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Doméstica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence

Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 2
Pages: 318
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In this enlightening and timely work, Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo highlights the voices, experiences, and views of Mexican and Central American women who care for other people's children and homes, as well as the outlooks of the women who employ them in Los Angeles. The new preface looks at the current issues facing immigrant domestic workers in a global context.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93386-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the 2007 Edition
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Preface to the First Edition
    (pp. xvii-xxx)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxxi-xxxiv)

    • 1 New World Domestic Order
      (pp. 3-28)

      Contemplating a day in Los Angeles without the labor of Latino immigrants taxes the imagination, for an array of consumer products and services would disappear (poof!) or become prohibitively expensive. Think about it. When you arrive at many a Southern California hotel or restaurant, you are likely to be first greeted by a Latino car valet. The janitors, cooks, busboys, painters, carpet cleaners, and landscape workers who keep the office buildings, restaurants, and malls running are also likely to be Mexican or Central American immigrants, as are many of those who work behind the scenes in dry cleaners, convalescent homes,...

    • 2 Maid in L.A.
      (pp. 29-60)

      The title of this chapter was inspired by Mary Romero’s 1992 book, Maid in the U.S.A., but I am also taking the pun to heart: most Latina immigrant women who do paid domestic work in Los Angeles had no prior experience working as domestics in their countries of origin. Of the 153 Latina domestic workers that I surveyed at bus stops, in ESL classes, and in parks, fewer than 10 percent reported having worked in other people’s homes, or taking in laundry for pay, in their countries of origin. This finding is perhaps not surprising, as we know from immigration...


    • 3 It’s Not What You Know . . .
      (pp. 63-91)

      There is a parallel universe of women doing paid domestic work; it remains invisible, out of the sight and consciousness of employers, until the moment when it is tapped. Then, the network linkages act like dye to make visible the points of connection that socially and spatially link women of different groups and different needs.

      Most prospective employers looking for paid domestic workers in Los Angeles bypass employment agencies, newspaper ads, or other formal job announcements, which they find expensive, slow, and unreliable. Instead, the majority rely on their co-workers, neighbors, friends, and relatives when they seek domestic help. Latina...

    • 4 Formalizing the Informal: Domestic Employment Agencies
      (pp. 92-113)

      Enter the unassuming storefront, and you find a bowling alley-shaped room, with a row of empty chairs and job applications flanking one wall. Opposite there are office desks, but where one would normally expect female receptionists sit two white men. Their desks are cluttered with papers, which on closer inspection turn out to be job applications with Polaroid snapshots of the applicants attached. The phones ring constantly. “Yes, Mrs. O’Melveny, she’ll be arriving tomorrow at your home as scheduled,” or “No, that job is filled and Demi Moore hasn’t called back.”

      Next door is another domestic employment agency. Here, a...

    • 5 Blowups and Other Unhappy Endings
      (pp. 114-134)

      Domestic employees who are in frequent daily contact with their employers often have at least one story of a blowup—a screaming match that terminates employment. It usually begins with conflict over a minor issue, which quickly flares into an explosive verbal confrontation. The blowup reveals what often lies just below the surface of seemingly civil, if occasionally tense, employer-employee relations. The eruption magnifies, like a photographic enlargement, the otherwise invisible fissures in these arrangements.

      In this chapter, I examine the various ways in which domestic jobs end—not just blowups but also less dramatic job terminations—from both the...


    • 6 Tell Me What to Do, But Don’t Tell Me How
      (pp. 137-170)

      When Elvira Areola, still feeling wounded by the quarrel that had ended her long-standing job, described her ideal employer, she emphasized that a good employer uses plain directives, together with positive feedback. “If she’s happy with her employee, she speaks clearly to her so that everything will go well, she communicates more, says, ‘I don’t like this, but I do like this,’ or ‘I want you to do this, but I don’t want you to do that.” Directives and clear communication, in her view, were essential. “That way,” Elvira continued, “you don’t waste time killing yourself doing something they don’t...

    • 7 Go Away . . . But Stay Close Enough
      (pp. 171-209)

      What should be the relationship between employers and employees? So much popular discussion today focuses on workplace relations—the pleasures and dangers of office romances, the challenges to bureaucratic hierarchies posed by Silicon Valley computer firms, and the flux and brevity that now characterize interactions, caused by a growing reliance on temporary workers, subcontractors, and consultants. Clearly, social relationships in today’s workplace look very different from those in the mid-twentieth century. But what of employer-employee relations in paid domestic work? Tellingly, popular discussions of work and workplace relations rarely touch on this area.

      Scholarly research on U.S. paid domestic work...

    • 8 Cleaning Up a Dirty Business
      (pp. 210-244)

      During the period that I was researching this book, I attended funerals for three children of Latina domestic workers. Two perished in an apartment blaze with their mother, victims of suspected arson, and another fell to her death from the balcony of a public housing project while her mother was at work. To my mind, the deaths of these three young children were neither accidents of fate nor the result of parental abuse, but rather tragedies of poverty. If their mothers, who worked as domestics, had earned higher wages, they could have afforded safer housing, and these children might still...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 245-268)
  10. References
    (pp. 269-278)
  11. Index
    (pp. 279-284)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-289)