Guatemala City, March 25, 2001

I've been looking for "Flaca" since I arrived. The addresses and phone numbers I had for her were no longer good. But I went back several times to one place. I had a feeling that the people there knew her, that their denial was based on mistrust. My persistence paid off. Finally I've found "Flaca."

She lives in one of the land invasions on the side of a steep gully. Every time it rains hard her patio and house fill up with water and she must flee with her three children. Her life is very different from the life she lived as a homegirl in Los Angeles.

On a typical day, when she's not cooking, sweeping or negotiating conflicts between five year old Kimberly and two year old Jamie, she's feeding and changing her 7 month old son.

"I couldn't believe women washed clothes by hand when I first got back here," she laughs. "Now I'm scrubbing cloth diapers, sheets, jeans, for at least several hours each day. Some days I just fall into bed when the kids take a nap. It's my only time to myself, but I'm too exhausted to do anything else."

Her memories haunt her. Flaca ran away from an abusive home when she was 12. She got to Los Angeles and worked cleaning houses and in garment factories. But she fell in love with a gang member at age 16 and joined the gang.

"When I was shot I asked a homeboy to take care of my baby boy till I got out of the hospital. But I was sent to prison from the hospital and then I was deported here to Guatemala. I hear rumors that my baby was given away or sold. I don't even know if my son is alive or dead."

"I think about my baby boy all the time. He would be ten now. If he is loved and happy I wouldn't take him away from the people who are raising him. But I want him to know that his mother didn't abandon him. That I always love him. I want to know that he is safe. Not knowing anything is the worst thing."

Guatemala, March 28>