head spinning.
"Nowhere to be found Mrs. Darling. Also, her 'gentleman-friend,' the one you called Big Daddy? He skipped town before we were able to get to him. He's back in Ecuador now. If he knows any better, too, that's where he'll stay. We've informed the Ecuadorean Embassy about all of this."
MD sat there, dumbfounded. As she processed the information her heart began to sink, though, for she realized that there was, more than likely, more to the story, and it was much closer to home.
"Tell me, please, officer, what does this have to do with Marta's time working for me?" she asked.
"Mrs. Darling, we have reason to believe that Marta had already set herself up in business when she was still here in your house. While some of these 'friends' who would come by and visit with her may actually have been just friends, we believe that more than a few of them were actually customers. This Big Daddy fellow acted as a procurer, where he put out the word in the Latin community here in the city, and he would ferry these poor girls back and forth to your house, where Marta would take care of them."
"Do you mean to tell me then, officer, that Marta was performing abortions in the basement of this very house?!"
"I'm afraid so, ma'am."
MD kept this sickening story from me and my siblings for many years. It was not until I was in my early thirties that MD told me of her conversation with the man from the INS, while she and I were sitting in her living room one gray autumn afternoon, reminiscing of days gone by.