Domestica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadow of Affluence
by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo. Berkeley, CA: University of California
Press, 2001, 284 pp., $19.95 paper.
Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work
by Rhacel Salazar Parrenas. Stanford, CA: Stanford University
Press, 2001, 309 pp., $18.95 paper.
The cover photograph of Domestica is worth the proverbial thousand words. A woman sits on the grass cradling a baby. The baby is the blondest child imaginable, so white that its plump, diapered body shines like the full moon. The baby and woman loll on a blanket, and Mary Cassatt could not have done a better portrait of the woozy bond between a mother and her child on a day in the sunlight.
Except this woman is not the baby's mother. She is as brown as her charge is white, and though in this age of international adoption we easily picture white women with colored sons or daughters, we assume that a child who shines like the moon cannot have as her parent a darkskinned Latina.
Instead, we know this Latina as the nanny, the baby-sitter, the housekeeper, the maid. Or (depending on what megalopolis we spend time in) we know Caribbeans or Asians who do the same work. We know them because our friends and neighbors employ them--or we do. All over the world now, from New York to Los Angeles, Houston, Rome, London, Paris and Hong Kong, immigrant women from poor, "third world" countries are raising the children of affluent, first-world professionals. Third-world women are also dislodging first-world pubic hairs from bathtub drains. They are washing floors, buying groceries, cooking dinner. They are making it possible for women in countries like the United States and England and Italy to work at careers once open solely to men, in the days when mothers were supposed to stay home and deal with the kids and the pubic hairs themselves.
Less than a hundred years ago in the United States, most women who worked outside their homes did so as housekeepers and nannies. Most were whites from the US countryside and Europe, or they were African Americans. By mid-twentieth century, the proportion of women who did these jobs had declined so sharply that it seemed domestic work would soon be obsolete. But then came two developments. One was the movement of middle-class white women out of their homes and into the labor market The other was "globalization," which has moved manufacturing out of industrialized nations and into developing ones.
That move has booted blue-collar US workers out of well-paid jobs and sucked poor, third-world people into low-wage factories newly opened in their countries. All this shifting and decentralizing has required concentrations of managers to push paper and keep spreadsheets. Throughout the world, the big financial capitals have gathered professionals to …