In 1999, a woman from El Salvador came to my parish to ask for help.
She had two really cute children with her, and one of the most obnoxious attitudes that I had ever come across. But she did manage to get help, first in one shelter, and then in another, and then yet in another. No one could put up with her bossiness for very long, but then again, no one could look really her in the face and tell her to straighten up.
The woman had no nose.
In 1997, the Salvadoran military, during one of their sweeps through the country side, had singled the woman and her husband out as troublemakers. They shot him in front of her, and then they cut off her nose.
Theologian Daisy Machado, who wrote about this woman, says that she was made “a living, human billboard to remind dissenters of the fate that awaited anyone who opposed the government” (“The UnNamed Woman: Justice, Feminists, and the Undocumented Woman”).
As the years passed, she had her face restored, she received political asylum, and she married Bubba, a guy from San Benito, Texas.
Two weeks ago, she celebrated her daughter’s fifteenth birthday with a party at the family’s little ranch, a place in the middle of a two hundred old mesquite forest. The family has chickens and pigs and even some cattle. The woman’s restored face gleams with pride at her daughter, and at her home.
Rogelio Nunez, the director of Proyecto Libertad, in Harlingen, an agency that advocates for women immigrants, and a hero to this woman, told me this last week while we drank root beer floats and squinted against the afternoon sun.
“I went to school with Bubba,” Rogelio said. “When I saw him, I told him that he had better treat that woman well. Bubba told me, “Rogelio, I love that woman. She’s saved my life.”