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Latin America

“I thought it was normal for her to beat me like any mother”

A young Mexican woman describes her two-year ordeal of being enslaved and tortured

Luis Pablo Beauregard
Zunduri, 22, recalls in an interview how she was enslaved and tortured.
Zunduri, 22, recalls in an interview how she was enslaved and tortured.Saúl Ruiz

Some call her Ana, others, Alejandra. When a reporter asks what she would like to be called, the 22-year-old woman remembers the name of a friend who was of Japanese descent.

“Zunduri,” she says. “It means beautiful girl.”

All of Mexico has been captivated by the story of this young woman, who for two years was kept chained up and enslaved by a family who gave her a job at a dry cleaning business. She eventually managed to escape.

They looked so kind, so innocent. They seemed incapable of doing these things”

“They looked so kind, so innocent. They seemed incapable of doing these things,” Zunduri tells EL PAÍS.

A native from the Mexico City suburb of Tlalpan, Zunduri wants to continue with her life using her new name and try to make up for the years she has lost. Her childhood wasn’t an easy one.

“I never got along with my mother so I decided to leave home, like a rebellious girl,” she explains, as she similes timidly looking down at the floor.

Already a high school dropout at 17, she went to live with her boyfriend but the relationship didn’t work out and she found herself living on the streets with no job.

I never got a long with my mother so I decided to leave home like a rebellious girl”

Tired of her situation, she decided to ask the Hernández Molina family for a job. They owned a small dry cleaning business in the south part of Mexico City.

When she was 15, she worked three months for them and they paid her 300 pesos ($19.50) for a nine-hour work shift from Monday to Saturday.

“I use to call her mother because they were like family,” Zunduri says of Leticia Molina, who welcomed her with open arms.

But the paychecks never came. The family began charging her for her own uniforms, which sometimes ended up with burns on them following her exhausting 14-hour work shifts. They also accused her of stealing money.

More information
Mexico’s top human rights official calls for forced-disappearance laws
UN special rapporteur says practice of torture is “generalized” in Mexico
Mexico struggles to eradicate torture

“The debts kept growing, so did the problems and the exhaustion. All of my life was hers. It was like I was surrounded by a very high wall with no escape,” she says.

Then the violence and torture came, but Zunduri cannot recall when those seemingly never-ending barbarities actually began. At first, the punishments didn’t seem out of the ordinary.

“I thought it was normal. The first time Leticia hit me I didn’t think anything of it; it was like a mother hitting her daughter,” she says.

But the wounds began to show across her body. Wire hangers left gashes on her arms and legs. The scabs and wounds are still visible on her neck and back from a hot iron Leticia would use on her. Zunduri was also beaten with wrenches, rope, chains or whatever object was to hand.

“She would tell me that I wasn’t worth anything, that I was a monster nobody wanted.”

But the paychecks never came and the family charged her for her own uniforms when she burned them

The severe torture has done so much damage to her organs that doctors say they look like those of an 81-year-old woman.

To kill her hunger, Zunduri would sometimes eat plastic clothing bags that surrounded her four-meter square room in the back of the laundry. She would drink the water left in the iron when she was thirsty.

In November, Zunduri tried to escape but Leticia found her and decided to chain her up, so she could only move about in her workstation. Sometimes the chain was placed around her neck, but most times around her waist.

The scabs and wounds are still visible on her neck and back from a hot iron Leticia would use on her

Zunduri believed at the time that she would never go free.

On April 16, Zunduri asked to go to the bathroom, so Leticia took off the chain. When she returned, the woman put it back on but failed to lock it.

“That’s when I started planning my escape, and I thought this time I will make it,” Zunduri says.

With 100 pesos she found tucked in a customer’s shirt, she jumped out of the bathroom window and asked a taxi driver to drive her far away from the shop.

After filing charges, police arrested Leticia and four other family members. They stand accused of kidnapping, torture and other crimes that could put them away in prison for 40 years if convicted.

Leticia and four others face up to 40 years in prison if convicted on kidnapping and torture charges

Zunduri’s horrific story has made headlines not only in Mexico, but across the globe.

The governor of Mexico state has offered her a home, a study scholarship and a computer.

It was the computer that gave the young woman – with nothing to her name – her biggest thrill.

For the first time since the interview began, Zunduri lifts her head up and explains how she hopes to get on with her life and try to forget all what has happened to her.

“I am going to take a pastry course and then open my own bread and cake shop.”

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