The grass in the front yard is yellow and dry. Two cars bake in the driveway, two cars are parked on parched grass, and two more cars sizzle on the sidewalk in front of the house. Two dogs, heard but not seen, bark from the street if anyone walks near.
Inside, 54-year old Margarita Felipe Aquino is cooking in the kitchen, as always. She is better known as “tía,” or aunt, to the occupants of the house. With no family of her own, she has lived her life raising and feeding the family of her younger sister.
Tía flips the tortillas on the skillet, her bare skin millimeters away from its burning surface. Her fingers no longer feel the heat, having lost count of the number of meals she’s prepared.
Every proper meal includes tortillas and salsa, she says in Spanish.
Her story is not unlike other immigrants in Santa Ana: she crossed the border for a better life.
She is one of thirteen children from a ranchero family. She attends Spanish-Catholic church twice a week, refuses to speak English, and is a virgin. She lives her life in constant fear of deportation.
Although she is proud of raising her sister’s two sons, she misses her parents and her homeland: Oaxaca, Mexico.
It’s time to make the salsa. Her child-sized Sketchers scuff against the swept tile floor as she walks to the backyard.
Cool air breezes by as she steps onto the shaded concrete. She trots past the leafy avocado tree, tall stalks of young corn, and low bushes of tomatoes and chile. The earth barely gives as she steps over the squash and onions close to the ground.
With a small knife, she cuts off prickly leaves of cactus. This nopal is her secret ingredient. It tastes like home.