ABSTRACT

Clara is 40, a woman of African descent who works as an empleada (a maid or domestic servant) and who tries to live in a room no larger than a cupboard with her 11-year-old son in an expensive district of Quito, Ecuador. They share a bed but mostly Clara sleeps little, working from dawn until dusk for minimal wages, little holiday and without pension or insurance protection. It is not simply fortuitous that Clara is black; domestic servants are of African or indigenous descent throughout Latin America. Companies selling washing powders know this well and advertising is aimed at black women. But, and it is a very large but, the racialization and feminization of domestic work is so much part of the commonsense reality of Latin America that it is ‘invisible’, hidden by a series of articulations that appear initially to be contradictory. The first of these is that people of African descent are highly visible and subject to a series of disciplinary discourses relating to culture, history and colour. These discourses contradict the official ideology of ‘racial democracy’ articulated throughout the continent but most highly developed within Brazil. Similarly, but bound to conceptions of ‘otherness’, the visibility of people of indigenous descent is no less disciplinary but is articulated with conceptions of culture rather than colour. Thus, there are a number of racisms in play but domestication and feminization make difference and visibility perform a vanishing trick and, within their working lives as empleadas, women of indigenous and African descent are made invisible. The articulations between gender and the sphere of the home, constructed as a private sphere, provide a site within which both domestic employment and its racialization are made invisible (Radcliffe 1990b). There is no surprise here, as Chapter 6 elaborates: ideologies of domesticity and the importance of women as wives and mothers are the dominant discourses around femininity. The labour of domestic relations is written out of public discourses because, of course, the wives and mothers who are celebrated are the very wives and mothers who do not perform this labour but hire domestic servants who are exploited, dehumanized and denied a home life of their own in the process. Clara’s story is not, therefore, an aside or a victim’s tale: it holds within it the complex ensemble of ‘race’, state and nation, that is, racialized and feminized labour within the context of citizenship, the state and the home and their articulation with the nation, issues to be explored in this chapter.