Indigenous domestic workers and employers in contemporary Mexico: changes, continuities and convergences

Received: June 26, 2018

Acceptance: August 8, 2018

“Yo trabajo en casa”. Trabajo del hogar de planta, género y etnicidad en Monterrey

Severine durin, 2017 Publications of the Casa Chata, CIESAS, México, 414 pp.

The book by Séverine Durin represents a significant contribution to analyze and understand the processes through which the inequality of the place of indigenous domestic workers in contemporary Mexico is naturalized and legitimized. Product of more than ten years of research on the situation of indigenous people in the metropolitan area of Monterrey, the author proposes from an anthropological perspective to see with a critical and relational perspective and make a nodal contribution to the debate on the precariousness and vulnerability of female workers of the “plant” home, from a perspective that intersects the cleavages of gender, class and ethnicity.

Durin's work is positioned in an uncomfortable place for feminist researchers, since what it does is make visible the power problems implicit in the employer-employee relationship. Positioning himself in a place where at the same time he seeks to make a reality visible and dignify a work task, Durin shows that on the one hand domestic service is not as professionalized as many feminists declare, and on the other, but linked to it, he shows that The difficulty in valuing work is due to the fact that both employers and workers underestimate the value of the work that is done there. At the same time, Durin does not fall into attacking the employer as someone who has no intention of improving the conditions of those who work at home, however, he shows how this discretion is permeated, on the one hand, by the inability or little desire to negotiate household responsibilities with other family members, and on the other, due to the absence of public policies from the State that offer adequate infrastructure for these families.

On the other hand, and contrary to a certain bibliography that locates “regular” domestic workers as persons without agency, highly vulnerable and uniform in their composition and modes of action, Durin's book manages to show the heterogeneous nature of the situation of women. women workers and the complex levels of assemblage that they manage to have in said space, starting from reconstructing the native senses from the life experiences of the domestic workers themselves. In this way, it is central to have decided to restore the meanings of their experiences and experiences not only as domestic workers but as daughters, mothers, young people, that is, from their different social positions. At this point, the author also suggests domestic workers beyond the structural subordination in which they are involved, analyzing the different strategies and tactics they use to shape their destiny.

However, having incorporated the perspective of employers is transcendental for the text, since it allows a glimpse of the interdependent, elastic and conflictive nature of daily negotiations, showing how the transformation of the expectations, interests and projects of some (domestic workers ) and others (employers) constitute the sieve from which the link is configured.

The procedure that leads her to be interested in the subject of her book is clearly anthropological. Being a foreigner, she is surprised by the situation that mostly indigenous people work as domestic workers in Monterrey, at the same time that she finds that the issue is clearly invisible on the research agenda. The feminization of indigenous migration and that of an indigenization of "plant" work become central interests of Durin, who wonders why this happens and how this process is articulated or contributes to a naturalization of class inequality. ethnicity and gender. In this sense, Durin's work makes visible a phenomenon that was beginning to be overshadowed in studies on domestic service.

On the other hand, Durin's work goes against the grain of the studies that analyze the type of work that is quantitatively more noticeable in Mexico today, such as “entry by exit”, to focus on a type of work that, although Smaller in numbers, it continues to have the relevance of being the place where rural migrants generally arrive. At the same time, due to the type of work, it is where the residential and work space overlap and where a stricter control of the bodies is generated, which are isolated and are more vulnerable in general, it is interesting to be able to talk about this in the century xxi.

In this way, in chapter 1 the author makes an exhaustive statistical analysis of the presence of indigenous women in the most servile and vulnerable modality that domestic service has, such as “plant work”; thus, the historical subordination of indigenous women becomes visible. This reconstruction allows him to consider that the existing inequalities in these cases constitute colonial inheritances that are re-functionalized in the light of current conditions.

After quantitatively demonstrating the relevance of indigenous women in domestic work at the Monterrey plant, in Chapter 2 the author investigates the preferences, representations and search methods used by employers and that lead to indigenous women being the most suitable for cleaning and care tasks. The differentiation by type of employer, its particular logic of relationship management with those who work in their homes, and the incorporation of the gaze of the domestic staff placement agents in this instance constitutes a great success for the author.

An interesting idea that emerges is to think that there are networks of employers that hire networks of female employees, which encourages a greater ethnicization of the network and a classification of the skills of workers based on their regional origin. On the other hand, the author highlights command styles (more personal or paternal), preferences and imaginaries that mobilize the choice of domestic workers. The generational dimension is a key aspect that the author reveals and that constitutes a fundamental piece to understand the relational views around leadership, the type of links that are established and the tolerances of inequality. Thus, it shows that there are the "maternal employers", with a certain preference, and the "business employers" who opt for employees with greater autonomy, since they do not have the time necessary to train them. In turn, they classify their work aptitudes by reason of their regional origin, which speaks to us of an ethnic stratification of the domestic labor market.

