translated from Spanish: With pride and dignity: let’s talk about migrant domestic workers in film

Let’s think about the movies. In a kind of rapid exercise, it is probably «Rome» (by Alfonso Cuarón, 2018) the first to come to mind when it comes to thinking about which ones represent domestic work, but yes, the universe is bigger and so are their stories. Just as Cleo sweeps the floor of the house in which he works («Rome»), Dora cleans Mrs. Beba’s crockery («Bed Inside»). In a bolivian radio, a group of migrant women from the countryside and other cities sing «home worker with pride and dignity» on a community radio to share their recipes, tell their experiences and not to get lost in the urban,’ in the invisible of their precarization («Boconas»). While Gladys leaves the house spotless, she «has to be grateful» that her employer hired her and takes care of her son («Family Crimes»). Characters that could follow. According to a report by Economía Femi(s)ta – comprising the second quarter of 2020 – more than one third (35.3%) migrant workers in Latin America is busy in paid domestic work, a trade historically exercised and designated to women. «More than 18% of domestic workers have migrated from the province and more than 14% come from a neighbouring country,» he says. That is, a very high percentage of these femininities (yes, because they tend to be in majority terms) move the regional and global economy.As journalists we think of cinema not only as an entertainment channel but as the tool for reflection, denunciation and a political space as such. So, let’s go back a few years. With all this context we ask ourselves: how are these realities represented in Latin American cinema and how did that path begin? 

Photo: Filo News

We may have imagined that it is only a contemporary element but for decades, characters who held marginal roles or remained on the periphery, have been on screen for centuries, the big question lies in how their stories are told. If we go back to 1895, the Lumiére brothers – forerunners of cinema – recorded the departure of workers from a factory in «The Exit of the Lumiere Factory in Lyon» («La Sortie de l’usine Lumiére’ Lyon»). Perhaps a small example of how the realities of everyday life began to become a place among what was expected to be projected. Mariano Veliz holds a degree and professor in the chair of «Film Analysis and Film Criticism» (UBA), Master in Speech Analysis and PhD in History and Theory of the Arts (UBA). In his article «Domestic Policy in Contemporary Latin American Cinema» he discusses the importance of considering the representation of popular sectors within Latin American cinema: «These sectors that are generally unvisitable begin to occupy other places, and migrant domestic servants appear in that context». At this point, the specialist quotes the thinker Jacques Ranciere, philosopher and author of The Night of the Proletarians, to explain how since the first decades of the nineteenth century, labor groups that occupied the place of readers or viewers of art become protagonists of it: «So women who are held in the domestic sphere begin to appear as figures who emerge politically very combatively , I would add certain crises of binarismos, which put in crisis the relationship between employers, employees,» he reflects in dialogue with Filo.News. In this variety of performances, Veliz traces a journey – which we complement – among dozens of Films of Latin American cinema in terms of the representation of domestic work. Since the Chilean «La Nana» (Sebastián Silva, 2009), the Mexican documentary «Mi vida dentro» (Lucía Gajá, 2009), the Panamanian «Employees and Employers» (Abner Benaim, 2010), «Doméstica» (2012), seven Brazilian teenagers filmed employees who work in their family for a week; all from a youthful look; Brazil’s «A Second Mother» (Anna Muylaert, 2015) who reflects on the upbringing of les hijes propies and ajenes, the short «Babas», the documentary «Internal domestic service workers» (2016) and more. And as in other spotlights and characters, the specialist brings examples such as «Reimon» (Rodrigo Moreno, 2014), the great «La Ciénaga» (Lucrecia Martel, 2001) where «the domestic servant occupies a predominant place in the narrative»; the documentary by the same director «The Dependencies» (2018) that works on the writer Silvina Ocampo; and the Brazilian documentary «Santiago» (Joao Moreira Salles, 2007).What happens today? What is migrant cinema? How are gender relations represented? what place or placemasculinities? Why is it important to talk about this? Let’s go slowly. Isabel Coronel and Marcelina Alvarado, two migrant women who work as domestic servants in Argentina, tell us about their experiences, struggles, dreams and claims that live day after day. Being a migrant domestic worker in Argentina

