Del Mar, California

The old Latina on the bench at the Del Mar, California, train station was so small, I almost didn’t see her. Her face was tired beyond its sixty-odd years—my age too—and she was motionless except for her eyes, which darted back and forth. Her colorful hand-sewn clothes—so unlike the new blue skirt and blouse I was wearing—looked as if they had been on a long, dusty journey from a Mexican or Guatemalan village. I recognized that she wasn’t a servant, but a stranger, lost among commuters awaiting the Amtrak to Los Angeles.

I had just arrived at the station after a day’s work at an upscale hotel in La Jolla, where I taught English to employees whose papers were known to be false. Before class, I pinned name tags on each of their shirts to identify them in Spanish for their fellow employees, and in English for their employers. Afterward, I rode the train home to Los Angeles, exhausted but alert, my passport in hand, in case I was singled out and detained for having dark hair and speaking Spanish, as had once happened.

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