Work and Social Activism in the Life Stories of Latina Domestic Workers

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Barreto Bebianno Simoes, Marcia
Freidenberg, Judith N
Caughey, John
Since the 1980s, social science research has emerged on gender and immigration to the United States as a result, in part, of the pronounced increase in immigration to the US. It has documented the way in which immigration is changing the social fabric of US society as well as how gender roles are being positioned within society. Scholarship on Latino immigration and gender has also evolved throughout the past decades, providing much needed insight about migration outcomes for Latina immigrants and their effects on these women's situated roles. Consequently, scholars have focused their work mainly on Latinas in their host communities, as workers, family members and community organizers. Transnationalist theories have contributed to understanding how Latinas organize their lives across borders; however, work is still needed to understand how the perspective of the immigrant life cycle (defined as life in the country of origin, the process of migration and life in the host country) informs migration outcomes for immigrant Latina women. In order to contribute to this understanding, this study, using an ethnographic approach, looks at the life stories of five low-income Latina immigrant domestic workers activists in Montgomery County, MD, to document their experience and to understand the factors that influence their civic mobilization for their collective rights. The central research question is: What are the factors conducive to female immigrants' collective mobilization for human rights? More specifically, what are the factors in the women's life course that account for mobilization and what are the structural factors in the host country that support this effort? This ethnographic study contributes to the literature on domestic work and migration by examining the subjective aspects of the Latinas' experience as they evolve as activists and mobilize for their rights as workers, particularly from the perspective of identity formation across the immigrant life cycle. The study also shows that domestic work conditions are determined by the specific relationship between poverty, human mobility and gender at a local and national level.