Migrant domestic worker | Illustrative image

Isabel greets us by video call on a Friday afternoon and at the end of her workday. «It’s easy to communicate with this camera and cell phone thing now. I used to go to the talk and lose Sunday morning by queuing up to talk to my family, now luckily everything changed for the better, I talk to them every day,» she says.  Ten years ago he migrated from Paraguay to Argentina. Specifically to La Plata, where he settled with his brother. Although he didn’t plan on staying, he never thought about coming back. Her first job was as a waitress in a bar, then as an assistant in a sewing workshop, and then as a domestic servant. At 29, he has already worked in more than 6 homes. «At first as I had no documentation, I remember it was quite complicated. I feel like it’s much easier to get this job for migrants, who take you the same even if you don’t have that. There are men who also work on this but it’s not that common,» he says.  Marcelina is 54 years old. He learned to iron and dismantle when he was 12, the age at which he got his first job at a Korean clothing factory, located in the Free Zone in the Dominican Republic. «I was taught to iron professionally, not with any iron. That’s what you pay by the hour, so that’s when I started thinking about what the hours were,» he recalls. It was at 25 that she began her career as a maid in different hotels. For her job performance she grew and rose to supervisor of the sector. «At that time it was not easy to be able to grab a career, I already had children, so that’s what I found. One day I’m checking rooms and a girl tells me if I wanted to come to Argentina that they paid better for what I did. We had to juggle to get the money for the trip. I was scared, you never know what’s waiting for you. I entered legally in 2014, at the age of 44; at three months I fell like the one who says illegal until I was able to make my citizenship,» she recalls. He arrived with a Dominican companion, who returned within a few days. «At first I went through many difficult times. I went to the supermarket and didn’t understand what to buy. I ate Peruvian food, until I got used to Milanese and meat stew,» she recalls. New customs, habits and routines; but if something was left intact, she confesses, it’s the «smell of her family,» her husband and her seven children in the Dominican Republic. «There’s nothing in my house that won’t make them don’t tell me, because for them I’m half here and half there. I’m working so I could take everything to my family,» says.***Isabel worked in Tortuguitas, Nordelta, San Isidro, Palermo, San Martín. Most of them had children. He currently works in an 8-person house; mom, dad, six figs; the smallest is 10 and the largest is 25. «It’s a pretty large family,» he says. He was with a bed inside for many years. He would get up at 5 a.m. on a Monday and come home the following Saturday. In this work she has retirement, so she takes advantage of her free time to take mates with her husband and do a cooking course. «It is important that eight hours of work are fulfilled, although I have nine. A lot of houses don’t give you a rest time if you work in bed. It depends on the family that touches you, some are quite demanding, they explode a lot. Also the subject of the travel, that not all people want to pay it and between back and forth you go a lot, or pay, or have the blank work papers, so that one can have his social work, all that is very important, I do not have it for example. It’s complicated and in the long run it hurts the worker,» she says. «It greatly minimizes the work of a domestic servant, I don’t understand why. There’s a lot of people who work in uniforms. You go out on the street and you feel like everybody’s looking at you. Some people make it noticeable. If I have to go out yes or yes I put on other clothes to be more comfortable, to avoid that. But it’s very important that we’re recognized. Domestic servants now have more rights. Anything you can call the union that guides you more or less. But it’s still missing. We need to clear things up and demand what’s right for us,» she concludes.***Marcelina began working as a domestic servant in different households. «When I came here I paid 500 pesos a little room to rest, where I slept with a group of people, everyone in their bucket, I never saw that,» she recalls. Today he works in a bedside home monday through Friday; when he arrived there was only one baby, there are three today. «When they were little they thought I was family. Because that’s what his mom told them, that we were a family.» As Todes Marcelina lived the arrival of quarantine in the face of the advance of the coronavirus. But the ‘stay at home’ option wasn’t the same for everyone. Like her, many had to go to work the same, endangering her health and that of her employers. In addition, although 95% of domestic staff would have had to have collected Emergency Family Income (IFE), as indicated by the Congressional Budget Office (OPC), many employees did not receive it for migration bureaucracy.» A lot of colleagues have worked in nursing, being a caregiver, I think that’s been the strongest area I’ve ever seen of migrants. And it’s a little devalued, she takes day to day, carries a burden and a big responsibility, and if anything happens they look at you,» she says. In fact, many are exposed to prejudice, violence and xenophobia; that’s why she says: «You have to be clear about what’s going to be done from the beginning, a document that identifies her and that her boss feels engaged. The people who work in the homes are the ones who earn the least. Women are not taken into account. You have to put yourself in one’s shoe, we like a decent job. I want women to take care of themselves, to take care of ourselves, to value ourselves.» Now, why is it important to make domestic workers visible on the big screen? Yanina Avila | We exist: to be the protagonist of cinema 

