My mother's work: Why I Support the CA Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
My name is Steven Osuna. I was born and raised in Echo Park, Los Angeles. I am of Mexican and Salvadoran descent. I am currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I was born in 1981 and am a proud son of a domestic worker.
My mother, Guadalupe, was employed as a domestic worker since she migrated from Mexico in 1968. She worked in numerous affluent communities in the greater Los Angeles area such as Los Feliz, Pasadena, Woodland Hill, Hollywood Hills, and North Hollywood. My mother raised my older brother and myself as a single parent. My mother was able to provide the basic necessities of life for us with the low wages she was paid, but not only that, she was also our backbone and an example of what we can accomplish with the little resources we had.
As a child, when I was on break from school, I would go with my mother to work. She could not afford to send me to a daycare or hire a sitter. I remember seeing her work very hard cleaning numerous houses throughout the week. We would get up early in the morning and come back home in evening. My mother would work all day and only stop to have lunch with me. The experience of going to work with my mother has left a long lasting effect on my life. I realized the difficulties of being a domestic worker and the little recognition they receive. The image of my mother cleaning marble floors and tabletops in mansions is an image that will forever be with me. Although considered part of the informal economy her labor, like many other domestic workers, maintains the formal economy. Her labor helped her employers maintain their homes and personal lifestyles while they made their living.
Throughout the years as a domestic worker, my mother had both positive and negative experiences. She has had her fill of great employers, but has also had abusive ones. She was fortunate not to have many abusive ones, but even the great employers crossed the boundaries of taking advantage of her precarious situation as a domestic worker. She has worked long hours without getting overtime pay, has gone to work and sent back home because she was not needed, and has left work without her paycheck because her employers forgot to leave it. She worked all those years without any healthcare benefits or vacation pay, yet made sure her employers were satisfied with her work. Although as stressful as these situations may be, my mother always maintained her dignity.
My mother is currently 67 years old and recently retired as a domestic worker, but not by choice. Her last employer laid her off due to the economic recession. She had worked for this employer for more than 20 years as both a domestic worker and a nanny who had helped raise a child from birth. He is now 7 years old.
My mother’s experience as a domestic worker has had an enormous influence in my life. Many say that they have accomplished their goals in life because of their own hard work; I am not one of those. My goals have been accomplished because of my mother and her support throughout these years. It is because of my mother that I graduated from high school, it is because of her that I received a bachelor’s degree; it is because of her that I have received two master’s degrees, and it is because of her that I am working on my doctorate.
When I got to graduate school here at UCSB, many could not believe that my mother was a domestic worker. They could not fathom that a son of a domestic worker is working on his doctorate. To those who could not believe it, I smiled and with pride I said, “Yes, my mom cleans houses,” and it's because of her hard work and dignity that I have accomplished my goals. These few paragraphs cannot begin to express the struggles that my mother went through as a domestic worker, but it is a start. My mother, the domestic worker, has been my backbone. And like many other children of domestic workers, I am proud of what my mother did for a living and believe that domestic workers like her deserve all the rights that any worker in the state of California receive. This may not solve the many forms of exploitation they endure, but it is a start.