By David Villano
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Though a green card for Juanita is probably still a couple years off, the fact that she owns a car and has a driver's license has done more than any document ever could to make this woman into a full-fledged resident of the United States.
"I didn't get out much with the first couple," she said. "They always included me in their social life -- parties and holidays and all that. But for the most part I was encerrada [shut in]. On Sundays sometimes they would drop me off at the Town and Country Mall, and that was my outing, for years. I know every little corner of that mall. And the cinema across the street. I saw lots of movies there."
With her newfound mobility, it sometimes seems that Juanita, who has no household responsibilities once either parent is home from work, is trying to make up for lost time.
"She goes out almost every night," says Lisette, not at all disapprovingly. Then, with a laugh: "Sometimes we have to say, “Juanita, tomorrow is our night out, so don't make plans.' Like clear it with her first."
Juanita has also begun taking weekend English classes at the English Center public school by Douglas Park. There she has made new friends from Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic who serve to broaden her world -- her sense of history, politics, community dynamics.
And fun. Among the photos in the cellophane packs are recent ones of the bachelorette party for her best friend Candelaria, who wed last year. There's a lone man, a muscular, long-haired blonde in tight jeans, shirtless, his ripped torso glistening. In the first photo, he's standing with his arm draped around Juanita, both of them looking into the camera and smiling.
I ask if that's her boyfriend.
"No. Es un stripper," she says without a trace of sheepishness.
The bureaucratic wheels are in motion, and Juanita has, according to her lawyer and her employers, a good chance of obtaining legal residence within the next couple years. Whether it comes in two or three years is somewhat crucial in this case, in that if she gets her card before Luis Carlos turns eighteen, she can bring him here legally.
In any case, even though Juanita came here as a young woman never intending to stay, she now says she does not imagine herself ever living in Colombia again.
"I will go to visit, sure. But I see myself here, staying here. I'll try to bring my boy. Here he has more opportunities. Puede salir adelante [He'll be able to make something of himself]."
Whether that means FIU or Miami-Dade Community College or flipping burgers at McDonald's, only time will tell.
Overall things have not worked out badly for Juanita. But if she could go back ten years, to the time when she was asked by the couple from Barranquilla to come with them to the States, would she make the same choice?
During our talks Juanita has never cried. She doesn't cry now either, but her dark eyes glisten noticeably.
"I would tell them: “Si, but with the boy.'"