Yanina Avila

Yanina Avila is 28 years old and still remembers very fondly the day that director Diego Lerman and casting director Maria Laura Berch arrived in her village from the province of Misiones in search of the actress who starred in «A Kind of Family» (2017). He did not think that day would change many things; nor that this character would lead her to be recognized with the South Prize as Revelation. «I work here. They called me and I went. I was so embarrassed. I did what I had to do, I went to my house. Out of 15 girls, I didn’t think I was going to stay, when they called me, I couldn’t believe it. I’ve always watched TV but never thought about getting to a movie theater,» he tells us through a video call. Years later it was again convened by Berch and filmmaker Sebastian Schindel («The Patron») for «Family Crimes» (2020), whose premiere did not happen in theaters because of the pandemic but resoned in the world among the ten most watched on Netflix. There she played Gladys, a domestic worker with a bed inside, an employee of the character played by Cecilia Roth, a woman of the upper-middle class, whose affluent world begins to crumble as the film progresses (where her youngest son, Santiago, also worked).» Working on Gladys’ place was very strong, for all the women who lived like her. It’s very exciting, a job very well done by the director. I did it with a lot of love, knowing that my career is very small, with all its support and so it looked on the screen,» he says. While in her first film she does not play a domestic worker, Marcela, her character seizes another marginality, the illegal baby trade and class oppression and the social roles of the mother.» Marcela and Gladys were very strong characters. Marcella connected me a little bit to my mom’s story. They’re movies that skin-twisted me. I put myself in their place and I went through that. There’s no way to see them and don’t let a tear fall off and your skin is ingsed. There is what happened to Gladys and you have to make a lot of horn, gestures, so that it never happens again,» he acknowledges.» Family Crimes» has some points in common with «Bed In». Schindel and Caggiero work the experiences of domestic workers from the female characters of «employee» and «employer», as well as disintegration of the boundaries that separate them. Both Dora (played by Norma Argentina, who previously worked caring for children and performing household chores in a home) and Gladys, are in-house workers with years of «service» and both moved miles to get where they are. Actresses, in a way admirers of their later colleagues. The «ladies» a Norma Aleandro in November 2001 and a Cecilia Roth of the following two decades, represent the cracking of the (other) social class border, which will face them in a kind of mirage with «their» domestic.» The film thinks about the role of the domestic servant and her employer, from a certain crisis of territorialization so strong of their places, objects and spaces of each other. At that moment of crisis this separation begins to take place and this contrast begins to crumble: the spaces begin to cross and object to themcoughing too. There’s something that breaks down at that time of crisis to think of some more horizontal forms of exchange,» Veliz talked about «Bed In,» but we see how they apply to both tapes. And the testimonial, he challenges. «I have met two women who spoke to me a lot and said, ‘Yani what you did happened to me; I thank you because you represented us,» the actress says. Here’s a stop and a central point. As previously required by the graduate and teacher Veliz, is it enough just to make these realities visible? «A lot of times in the hyper-visible society in which we live, visibility is thought and I think we have to think of another phenomenon that is audibility. Does anyone hear these stories, experiences, what they have to say? Responsibility that Latin American cinema has yet to fulfill,» he questions.» My teammates say a lot to me, ‘Look at Yani.’ I know I made a name for myself, but I don’t forget who I am. I never studied theater or saw movies. And knowing that I got to Cecilia made me look in the mirror and say ‘worth what you do’. And not because I’m famous but because I’m someone who’s here, who’s so small and low, where I got to,» she says, «What do we talk about when we talk about migrant cinema? 
-Good morning, what’s your name?-Good morning.-What can you tell us? What do you like to do? -I don’t know. My name is Eve, I’m 24 years old and I’m a cameraman.-What brings you here?-Because I want to study. The scene is part of «La Camarista» (2018), Lila Avilés’s film that follows the story of Evelia (Gabriela Cartol), a domestic servant who works in a hotel in Mexico City. The only contact you have with your child, with your family, is through a phone. With a book in hand, with his desire to learn, with a leaf of a tree in his hand, he projects a way of freedom in the midst of his daily repetitive and passive routine. The director portrays domestic work from the protagonist’s skin, showing intimacy, drowning and liberation. What is the place in cinema of the social reality of those who migrate to inhabit other territories? To talk about shared dreams beyond borders, director Florencia Mazzadi and Lola Giancarelli created the CineMigrante Festival in 2010, the same year that Law 25,871 was established where «the right to migrate mentioned as a human right» appears for the first time.  Gender relations are one of the topics present in film curatorship, and the importance of talking about care tasks in migrant women.» It should not be noted that obviously most of the women who migrate from these countries, colonized, conquered and enslaved are always placed in the most precarious works, and obviously in what are chains of care,» Mazzadi says. He considers: «We had two possibilities: to continue to show our place as oppressed objects, to dialogue only about our oppressions, or to think that we have the right and desire to think of the whole world.» If it is migrant domestic work, it is inevitable to talk about «Rome» (2018), the film with which Alfonso Cuarón took the Academy Award for «Best Director». The plot is centered on Cleo, a young domestic worker, how she relates to the family and how she builds her personal life in parallel. In this note we analyzed how the film was lived in the shoes of an Argentine worker and a Mexican woman. 

