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Silvina's way of overcoming humiliating experiences is by laughing. The smelly sneakers she wears to work became a big joke between her and Ronaldo, a Nicaraguan man who worked with her in Key Biscayne. "The other day I was cleaning the dining room when Ronaldo said, “Silvina, the smell coming from your feet es impresionante-- impressive.' So I grabbed a can of country-scent Raid and sprayed out the room." Silvina laughs at the thought of using roach spray as an air freshener.
But she doesn't take everything lightly. "When it gets to be too much, I lose it," she says. "I have a very short temper. Me rayo." Recently she told Estela, the rich Key Biscayne Argentine, to basically "fuck off." She got fired but the next day was hired back, with an apology. "She told me: “Voz sos una barbara Silvina, eres unica.' [You're a barbarian, Silvina, you're unique.]" But eventually Silvina quit that job. Currently she's out of work.
In the past, when there was no other way, Silvina lap-danced at Porky's II in Miami. For three months beginning in March, she worked steadily at the nude bar and made about $500 every weekend. One night at my house she proudly showed off her routine.
Silvina leaped up from a rocking chair, admitting she enjoys lap dancing, and sashayed across the living room and into the dining room, where she mounted a chair. "If you saw me you wouldn't recognize me," she said, while slowly grinding an invisible man. "Me transformo -- I transform myself." The vertical blinds of my dining-room window were open. Silvina's friends from above her apartment have an inside view of my home. That night los chicos del siete were also at Andrew and George's place playing video games. They became her audience. I warned Silvina about peeping Toms, but she didn't care. "Three or four girls do the lap dance together in a room," she explained. "There's one man for each girl. Then we rotate. You should see how those old men wet themselves. It really turns me on," she said, lifting up her shirt, her nipples erect. The following day, whispering excitedly, she confided like a teenager: "The guys from upstairs told me they were dying last night."
Though Silvina may escape most problems via comic relief, when it comes to her children, she's stern and often gets physical. Indeed dealing with her adolescent boys has become more of a challenge since her separation from Nelson, she admits. To each other the boys speak English, a language their mother doesn't understand. And of course Silvina receives no moral support from her husband. "The other day one of the boys asked his father for money. Nelson said, “Go tell your mother to turn tricks so she can give you a few bucks.' Do you think after hearing that my boys will respect me? That's why they act they way they do."
Thirteen-year-old Mathew and twelve-year-old Anthony began getting into trouble in the neighborhood. One day in June the brothers were shooting rockets out on the street. Night had fallen when Anthony threw one and it landed inside a Brazilian woman's apartment, setting her curtains on fire. Amid the fire-rescue sirens the woman ran to Silvina's home. Clutching her cordless phone, she began lecturing Silvina on how to raise her children. But in the broken Spanish with a Portuguese twang, the lesson fell on deaf ears. After the incoherent sermon, Silvina called Anthony to her and smacked his face. The boy ran away crying.
Trying to make ends meet and raising three children on her own is just part of Silvina's struggle in a foreign land. Staying healthy is another. Because she has no medical insurance, Silvina hasn't been treating a kidney infection. On a recent night she drove herself to Jackson Memorial Hospital when the pains became unbearable. "It was like I was going through labor," she says, horrified. The doctor gave her a prescription, but Silvina hasn't filled it. Recently she suffered from a strong headache, and her physical therapist referred her to a neurologist who, according to Silvina, said she had suffered a brain convulsion. "He said I could have died," she shrugs.
Silvina was the twelfth child born to a poor family from Mar del Plata, 60 miles from Miramar. When she was two months old, her biological mother abandoned her in a stroller in the middle of a road. "I don't understand why she left me," Silvina recounts. "She already had so many children. What difference would one more make?" According to Silvina, a driver came upon the baby and took her to a hospital in Mar del Plata. There a well-off but childless Italian couple living in Miramar adopted her.
Though her family treated her as if she were their biological daughter, Silvina says she grew up feeling discriminated against by extended family members. When she was eight or nine, she began asking questions. "I first began noticing through photos. I always thought I looked so different. It was a strong feeling I had of not really belonging," says Silvina, a curvaceous woman whose full lips naturally pout when she complains, which is often.