I was coming out of an interview this afternoon and headed to lunch when I came upon a vendor named Maria, from the town of Mitla, Oaxaca, selling Valentine’s flowers and gifts at Santa Monica and Western.
We had a long chat, after I bought some flowers. As festive as Maria and the women selling with her looked, Valentine’s Day to them was less about love than desperation.
After 25 years in the United States, working as a maid, Maria told me she’s been without domestic work for months. Her construction-worker husband is down to only a couple days work in the best of weeks.
So a few days ago, she and a battalion of women went downtown to the Toy District for Hello Kitty dolls. She spent the next few days assembling Hello Kitty Valentine’s packages, and was now selling them from between $10 to $20 each. Then, she went to the Flower District downtown, bought flowers in bulk, and put them together in bouquets for $20 apiece.
“I really haven’t done this before, and it doesn’t make a lot of money, but what else do I have,” she told me, standing at the busy and sun-splashed corner Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by women, unemployed maids, just like her and selling the same kind of stuff.
Reports are that the economy is returning. Remittances to Mexico from immigrants in the United States are up. Maria and her friends at Santa Monica and Western don’t see it.
A friend, who gave her name only as Magdalena, pointed to a 99-cents store on Santa Monica that closed and was replaced recently by a swap meet, which she helped open. Still, “there’s just no business,” said Magdalena, an unemployed maid and a migrant from the tourist resort of Acapulco.
Maria figured to be out selling until 6 pm, hoping to get rid of the flowers and Hello Kitty dolls she bought. She’s worried, though, because Friday her landlord filed eviction papers from the house she and her husband have rented for 18 years and raised her four children when they couldn’t pay the rent on time. they’d been late before, apparently, and it appears this time her mother fell and required stitches, so the rent had to wait.
“We’re thinking of going back home,” she told me as I was leaving.