Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: Alfonso Cuarón’s movie Roma has generated a lively and long overdue debate about household employees in the Global South. While celebrated by many as finally putting caregivers at center stage, a major criticism is that viewers were never privy to the thoughts, dreams and frustrations of the female protagonist Cleo. That she remains a grey shadow throughout this black and white film reflects broader gendered and economic patterns. The household employee is an institution fundamentally tied to socioeconomic differentiations. Upper and middle class life is organized around, and often depends on, the labor of poorer (mainly) female domestic workers who are in turn dependent on their employers who provide them with low-status, typically lowly paid employment. Every day these poorer women traverse physical spaces and cross multiple conceptual boundaries of class, race, gender, and urban-rural divides. They work in an expanding service industry and play a critical economic role in the community and their families. And yet, like Cleo, these women’s own lives, aspirations and desires usually remain mute. Building on the premise that ethnographers are in a unique position to bring these women’s voices to the forefront, the authors in this session examine the livelihoods, challenges, and contributions of household employees to quotidian urban life.