Having incorporated the presence of male domestic workers constitutes another great success of the book. There it is shown that most of them perform tasks that are carried out in outdoor spaces (gardens, garages, among others), exhibiting their condition as dangerous subjects for the space of privacy. In this way, it is explained that “the sexual division of domestic work permeates its spatial organization, which is why it is possible to speak of a sex-spatial disposition of work, which has to do with gender ideologies, especially representations of sexuality. of men ”(2017: 140). It is very interesting that, in the case of the few men who perform care tasks considered “feminine”, what they do in accordance with the studies by Scrinzi (2005) for Italy and France, is to state that they are acquired skills (learned ), which is contrasted with a discourse that presents housework as unskilled, innate and feminine by nature.

On the other hand, the choice to consider the youthful condition of domestic workers and go beyond the senses linked to work that many times associate (and automatically jobs on migration and domestic work) with the migration decision constitutes one of the issues. most interesting of the analysis. The author investigates the versatility and dynamic nature of the interests, expectations and desires of indigenous youth who come to cities in search of work.

Social mobility via education, urban experience and the various social networks that connect them with their peers constitute elements that complicate the gaze. They are not only young people who migrate to work. New spaces for interaction, the use of technology and new social networks expand the world of indigenous young women who are enrolled in domestic service in the city. The new expectations from achieving mobility via education, access to contacts, a new lifestyle and consumption is a contribution of the text.

At this point, the author does not stop incorporating in a very creative way the views of studies that focus on the relational perspective of the bond (Vidal, 2007; Rodgers, 2009; Canevaro, 2009). In particular, it considers the concepts of maternalism and personalism, which it takes up from the work of Hondagneu Sotelo (2001), to analyze how the expectations of mobility and social distance are articulated between employers and domestic workers.

The affective dependence and the tensions that are generated between both social agents are taken up in the next chapter, where the emotional and affective cleavage in mutual interdependence becomes even more complex when it comes to care tasks. There, both the affective dependence and the life cycle of the domestic worker play a crucial role, and this is how the author articulates class, gender and ethnic inequalities with the ways of building motherhood at a distance by the workers "Plant". At this point the author wonders about the possibility of questioning certain gender roles on the part of these women, although it is something that does not seem to happen.

Continuing in the same vein, it is proposed to reflect on the tensions of employer mothers regarding being "a good mother." The negative image that emerges around the mother who is away from home leads us to discuss the concept of “intensive motherhood”, where, being differentiated by social class and being more present among the middle and upper sectors, raises the need for an omnipresent mother to her children. This point is highly suggestive when the author constructs it in a relational way, incorporating the anxieties that working mothers have when they must transmit their own habitus on how to take care of your children. The instance of deciding who to leave the baby with, as well as the multiple decisions related to the family organization, constitute elements of great wealth in the descriptions.

Particular interest deserves the moment of "the formation of the habitus”Of working mothers, since it shows the differences that derive from their own experiences of socialization since they were little, which is where the“ knowledge ”and gender mandates on how to take care of children and husband are transmitted. This axis contrasts generationally with working mothers, among whom are the youngest who are less severe and with a less accusatory moral discourse, and the older employer mothers. There is evidence of a difference between middle class employers –who have a more maternal tendency and training of domestic workers– and those from higher social classes, who do not seem to have to make an effort to instill any values or ideology.

The role of the employers' husbands is crucial at this point, regardless of social class, since they promote that their wives continue to have a social life after the birth of their children, by financing the hiring of domestic workers. It is interesting to use the concept of “stratified reproduction” (Colen, 1995) to show how the presence of women employed to supply them in their home works while the contractors work as professionals. This does not mean that the tension between being working women and "ideal mothers" does not remain latent in their lives and stories.

In the final part of the book, the author concentrates on the lifestyle of homes where a logic of distinction and tradition operates, leaving aside middle-class homes that are distinguished by the collaboration in domestic tasks between the mistress. from home and the employee. Focused then on the elite of Monterrey, it explores customs related to matrimonial practices, habitat and various practices of distinction, such as the cult of the body, charity and trips abroad, putting into play the category of “cultures of servitude ”from the interesting work of Quayum and Ray (2003) in their study on the subject in India.

