43-year-old Guadalupe (Lupita) Pérez Castillo is finally a free woman after spending thirty years of her life enslaved. Her therapist has told her this newfound freedom will take time to get used to, and that as the years pass, her anxiousness should subside. Meeting new people is still a challenge for Pérez, and she appears exceptionally nervous in her interactions with others.
“They took away my innocence and the hope of being a self-assured person,” Pérez says of the captors who enslaved her. Pérez is from the poverty-stricken town of Las Aguias in the Mexican state of Veracruz. She started helping her family sell fruit at an early age to earn a modest income. A woman approached her at the age of ten and told Pérez she was looking for a babysitter for her two young children. She offered the woman a glimmer of light in her dim world, saying she would pay Pérez for her services and send her to a good school in the big city. She would also send the impoverished family a monthly sum.
“I was at first elated because I was going to be able to help my family without having to sell fruit. I wanted to study. My dream was to have a career one day,” Pérez said. With no reason to believe her daughter would soon be enslaved, Pérez’s mother agreed to the terms, happy with the chance for her daughter go start a new, hopefully easier life than herself, and the woman orchestrating the deal gave her mother some money on the spot, leaving with Pérez.
But once Pérez arrived at the family’s home, she was quickly made aware of the woman’s true intentions. She was enslaved and forced to do all the housework and care for the children — without the pay she was promised. She was given only scraps to eat and there was not a bed for her so she had to sleep on the floor. “She would say that we indigenous people were used to sleeping on the floor, like animals. She had a sofa, but wouldn’t let me use it because she said I was going to ruin it,” Pérez said.
Pérez managed to escape her circumstances multiple times, but nobody understood her language and she found it too difficult to navigate her new world. So, she was never able to escape for long. Each time she was dragged back home and punished with severe beatings. She was even molested by the lady’s husband as part of her punishment.
“After that they would tell me that, if I escaped again, they were going to kill me, chop me up into little pieces and toss them to the river so that my mother wouldn’t find me,” Pérez said. By the time she was a teenager, she stopped trying to escape, but, despite her compliance, the abuse never stopped.
“They would pull my hair. Sometimes, when I had to take frozen meat out of the freezer, they would hit me with it in the head,” Pérez said. Eventually, completely losing hope, she said she went numb. “I lost the notion of time. I didn’t know what the day of the week it was, or whether it was dusk or dawn. I didn’t even know when my birthday arrived,” she said. It wasn’t until she was almost forty years old and her captor had aged significantly that she had a chance to escape. “That night the lady’s son, the youngest, the one I used to babysit, had an accident. She went to the hospital and that’s when I escaped,” Pérez said.
After Pérez gained her freedom, her captor was convicted on slavery and forced domestic work charges. Pérez is now left still entrapped by her horrible memories, and learning how to live normally. “They really stole 30 years of her life from her,” María Teresa Paredes, Pérez’s attorney, solemnly explains. Pérez may never be able to internally accept that she is free.