My connection to domestic work began when my mom came to the U.S. from Peru on a B-1 Visa. A B-1 visa is a special visa given to domestic workers who are accompanying or following an employer into the U.S.. My mom spent her first year as a live in worker until she was able to bring me here to live with her. Household work has always been a part of our everyday life. Since I was a child I would go to work with my mom on weekends, holidays, or after school.
I loved that my mom was able to take me to so many different houses because she was able to spend so much time with me. Household work with my mom was more about bonding. In those moments, it felt like it was just the two of us. While she vacuumed the second floor, I mopped the first; she ironed pants, suits, blouses, underwear even, I would pair up the socks and fold the t-shirts right next to her. It was during those moments that my mom shared stories about her life before she had me, of her nursing career in Peru, and the stories of past employers and how she got here. Most of the houses were so beautiful and museum-like that I couldn’t believe actual people called those places home. It was just us two, taking hour long trips, walking 20 blocks, taking 2 buses and cleaning together.
On the occasional Saturday or Sunday that my mom had off, we usually spent it cleaning our own apartment. Although I hated doing chores, I woke up to the sound of my mom playing Chayanne or 107.5 on the radio and it became a welcome sound. As I got older my mothers time at work began to keep us apart more than it did together. She would miss holidays with our family because she had to work. There where manys that I had to take care of my siblings while our mother took care of other people’s children. She could never take a proper resting day or a vacation without knowing that it would mean less money for our family and possible conflict with her employer. My mom doesn’t like the harsh cleaning supplies she has to work with, I’ve seen the way her working conditions have impacted her health over the years.
The thing is, the relationship between domestic workers and employers is a complicated one. I’ve seen my mom get so attached to some of the families she’s worked with before, and then get so hurt by them. Watching my mom go through that kind of pain was awful. My mom has had to work so hard to be the kind of worker she is now. She’s always been an incredible housekeeper and nanny, but it’s been a process for my mom to know her worth as a domestic worker.
I don’t think people really know what domestic work entails, or that there are different kinds of domestic workers. I would like people to learn more about this kind of work because it is so invisible to the outside world. I think the exhibition is a good conversation starter and symbolic representation of how many people have to join in solidarity to try to change things.
Becoming an activist and having the opportunity to volunteer for this exhibition has been an incredible way to learn about the structural nature these injustices. Participation in this performance piece is just the beginning of trying to make connections with people that have the power or political platform to push for better work conditions for domestic workers.
I think that there needs to be a physical contract between an employer and their employee. It is fundamentally important that there be a severance pay for the amount of years you’ve worked with an employer, that it be much harder to fire a domestic worker without a two weeks notice. There has to be policy change, so that domestic workers can be included in labor laws. I think that pushing for policies that protect domestic workers facing retaliation from their employers, either through immigration threats or violence, is extremely important to stop labor trafficking.
We need to create working conditions that ensure employers are complying with fair wage and living situations, and that there are serious consequences if they do not treat their employees lawfully. Historically it’s been so easy to take advantage of domestic workers and it’s frustrating that conditions have changed so little throughout time. Majority of people doing this work are women. It’s Black and brown women, immigrant women, undocumented women. It’s poor women doing this work.
Now when I have to do house work at home, I like that I can have fun with it. I can play my music loudly, dance and sing while I clean around the apartment. It’s my “me-time”. When I’m in college in cold Minnesota, household work reminds me of my mom in the best way. All I have to do is turn on my mom’s favorite music and start cleaning to get into that groove that I saw my mom in so many times.