In this last chapter, the author studies how domestic work and the presence of serfdom influence the particular logic of construction of class distance, the customs and practices of family organization of the upper class, with their own forms of promotion and the reproduction of habitus of servitude. At this point, the author goes beyond the specificity of household chores to think about how they are inscribed in the reproduction of gender, ethnic and class inequalities. Having a nanny is articulated in these social sectors with having a truck and a house.

In this way, having been socialized since childhood with people who live in their homes, work until late at night and accompany them on their trips, organize receptions and trips, among other tasks, make it unthinkable to change these practices when they transform in employers. Yet Durin shows the same transformations in Monterey as Quayum and Ray for India, exploring the anxieties and feelings of having begun to lose power over the servants.

In the conclusions, the author takes up and conceptualizes a cross-sectional discussion in the book linked to the importance of the fact that housework continues to be one of the occupations exempted from federal labor regulation. But to find an answer to this, Durin investigates the social sources of this exclusion. In this way, it suggests in a suggestive way that the tasks of cleaning and care not only serve to reproduce an order of gender, class and ethnicity, but also to create and reproduce a habitus that they internalize from a young age and from where they are taught to naturalize a classist, sexist and even racist scheme of society.

If, on the one hand, the author states that a habitus Egalitarianism is built from the home, on the other hand, it affirms that it is the political actors who must guarantee the rights of domestic workers from the ratification of Convention 189 of the oit, condition sine qua non to achieve a legal framework that equates the rights of these workers with others, and thus removes a logic of gift in the employer-employee relationship to move to a logic of rights.

The changes, Durin proposes, must come both from state welfare regimes (Esping-Andersen, 1990) and from the representations of gender, class and ethnicity that contribute to devalue work and the people who carry it out. Following feminist economics, the author underlines the vital importance that domestic workers have not only for the reproduction of life but also for the proper functioning of the economy and our development and well-being.

The absence of state regulation makes relationships continue to depend on the good or bad disposition of employers and a discretionary issue in building fair relationships. Regarding the gender regime that is put into play, in this link the author states that the question of those who take care of cleaning and care tasks (both to perform them directly and to hire those who do them) continues to be resolved for and Come in women. What the author shows, following the pioneering work of Leslie Gill (1994) for Bolivia, is that what class and ethnic differences do is perpetuate the distancing between them and naturalize (even more) the gender order. Finally, the author criticizes the national states, such as the Mexican, the Italian, the Spanish (to which we could add the Argentine) for not giving answers in terms of public policies and concrete infrastructures, delegating the responsibility of care to the families themselves .

Séverine Durin's book manages to make visible the precarious and vulnerable condition of indigenous women workers in permanent employment, without falling into a tone of social denunciation of the situation. By incorporating the constructed and changing meanings of the workers in relation to their life experiences and the employers' own gaze, the author manages to show the unequal, but at the same time, uncomfortable situation that the presence of an indigenous woman in the homes supposes. of affluent social sectors permeated by an egalitarian imaginary present in modern societies.

Far from thinking of an unalterable situation, the author shows the elasticity and dynamism acquired by changes in both the expectations, interests and motivations of women workers and employers, something that leaves as unknown what the labor sector will bring plant in the future.

The context of the discussion about the possibility of legislating on the labor rights of domestic workers in Mexico makes the book even more relevant and valuable these days. Hence, the dynamic nature of this position must be analyzed within the framework of a structural situation in Mexico of non-recognition of domestic workers as such, something that becomes a constitutive condition and destined to continue reproducing situations of inequality while this labor sector continues to want to be invisible.


Gill, Leslie (1994). Precarious dependencies. Gender, class and domestic service in Bolivia. New York: Columbia Univesity Press.

Colen, Shelee (1995). “'Like a mother to them': Stratified reproduction and West Indian childcare workers and employers in New York”, in F. Ginsburg and R. Rapp, Conceiving the New World Order: the Global Politics of Reproduction. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hondagneu Sotelo, Pierrete (2001). Domestic Immigrant workers. Clearing and caring in the shadows of affluence. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ray, Raka and S. Qayum (2003). “Grappling with modernity. India's Respectable Classes and the Culture of Domestic Servitude ”, Ethnographie, vol.4, no.4, pp. 520-555.

Rodgers, Janine (2009). "Changes in domestic service in Latin America", in María Elena Valenzuela and Claudia Mora, Domestic work. A long road to decent work, Santiago de Chile, oit, pp. 71-114.

Scrinzi, Francesca (2005). "Les homes de ménage, ou comment addressing feminization des migrations in interviewant des hommes", Migrations et Sociétié, vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 99-100.

Vidal, Dominique (2002). Les bonnes de Rio. Emploi domestique et société democratique au Brésil, Presses Universitaries du Septentrion-Villeneuve D´Ascq.

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