Ilka Oliva Corado: The office of maid

The author, who grew up selling ice-cream on the streets of Peronia city, Guatemala, before crossing to the US as an undocumented migrant, writes on the life of the maid.

Lately human rights defenders have called us “domestic workers,” to lessen the blow, but things should be called by their name: We are servants, our job is to serve.

From there, we can break down the range of abuses that we, who work in domestic service and maintenance, live though. No matter the country, the reality for servants is the same everywhere. We will not wash ourselves clean and simply point to the United States as the cause of all our ills. In India, there are castes, in Latin America colonised minds, and so we see country and continent, each with its own evils.

It’s not about colour, nationality or language, it is about who has power and who has abused power and discriminates against friends and strangers. The maid and babysitter are the same, only varying the name: in work both are used. And I say “serve” with all the weight of the word, day and night. When children are at school or in private lessons, babysitters take care of cleaning the house, playrooms, cooking, washing clothes — domestic trades. The maid is the same and both are treated like old furniture. For one, cleaning soiled diapers and the other dirty bathrooms — both work in the shit.

Nannies are emergent mums, we are there all the time because mums are in their yoga classes, drinking tea with friends or travelling the world. Some, few, are working. Then we become babysitters accidentally, as a result of our work, give hugs, understand emotions, care for diseases, tell stories and give moral support to children who learn to love us as their own and, in the future when they realise our role at home and in society, treat us like old furniture, disposable. Because they are the employer, because they are part of the circle of the culture of capital.

The maids know the private affairs of families, even what they do not want anyone to know. We know temperaments, habits, fears, empty boasts and pretensions. Because we are there all the time, invisible, old furniture moving from one place to another, not interfering. We work quietly, we go unnoticed because what has to have a maid? How does a maid interact with their employers? No, the maid does not feel, does not think, does not have emotions, is there to serve, never seen as a person, does not exist as a human being.

The maids do not get tired, never have the right to get sick, to be depressed, to yearn, miss, we have no right to employment benefits, holidays are for others not for us. We have no right to emergencies because then who will clean the rooms, wash dishes, iron the shirt pattern, make breakfast and mop? Who will go for the mail and get the supermarket bread? Who will look after the children’s fever? Who will clean up the vomit of the drunk man who arrived at dawn?

And even if all the abuse exceeds inconceivable extremes, domestic workers who are also sexually abused by their employer, employers’ children, then friends and employers, under the tutelage of the employer, do not see. Because after all men are so thirsty for pleasure all the time, better to catch the maid than a sex worker who might make them sick … and in most cases the maid is a girl, who may not exceed 12 years old.

Domestic workers have no right to menstrual cramps, because we are machines, nor to agonise when our own children are sick at home or in daycare because we left to go to work. We have no right to miss our parents and brothers who were left in the village when we went to the capital or emigrated to another country. We have an obligation to be intact when serving our employers, we live by them and for them, our lives do not exist, they have no right to exist. Nor birthdays or Christmas, or holidays, we are planted here every day of the year, at all hours.

Housemaids keep the intimate secrets that any friend of our employers would give their right arm to know. There are never thanks for our ethics, for what do ethics have to do with a clean bathroom? What can you learn from painting, reading, wine, fine cheeses and gourmet meals? We merely cook and serve and other interactions. What can you tell a maid of designer clothes, expensive lotions and smartphones?

Perhaps nothing, but it is the most precious caring we do for employers: their children. A servant would never be given their cars to go to the supermarket or pharmacy, but they are trusted with children all day and given keys to the house. A car you can scratch, smudge and crash, but what value have their children got, to be left with a complete stranger who does not know the language or how to dial an emergency number — and who may also be illegal if a migrant. How do they entrust their children to an ignorant, lacking basic skills to survive in society in their ego and opportunism?

They never lend the latest car model, but allow us to cook and clean the rooms and take their children to school. We find dildos lying on the ground or between the sheets and wash them and place them in the draw. Intimacies only we domestic workers know. And we have no right to grow fond because furniture does not feel, these children are not ours, one day they will grow and we will remember only a kick in the arse and a dismissal without warning, one day to the next. As if overnight one could forget the memories, chop out affection and accept that we were just an old thing whose time had come to finish, into the trash cabinet.

What rest needs a pariah who works as a mule? None because it was born, generationally for it was born, to work as a mule.

So why is there surprise when a maid breaks the circle and spreads their wings and flies. Sacrificially studies and becomes a professional, plunges into the world of the arts, becomes a businessman and businesswoman or returns to the fields where they came from, to make them flourish. But for every servant who gets out of hell, there are thousands who are dried and slowly die in the abuse and exclusion. And they all have a name, families, roots, identity, dreams. And all feel in the depths of their being and have passion and love and believe, because they are human beings.

Have any of you, dear readers, have you ever talked to a maid, looked her in the eye and treated her as equal? Have you ever put on your shoes and wondered what would become of his life if you touched work in domestic service? What would change if so? Why not change it for others?

Not to mention the guts of it, let’s talk about humanity and humility.


Article originally from Crónicas de una Inquilina

Pics: Domestic workers in Indonesia, taken for ILO (CC 2.0)

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