Maid in America

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I was shocked to see that in L.A. alone there are nearly 100,000 domestic workers. I think it is great that this documentary brings light to this subject because it is a hidden issue for various reasons. For one, many of the domestic workers in the U.S. are undocumented workers so it is difficult for a domestic worker to turn to the government for protection.

One question that came to mind during the beginning of the film--why did any of these workers move to the U.S in the first place? They receive no benefits, low wages, and at times mistreatment from employers. It then became all too clear that moving to the United States for work is, in a sense, a lesser of two evils. One can work in the U.S. as a domestic worker and make money to live, but work like a dog and become estranged from their children. OR they can be with their children back home and live in squalor with no money. For example, Judith, a woman who had been separated from her family as she worked in the U.S., hadn't seen her children in 3 years. As the cameras followed Judith back home for the first time in years I understood why someone would want to leave those conditions. Judith explains that for her family to live back in their country she must send them money for food and rent every 15 days.

Another one of the women in the film worked for an older lady and a few things the employer said raised some questions for me. The employer, old lady, says she is friends with her domestic worker and that they mutually care for one another. Of course it's natural for a human being to form connections with someone after repeated contact, but at what point can you expect these aspects be expected in a work relationship. I can only assume that the initial job description did not include "friendship." To me, this is an example of what we were talking about on Monday--emotional labor.

Additionally, this same employer went on to say, "everyone needs help, it's essential." The first thing I thought was who helps the domestic worker? It seems that all of these domestic workers are doing physically/emotionally/mentally draining work, yet they are receiving low wages and no benefits.

3 Comments

Alexandra,
I too, found the number of Latin domestic workers in L.A. to be an astronomical number. I found this film to be enlightening as well, it really opens our minds to other issues that are happening everyday, everywhere. Being a domestic worker pretty much puts you in a very hard position. If you are undocumented, like these women, it is seen as one of the only ways to make some money, even if it is no where near enough. Like you say, coming to America to work as a domestic worker is picking a lesser of two evils. Do they chose to leave their families behind and live a life of labor and isolation, or do they chose to live with their families in poor conditions? It is a decision that can almost not even be fathomed, both require significant sacrifices that are not easy to deal with.

One thing I found very important was that the women formed a coalition to support one another and to keep in contact with other domestic workers who are in similar situations. This type of support is crucial, emotional support really means a lot when going through a difficult time, such as being separated from friends and family. I really found the play they put on enjoyable, it is a way to help them deal with times when they were mistreated and abused as domestic workers, and to teach them skills on how to handle themselves in those situations.

I find that when people unite, form groups, and help each other, much more can be achieved. many voices together are louder than one.

There are some really good thoughts/analyses in this engagement that I am going to attempt to appreciate, critique, and work through. The film obviously does some really important work in terms of highlighting and spreading awareness about a historically (for as long as they've been around) marginalized: undocumented domestic workers. Without documentaries like these, that raise consciousness of others in different situations, it is all too easy to become stagnant and inactive in our comfy little lives and luxury problems.

This engagement draws attention to and seeks to question how/why these women came to the US in the first place. You propose that there is a choice/decision that takes place between two evil option and these women have chosen what seems to be the lesser of two evils: risking their lives crossing the Mexican/US border and leaving their families behind for an indeterminable amount of time to seek higher wages. I cannot help to apply our earlier discussions on the language of 'choice' and the privilege that is inherent in that phrasing. I think some of the same problems apply to our use of the word 'choice'/'choose' in this circumstance as in the reproductive justice movement. Specifically, it can work to discount/erase the myriad factors that force bodies into certain paths (e.g. globalization, capitalism, border control politics).

I really appreciate your explication of the relationship between Old Lady and Eva. There are obviously some pretty complex power dynamics going on there as Eva depends on her employer for her livelihood while Old Lade depends on her housecleaner to do the things she cannot (presumably, because of age/lack of mobility). I think your analysis that Eva is being engaged in emotional labor is spot-on. This is even more clear in Thelma's case, as she struggles with her charge's self-reliance and 'growing out' of depending on her. Briefly, I think it might also be worth considering the language component of the relationship between Old Lady and Eva. Eva is the only one of the documentary's main participants that spoke fluent English. This surely played a role in her access to a non-domestic-work job and to more domestic work jobs than her non-English-speaking counterparts (she mentions explicitly that her English makes her more trustworthy in the eyes of the employer). Which brings up trust/loyalty (also clearly affects Thelma's job and her relationship with her employers), which is a whole other things.

I'll stop now before I ramble on for too long.

I think these women who are followed throughout the film illustrate the amount of differences and the range of problems that go along with domestic work. As already pointed out many times individuals come to the US to find work to help support their family abroad. I believe language is very important when speaking about these issues. Sure they left and to some extent "chose" to leave, but it isn't as simple as economic issues. I agree with Nosecage in the fact that by using this terminology there is so much that is covered up. There are so many intersections and factors that go into someone's "choice" to come to the USA it makes me wonder whether in fact it is a choice or if it was the only viable path for survival. In addition, when they come here do they really "choose" domestic work or is it more or less chosen for them? I think this film does a great job uncovering some of the numerous stereotypes and expectations of domestic workers in addition to showing why these things need to change. I think Alexandra's question "who helps the domestic worker?" is very important. There seems to be hardly no outside help for these individuals and it seems to me this is due to the fact it would take up a lot of time and energy from others who are not directly affected- after all the reason we have domestic workers is because people "have better things to do with their time" than their own personal home responsibilities, child-rearing etc. What are ways in which we can support this group, especially if many of them are undocumented (meaning governmental social programs probably are not realistic)?

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