It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way for Margarita Francisco Jimenez. When she left Guatemala at age 18, Jimenez, now 35, wanted a better life. Simply put: She wanted The American Dream.
Instead, what Jimenez got was an American nightmare, a life that could have been the subject of a Lifetime TV movie about a mother in peril, a mother afraid for her life and the lives of her children.
Around 2005 Jimenez met Gonzalo Mateo, also from Guatemala, at work in the fields where she picked peppers. They started dating, grew serious and eventually had five daughters together.
But the relationship with Mateo soured. After their third daughter was born, Jimenez says Mateo became abusive to her and their children.
“He started drinking beer and having fun,” the petite Jimenez says through a translator inside her cramped, 910-square-foot, two-bedroom home on South F Street in Lake Worth. “He would go out to parties and not come back until 6 a.m.”
Mateo, Jimenez says, often grabbed her by the arm. He’d punch her in the face. One time, after Jimenez kicked him out, he came back to the house and threatened to kill her with a knife.
“I was so afraid, and the girls were crying,” Jimenez says
Lupita Pedro, Jimenez’s 16-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, was terrified. “He was banging on the door and saying all kinds of bad stuff to my mom,” she recalls. “I didn’t want my mom to die.”
Eventually, Mateo was arrested and deported to Guatemala. The nine-year ordeal was over. But the ugly scars of those rage-filled nights remain.
Nancy, the youngest daughter at age 2, is just beginning to speak. Juana, 9, repeated the third grade. Yessica, 6, is dyslexic and has a speech impediment. Lupita battles depression and was skipping classes at Lake Worth High School.
“It’s been tough,” Lupita says.
It hasn’t been easy for Jimenez, raising six daughters alone.
She works five, sometimes six days a week in hot fields, still picking peppers at 45 cents per bag. She makes about $300 a week, $350 if she works six days. Jimenez doesn’t have a car and often pays friends $20 to ride to the Delray Beach area and back for work.
She pays $650 a month in rent and $160 a week for a babysitter. She gets $675 a month in Food Stamps, but that’s not nearly enough to feed six mouths.
Money is always tight. Sometimes Jimenez can’t afford to buy clothes for her daughters. The girls share two beds, their clothes hang from a gimpy curtain rod. For entertainment, the girls play on their mother’s cell phone. They often color on the light green walls of their home. They have no coloring books or paper.
A dusty, old-fashioned Philips tube TV sits in the corner, broken for months.
The abuse may be over, but the business of raising a family isn’t.
“It’s not easy,” Jimenez says, eyes cast downward. “I just have to work really hard. But I (will) make it.”
Margarita Francisco Jimenez is a single mother raising six daughters. She broke free of an abusive ex-boyfriend who once threatened to kill her with a knife. She picks peppers to support her girls. Jimenez needs help paying her monthly $650 rent. She would also like a computer her daughters can share. The girls can also use clothes, shoes and another bed, as the six of them share two beds. Coloring books, a TV and sofa would be greatly appreciated.
Photography by Greg Lovett / Staff
Nominated by The Guatemalan-Maya Center