Waiting On Washington

Waiting On Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation's Capital

Terry A. Repak
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Waiting On Washington
    Book Description:

    In an analysis of recent immigration patterns in Washington, D.C., Terry A. Repak documents the unusual predominance of women among Central American immigrants. Two thirds of the arriving immigrants in earlier decades have been women, many of them recruited by international diplomats and U.S. government employees to work as housekeepers and nannies. Repak considers the labor force participation patterns for women compared to men, the effect of immigration laws-particularly the IRCA's uneven impact on women versus men-and the profound adjustments in gender roles and identities that accompany migration.

    Showing an extraordinary amount of autonomy, most of these immigrant women decided to migrate without consulting either fathers or partners, and they gained even greater independence once settled. Repak plots the career trajectories of numerous Central American immigrant women and men to illustrate the array of the women's responses, gender differences in the migration and assimilation experience, the availability of work, and the possibility for upward mobility and higher wages. Providing social, economic and political context, she looks at the conditions that set the stage for this migration, including the rapid expansion of service jobs in the 1960s and 1970s in Washington, D. C. and the political strife in such Central American countries as war-torn El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0385-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables, Maps, and Photographs
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. One Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Washington, D.C., is the seat of government, where laws are crafted to define which citizens of foreign countries are allowed to live and work in the United States. The city is also headquarters for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and other enforcement agencies that were established to keep all other people out of the country. Nevertheless, by 1990 Washington had become a safe haven and home to tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants. The city’s largest and most visible immigrant community, numbering over 200,000 men, women, and children, originated in El Salvador and several other Central American countries. Within...

  6. Two Portrait of a Central American Sending Country
    (pp. 23-48)

    Despite a long tradition of migration within and between the Central American countries, the recent pattern in which menandwomen migrate to more distant countries (such as the United States) is a relatively new phenomenon. The smallest and most densely populated country in the western hemisphere, El Salvador was not a major exporter of emigrants to the United States in earlier decades. In actual numbers it ranked behind Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras in the 1960s, when just 15,000 Salvadorans legally entered the United States. That figure leaped tenfold within a generation as 134,400 Salvadorans officially entered the United...

  7. Three Portrait of a U.S. Receiving City
    (pp. 49-72)

    Only in recent decades, as increasing numbers of Central Americans were leaving their countries because of internal wars, human rights abuses, and economic hardship, has Washington, D.C., become a magnet for international migrants. The nation’s capital held few attractions for immigrants in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—especially in comparison with other large American cities—because it was not a major port for oceangoing ships and because passengers could not debark there easily. Washington was considered a backward country town lacking the size and dynamism of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Little heavy industry existed in the capital...

  8. Four Labor Recruitment in the Nation’s Capital
    (pp. 73-92)

    Lucia Herrera treasured her job as a housekeeper with a family from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) when they were stationed in San Salvador in the late 1950s. Their home provided a refuge for the single mother, since Lucia and her daughter were then still living in her parents’ crowded household. Lucia’s four older brothers constantly lectured her or doled out unsolicited advice on how to raise her daughter, and she was concerned about how Maria would someday cope as a teenage girl in a “macho” household. Lucia resolved to remove her daughter from this oppressive situation because...

  9. Five Working Women and Men in Washington’s Labor Market
    (pp. 93-124)

    Early on in their sojourn in the United States, Central American women are forced to come to grips with the realization that they will confront more obstructions in the labor market than their husbands, brothers, and partners do. The vignette related earlier about Marina Suarez, the social service agency counselor who earns half what her brother does, in spite of having six more years of education and a college degree, hinted at the gaping disparity in working conditions, wage scales, and employment options for women versus men in U.S. labor markets. Marina’s career trajectory and those of other Central American...

  10. Six Manipulating New Immigration Laws
    (pp. 125-158)

    Once new immigrants successfully negotiate the border crossing and gain entry into the United States, the process of settling into a strange city, securing passable documents, and finding jobs ensues. Undocumented Central Americans hardly cower in fear of detention and deportation every time they venture out on the streets in the nation’s capital. It is common knowledge that there are too few INS agents deployed in the Washington area to police the buses, apartment buildings, or employment sites where immigrants spend a majority of their time. Indeed, life in Washington for the undocumented appears to be far less stressful in...

  11. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  12. Seven New Roles in a New Landscape
    (pp. 159-176)

    The entire process of migration incites dramatic transformations in women’s and men’s attitudes about their work, their gender roles, and relationships within the family. Wage work in the United States is simply one change-inducing element in a broader social-cultural context where women find themselves transformed through the processes of migration and settlement. In tandem, migration and labor force participation in the United States effectively erode the political and economic basis of patriarchal authority, since men rarely perform as sole heads of households upon settlement in this country. The balance of power between men and women in family structures shifts as...

  13. Eight Conclusion
    (pp. 177-196)

    Somehow within a single generation, Washington, D.C., managed to attract entire villages, households, and extended families from El Salvador and other Central American countries, to the point that it could claim the second largest Salvadoran community and the third largest settlement of Central Americans in the United States. In many ways this migration constitutes a departure from the labor migrations of other Latin Americans to the United State, and the Central American immigrants who chose to settle in Washington may be embraced as “new immigrants.” ¹ Their settlement patterns were profoundly influenced by the fact that women predominated in the...

  14. Appendix: Methodology
    (pp. 197-202)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 203-224)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-238)
  17. Index
    (pp. 239-243)