«Rome»

Although it is a great film on a technical level, for Mazzadi it triggers the need to talk about the representation of domestic servants in cinema: «It seems to me that it gives no room for the change of things. It puts on the table in a very clear way and then it is difficult to go back. Would Cleo talk about herself that way?» she says, «Cinema is a realm of sensibility production, where the political concept of ‘world’ deepens. If our representations are only from vulnerability, it is very difficult to understand that we are not only vulnerable, that there are ways to inhabit another kind of power, which are important to fight for our rights. That is why it is important to show your moments of intimacy, of practice, of reflections, of other kinds of sensitivities.» In this line, The Veliz graduate provides significant information when talking about the representation of domestic workers since submission – which fortunately does not happen in many examples of films mentioned – «An anecdote that I find disturbing in relation to this is that when Alfonso Cuarón films ‘Rome’, much of the script is written with the memoirs of who he had been during his childhood , the domestic worker also in charge of her upbringing and that of her siblings. This woman receives no recognition as a screenwriter of the film or justifying his gesture for his love for the family. This reproduces not only this idea of exploitation of someone who produces content that will be a generator of wealth (material and symbolic) but that resource of love continues to work to exempt the emergence of recognition.» Historically, according to Veliz, stereotypes were assumed in Latin American cinema in the way domestic workers were portrayed; either as «clowns or grotesques» in comedy, such as the character who carried out Nini Marshall during the 1940s, or the ‘sufferings’ in the melodramas, as well as the ‘support of the plot of the protagonists who are not them’. What changed over the years?» They start to occupy another place and therefore acquire another visibility. There are some factors to think about how this rupture is occurring; the emergence of certain social, political processes, the expansion of feminism, certain migration, ethnic, class flows. It seems to me, if this process is already happening, and these characters become main I see that there is another discussion to sustain – there is a lot of work to be done – is that they are still not active agents in the production of their own stories. Mostly they are still narrated, shown and built as an image by other points of view,» he says, «How to appeal for a figure who reflects the reality of work but from a vision of empowerment? It is key for Mazzadi to take into account a historical class perspective, combined with the empowerment of the feminist movement: «The migration has its origins in conquest, colonization and slavery. It is key to think of the identity forms of construction that remain based on these concepts. And we must know that not necessarily recognizing our rights in equality to other genders implies equal recognition of all. Feminism will be anti-racist or not,» he says. As an example he cites «Tempest» (2016), «Lethal: Self of Resistance» (2018), «Season» (2018) or «Las Acacias» (2011).What about males and masculinities? 
One of the proposals under the 8M invites masculinities to rethink in their spaces, links and often privileges: from cinema, how can these axes work? We like to think that the story starring Oscar Martínez and Germán de Silva in «Wild Tales» (2014, Damián Szifron) is an example of the classist outrage to the working class and the pact of silence with «the children of power». A brief review: we have the gardener (figure of the domestic worker, who despite occupying the same role as a possible colleague, her tasks would never be the same as hers) whom «her» landlord proposes to take her child’s place, take responsibility for a fatal accident, in exchange for «a sum of money that she could not earn in her life» and who guarantees her access to «study» to her children. Veliz delves into other examples and reflects on whether this representation fails to begin to break down certain mechanisms of culture to represent the «feminine» and «the masculine»: «In Latin American cinema there could be other ways of thinking about masculinities. I think quickly of a Uruguayan film called ‘Belmonte’, by Federico Veiroj, in which appears a figure of masculinity that is not the one that was usually held some time ago marked by fragility, uncertainty, the search to think other ways of fatherhood. I think it’s a challenge to sustain.» If we stop the world
International Working Women’s Day is commemorated on 8 March. Many suffer from a double precarization: because they are migrant women and because they are domestic workers. On this day it is important to claim the fight for the rights of the sector between todes. As Yanina Avila sums up: «We must not shut up, and if you are afraid to know that with a gesture there is a group behind you and one we do many.»
In this note:

Original source in Spanish

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