What is your connection to the domestic work?
My mother is a domestic worker. I used to help her cleaning houses when I was in Middle School. In High School I worked as a housekeeper and in college I used to tutor English to the housekeeping department in a hotel to help women become eligible for promotions. I have mixed feelings about domestic work. At some point I was ashamed that my mom was a domestic worker. It’s work. When you are a kid, nobody tells you that you should be ashamed of your parents’ job. You just gather some symbols and make a conclusion.
Most of my mom’s friends are housekeepers and cleaners. There is a very tight immigrant community, they stay connected and support each other. These women give me a lot of inspiration. They are resilient. They have gone through a lot and still have a very strong and positive perspective on life. A shitty day doesn’t bring them down.
How was it to work as a domestic worker?
I thought it was very weird. We would come to a house, our job was to clean, organized and to not make our presence known. You are trying to be quiet and considering. Nobody ever tells you to be invisible, but you just don’t want to be noticed when you are there. Social structure plays a big role. People see a household worker as a lesser person and their work as less valuable than other work. Nothing is communicated explicitly but it is always present.
What could be done to make things better for the domestic workers?
I think it requires investing a basic human relationship. Before anything, we have to make people comfortable in our homes, whether they are there for a dinner party or to clean. A domestic worker is someone, who you are bringing into a very intimate space, someone who will get to know you very well, how organized or how messy you are. Employers have to understand that there is a huge power difference because they always start off the relationship from the space of privilege. Domestic work is “informal,” it’s hard to quantify how much is produced. The employer is the one, who decides if the job is done well or not. A couple of times my mother was denied the payment after working all day. There are no administrative or legal entities to take such disputes to.
At the same time, the workers should learn to negotiate and let people know what they might need to work in the space. There was an employer, who would shut off the AC when my mom was there to clean the house in the summer. Some people would leave the AC or a TV on for their dogs, but they will not think of doing it for their cleaners. Basic human working conditions should be provided, and the workers should insist on having them.