Desiree Torres fled Puerto Rico six months ago. Now she and her family are fighting to make a new home in Central Florida 

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click to enlarge Martha Beltrán - PHOTO BY JEN CRAY
  • Photo by Jen Cray
  • Martha Beltrán

MARCH

More than a hundred days of darkness had adjusted Beltrán's eyes. She could feel her way through her pitch-black house in Las Piedras and now, through the shade of Torres' motel suite.

"The lights still go out all the time," she says. "When they do, I just laugh and laugh and laugh. I have already gotten used to it. Now I just go to sleep when it happens."

Beltrán had come over in February to babysit Ramsses while Torres worked at the Wyndham Cypress Palms.

The work was tough there. In a 1,196-square-foot two-bedroom villa, Desiree had to clean every dish, spoon and fork until they shone; wash the sheets of four beds, including the sofa bed; clean two toilets, a bathtub and a Jacuzzi; dust the living room; and make sure the entire place was spotless – for $26.

It took hours to clean a villa, which meant Desiree could make about $52 in a day, or an hourly rate of $6.50. After work, her whole body ached. One day, her supervisors asked her to stay late to clean an extra villa, and she missed her bus. The next time they asked her to stay extra time, Torres thanked them for the opportunity and quit.

Torres was discouraged. She didn't have a job anymore. And her mother wanted to go back to Puerto Rico as soon as possible. Torres didn't like to talk about the life she had left behind, but for Beltrán, it was a constant topic.

"I'm here, but my mind is over there," Beltrán says. "I left my house alone, without a door, and all my things there, broken, but they're mine. I'm alive. I've got my family. I will rise again. To me, Puerto Rico is a country of liberty."

Still, Torres remained a positive light among her friends.

"My motivation is my kids," she says. "Not everything in this life that's good comes easy. You have to struggle and sacrifice to achieve results. It doesn't happen overnight."

In a short time, Torres got another job – this time as a maintenance worker for the construction company building the Star Wars park at Disney. Pay started at $9.50 per hour.

One weekend, the family went to a car dealership. For months, Torres had been riding the bus to the supermarket, riding the bus to CareerSource, riding the bus to work. The white hatchback she was eyeing would make her day-to-day life easier. But it was a big payment for just herself. It would also tie Torres and her kids permanently to the mainland. There would be no returning to Puerto Rico for some time.

"Over there, there's no future for these kids," Beltrán told Torres. "Fight and stay."

Her mother's words continued to echo as she signed the papers on a new lease for opportunity.

"Lucha y quédate." mcordeiro@orlandoweekly.com

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