Maria Rios: Living the Ghost Life

Sep. 28, 2011 / By

Graphic by John Oliver Santiago.

There comes a moment in life when even the simplest tasks seem difficult on the body.  Everything feels hard and demanding but that’s not the case for fifty-six year-old Maria Rios.  Once she turned fifty, her employer began talks about letting her go despite the fact that she was healthy and still capable of working.  She asked to stay longer but her boss refused, stating that she was too old.

Having raised her daughter alone for over twenty-one years, Maria knows all about hard work.  She migrated to the United States twenty-three years ago and, like many others, she came here to achieve the American Dream — as an undocumented immigrant.  She first arrived in Torrance and has since then lived in the north and west side of Long Beach.  In Torrance she speaks of, “Too much violence and a lot of gang activity.”  When talking about her time in North Long Beach she says, “It was worst over there. That’s why we moved to Central Long Beach.”

Maria does have many good memories of Long Beach though.  For example, she has never faced problems with the law or had any violent encounters.  “Long Beach would be better if there were more police supervising the streets but other than that, Long Beach is beautiful.”  She continued, “There are a lot of nice landmarks in this city.”  Maria and her daughter love walking along the beach.  Maria enjoys bonding with her children while shopping and visiting places such as the Queen Mary.

To an otherwise simple and happy life, Maria says there is an issue with the lack of jobs available.  This becomes very clear once reaching old age.  “The only way people who are older get hired around here is if they get hired outside of a company and they get paid under the table.”  She goes on, “I was lucky enough to find a job after I got laid off from my job of ten years.  I’ve been working as a housekeeper ever since then and it’s been good since.”

Getting hired under the table is obviously not legal. But people like Maria are sometimes forced to work that way.  They have to risk getting in trouble with the law just to put food on their tables.  Not only is Maria risking her life but she does so in the unpleasant situations undocumented workers all know too well.  They know they have few to no rights.  Usually the people who employ immigrant workers know or believe the worker is illiterate or isn’t aware of their rights.  These people often take advantage of their workers; they have them work for numerous hours and get paid less than minimum or minimum wage.  They also don’t have medical insurance.  They can get fired without getting paid.

Maria refuses to go through the process of legalization though.  It would involve her paying a fine and exiting the country for a couple of months until the process goes through.  “My daughter cannot survive living on her own with the minimum wage job she has.  How am I suppose to leave her alone?”  This process of legalization would not only make Maria and people like her pay an expensive fee but it separates them from their families as well.  Nothing is guaranteed.  What happens if they deny her citizenship?  “I’d rather just stay and live like a ghost just as many others do. I’m going to do everything possible to not get in trouble with the law,” Maria says.  She would much rather hide and work just to help her daughter in her journey and struggle for a healthier and happier life.

Despite all of Maria’s struggles, she lives a healthy life and everyone around her feels lucky to know someone like her.  Not everything bad that happens to her puts her down.  She is a very strong woman and will continue to help her daughter with her studies.  Maria hopes that her daughter finishes school soon.  “Once my daughter gets her degree, I will no long have to work as hard.  After that it will be a smooth ride and we will be able to enjoy life in this beautiful city.”

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