A dancer speaks

I had worked in Las Palmas club for some years and then in Club 907 two weeks before it got raided. We all lost our jobs when the club got busted and it was closed down, it was devastating and destroyed our way to make a living and women lost money. Now some of the women are working in bars and it’s much worse than the club and in sweatshops, if we can even find jobs.  Out of the 100 women arrested in the raid, about 75 were moms and women who didn’t have kids were supporting parents in El Salvador, Mexico and elsewhere, they were sending money to their families. All of us were immigrant women, of all ages, some had worked there for years.

A neighbor had told me about the club as I needed work and have four kids in total to support and don’t have legal status and a social security number. I didn’t go to college and I don’t have computer skills. It was a job a woman could walk into and get hired on the spot, you didn’t need diplomas, just a dress and high heels, even McDonalds wants high school diplomas. I walked in there determined to make money.

I made enough money to get by, as a single mother of 4 kids, it is really hard to survive.  My oldest girl who is 17 wants to go to college, she brings home packages from colleges and asks if there is any way we can get funds to pay for her school. It is painful as I know I am never going to be able to provide that kind of support. I didn’t want her to know what I did. If she saw my high heels and tiny dresses and knew mom is supporting us doing that, then why shouldn’t she do it too. So I would put on a security guard uniform I had from a job before, over my clothes, when I walked out to work.

Working in the club was like a video game or more like a little war zone. It was a big dance hall, with coffee tables, no alcohol and the men paid to dance and talk with attractive young women, no private rooms, we didn’t take off our clothes. It was not filled with respectful men, mostly they were pissed off to have to pay to talk and dance with us. One told me, he was tired of women taking advantage of men.

The men would pay for minutes, the more minutes you got, the higher the check.  The manager would walk up to a woman sitting down and tell her to dance and stop wasting time. The men were given tickets, like raffle tickets, it cost $30 for a half an hour, we had to keep track of the minutes which was hard, you either had keep the raffle tickets or memorize the minutes on a little piece of paper as we had to tell the cashier how many minutes.

We needed the minutes and the customers knew it and would take advantage of us, they could be hostile and some were really perverted, they would pull their pants down, they would grab us and pull up our dresses, we would tell the manager and they wouldn’t care, would shine us off, we had to hear all the nasty stuff and take it. Sometimes we were attacked in the parking lot by men and called whores and prostitutes.

We would go in to work at 6pm till 2am, including weekends and holidays. I would be up at 6am to make breakfast for my kids. Once I missed work on Halloween night as I wanted to be with my kids and I got punished. They lowered my pay and $140 was taken from my check. Another woman had to leave in the middle of work for an emergency with a sick child and she was told she couldn’t work for two weeks. When they lowered my pay, I asked for a payroll sheet, which I never got, there were none, management didn’t like me as I knew how to speak English. Everyone was getting screwed out of money, the management and cashiers all dipped into our money. Some of the customers did give us tips which we could keep.

The managers were male chauvinist pigs, they had no respect for women and looked at us like objects, like a rag you clean a table with. One of the women told me she was told to go into the office of a manager and he made her give him oral sex when she wasn’t dancing, she cried about it. Even the security guards would be trying to get a piece of you.

My whole family found out where I was working when I got arrested with all the other women. My mother, my grandmother, my children, nieces all saw me in handcuffs and we were not shown in the news to be the hard working moms that we were, we were called prostitutes. I was in jail for Thanksgiving and I’m the oldest in my family and the one who always cooks the turkey, it was very painful being in jail, it was terrible, I was in for 28 days. We went to jail for working to support our kids.  When the police took us to court and 2 cops pulled us out of the holding tank, they started to make disgusting comments and it was like being in the nightclub again, like which was of us was the hottest, calling us strippers, joking that we hadn’t seen a man for a long time. I wish I had seen his badge number. I had a horrible lawyer who said I was going to be released, but I was put back on the bus to the freezing cold jail.

Even when we did a press conference after we were out of jail and all the media were there, none of the news spoke about what we said, how we are hard working women, how we are trying to make ends meet and survive in this world, supporting families. The press automatically think we are strippers and if we went to jail, we had to be doing something wrong and reported we only wanted to make money out of the lawsuit we are doing.

The case is still pending, we were all sent to the ICE and got fingerprinted, some of us got temporary work permits, only those who agreed to be witnesses. The permits all have different dates and mine expires next year. I’ve been here in the US since I was 4 years old and we don’t know if we will get deported. It is all up in the air.  We gave to report to INS every month. I’ve been looking for another job but it is very hard to find work at all.

 

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