My first novel was THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and it was prompted by an unusual experience.
And a bus.
Our house was at the start of the school bus route going home. My children had a 10 minute ride. In the morning; they’d be the last to be picked up for a short ride through Chapultepec Park to the American School. To give you an idea of the student body, one of the other students was the son of a Mexican diputado. His bodyguards rode in an unmarked follow car. We never saw the bodyguards in the afternoon; I presume the chauffeur picked up the child like so many other children who attended that school.
One afternoon, a late model sedan parked near our house. A woman got out of the back seat, wearing a stylish dress, heels and ropes of gold chain. She introduced herself as Marit and said that her children rode the same school bus as my children.
They lived at the end of the bus line, she explained, and while she wanted her son and daughter to have the experience of riding on a school bus, it took too long. In future her children would get off at our house and be driven home by the chauffeur.
Related: Reads Chapters 1 & 2 of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY
We spoke a number of times after that, me in my jeans on the stoop and she in her designer clothes from the window of the car. When she learned I was new to Mexico City she took it upon herself to give me a tour of the best shops and restaurants in our neighborhood. The children and I were invited to a midday meal with her husband and children. The event included lunch at their house–about 15 minutes away–and a stop in the kitchen to view the 5 uniformed staff and present my compliments to the cook in her white jacket.
Soon after, Marit came over for coffee before meeting the bus. Our housekeeper, a wonderful young woman whom we did not require to wear a uniform, met us in the living room. I introduced them as I would any two people, using full names. To my surprise Marit immediately addressed the housekeeper using a common nickname rather than the housekeeper’s actual name. The grilling about work hours came next. It was an effective and not very subtle message: the housekeeper was getting above herself using her full name, not wearing a uniform, and leaving the kitchen instead of waiting to be assigned her work.
Related post: Itzel’s story or how she came to be in my novel
Marit also called me the next day and took me to task for not making the housekeeper work more hours–a day maid should show up to work at 7:00 am at least. By asking the housekeeper to come at 10:00 I was only encouraging her to become lazy. I should note here that my husband generally referred to the housekeeper as the “Mexican Tornado” for her amazing work ethic. Marit’s words told me that there’s a caste system in Mexico that bottles up more people than just the Mexican Tornado. So escape it, people will mule drugs or risk an illegal crossing into the United States. Or both.
There were no more coffee or lunches after that but the final break came when Marit called to ask if, as an American, I could get her maid a visa. The family wanted to go to Disneyworld and take their maid to look after the children in the evenings. The visa process took alot of time, Marit said. If the maid had to stand in line at the US Embassy she’d miss work.
I replied that I had no ability to obtain a visa for her maid and I never heard from Marit again. The car no longer stopped in front of my house to pick up her children.
But I had stored up enough from her tone, mannerisms, and home tour to cast Marit as Selena de Vega and transpose her home and servants into the Vega home. There are some differences to be sure, but the social ladder that Marit showed me became the impossible mountain for fictional maid Luz de Maria must climb.
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