I live in a small apartment building in a city in the South near the border with Mexico. We have several immigrants from different countries living in the building. Some of us keep to ourselves and some have made friendships with the other residents. There is not a lot of fighting and violence here. But if there is, at least someone will hear—the next-door neighbour or the people directly upstairs or downstairs.
I was hanging out with some of my neighbours. We don’t know each other too well but we like to get together once in a while. Sometimes our conversations turn to gossip about other people in the building. One time, one of them talked about the neighbours who live right next door to them, a couple that has been fighting. The couple has a 5-year old daughter. The husband has lived in the building for a few years—a seemingly nice guy who tends to keep to himself. He married a woman who moved in about 6 years ago. His wife mostly speaks Spanish. She’s friendly but communication is usually pretty limited if you don’t speak Spanish which most of us don’t. I’ll call them “Marcos” and “Maria” (not their real names). My neighbour continued with the story saying that he has heard them fighting and that the husband was yelling at his wife, Maria, “Go ahead and call the police. You don’t even speak f**ing English.”
I had never heard any yelling, myself. But when I heard the story, I wondered why Marcos mentioned the police. Immediately, I thought he may have hit Maria and perhaps she threatened to call the police, but I wasn’t sure. When I heard about his comment about her English, I was more worried. Why is he insulting her about her English? Is he telling her she can’t seek help even if she wanted to? Why is he telling her that the police won’t do anything? Why is he yelling like that about the mother of his daughter who probably heard everything he said? These are all abusive and pointed to signs of more serious abuse. I also know that this type of violence doesn’t usually stop one time. It was likely to continue and could get worse. I figured this story wouldn’t stop here.
We wondered what was going on but didn’t make any plans for action.
Later, I was talking to people who lived upstairs from them. Tom and Grace (not their real names) could really hear the yelling, which was mostly coming from Marcos. Maria’s voice was much quieter or she seemed to be crying. They thought they heard things being thrown around and were getting worried. They could hear the daughter crying during these times. I told them about what I heard from the other neighbours. Since they seemed really concerned, too, we tried to make sense from the things we knew and we had heard.
This story is explored in the What is going on guide and example