Latino Studies Latinas in Domestic Service
Teresa Carrillo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0127


There are currently at least 53 million adult domestic workers worldwide, and another estimated 10.5 million child domestic workers. These numbers are steadily increasing, marking paid domestic service as a distinctive growth industry. In the United States, Latinas are becoming more and more predominant in the growing workforce of domestic service workers, a result of a complex tangle of interrelated issues of race, gender, class, migration, patriarchy, and privilege. There are many parts to an analysis of the larger context of commodified domestic service, patriarchal and racially hierarchical constructs of privilege in domestic service, and the growing trend of feminization of migration related to the transnationalization of domestic service work. This bibliography reviews literature in four categories of scholarly work related to Latinas in domestic service, starting with General Overviews that explain the strong link between Latinas and domestic work. The section on Theories of Domestic Service Work and Workers establishes the relationship of race, class, and gender to domestic service and is followed by analyses of the Transnationalization of Domestic Service and the importance of Migration and Immigration Policies, including citizenship status for domestic service workers, within the current context of economic restructuring and globalization. These sections focus on how Latina immigrants are corralled into domestic service work by immigration policies and other limiting factors that make domestic work one of the few viable options for employment in an era of mass deportations and workplace raids. Scholars explain the predominance of Latinas in domestic service as part of a larger context of a “care deficit” cycle in which immigrants come from across the Americas to care for other people’s homes, children, and elders while having to make the difficult decision to leave their own children and elders in the care of other family members in their home country. They come to fill a care deficit in the United States, but create a care deficit in their own family in the process. There is a feminization of migration across Latin America as growing numbers of women leave their home countries to come to the United States to work in domestic service. Contradictions embedded within the transnational domestic service industry have not gone unchallenged. The final section, Empowerment, focuses on initiatives to empower Latina domestic service workers, including attempts to organize, pass protective legislation, and create new information and knowledge about domestic work and domestic workers.

General Overviews

Mary Romero’s foundational work, Maid in the USA (Romero 1992), initiated a complicated discussion of Latinas in domestic service by interviewing twenty-five Chicana maids in Denver, Colorado. Her study purposely avoided the complexities of immigration status by including only US-born maids in her sample. In seven chapters, her analysis weaves together the gender-, class- and race-based issues that tie women of color to domestic service while creating barriers to solidarity between women and contributing to the isolation, invisibility, and exploitation that characterizes domestic work. Hondagneu-Sotelo 2001 followed Romero’s work with an extensive analysis of nannies and housecleaners in Los Angeles. Based on in-depth interviews and survey data, Hondagneu-Sotelo argues that there is a “new world domestic order” in which domestic work worldwide is being shifted onto the shoulders of immigrant women. Vicki L. Ruiz contributed an early historical work, Ruiz 1987, that documents domestic labor as “the most common form of employment for Mexican women [in the US] during the first half of the 20th century.” This article is known for its documentation of early organizing efforts on the part of both domestic workers, with the short-lived Domestic Workers’ Association, and white employers, who formed the Association for Legalized Domestics. Employers put forward a proposal to create an INS category of “Bracero Maid” while promoting the use of the patronizing guidebook Your Maid from Mexico: A Home Training Course for Maids (Hawkins, et al. 1959). Later, María de la Luz Ibarra’s ethnographic study of domestic workers in Santa Barbara, California (Ibarra 2000), argued that “new domestic labor” is moving into the realm of paid labor in a widespread fashion and that Latinas are the labor force of this new growth industry. Teresa Carrillo’s critical analysis (Carrillo 2014) addresses the many aspects of domestic service that are lost in translation between Latina domestic service workers and both labor and feminist movements for change. This chapter chronicles the norm of exclusion of domestic work and workers in both labor law and feminist agendas for change. Finally, the documentary film Maid in America (Prado 2005) encapsulates many of the debates mentioned above in a depiction of the daily lives and dilemmas of three Latina domestic service workers in Los Angeles.

  • Carrillo, Teresa. “Translation and Transnationalization of Domestic Service.” In Tranlocalities/Translocalidades: Feminist Politics of Translation in the Latin/a Américas. Edited by Sonia E. Alvarez, Claudia de Lima Costa, Verónica Feliú, Rebecca Hester, Norma Klahn, and Millie Thayer, 225–239. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

    This chapter, part of a collected volume on the translation of feminism across the Americas, is a critical analysis of the many ways in which domestic service has been exempted or excluded from labor law, regulation, and protections, while at the same time being excluded from feminist agendas for change. Two state laws protecting domestic worker rights—passed in 2010 in New York and in 2016 in California—are introduced as exceptions in a woefully inadequate field of labor regulation for domestic service workers.

  • Hawkins, Gladys, Jean Soper, and Jane Pike Henry. Your Maid from Mexico: A Home Training Course for Maids in English and Spanish. San Antonio, TX: Naylor, 1959.

    A guide written by white women that encouraged Mexican maids to offer a wide range of services to middle- and upper-class families for extremely low wages. This popular source documents the patronizing attitudes and work conditions encountered by domestic workers in the borderlands.

  • Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette. Doméstica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

    In this detailed study of nannies and housecleaners in Los Angeles, Hondagneu-Sotelo supports the thesis that there is a “new world domestic order” in which domestic work is increasingly being done by immigrant women. Hondagneu-Sotelo interviewed 37 employers and 23 employees, and conducted a survey of 153 Latina domestic workers, to provide the reader with a rich and nuanced analysis of domestic work and workers in Los Angeles.

  • Ibarra, María de la Luz. “Mexican Immigrant Women and the New Domestic Labor.” Human Organization 59.4 (Winter 2000): 452–464.

    DOI: 10.17730/humo.59.4.chp62148x283t712

    Ibarra’s ethnographic study of domestic workers in Santa Barbara examines how domestic work is restructured as it becomes more paid labor and as more middle-class and even working-class households take part as consumers in the paid reproductive labor market by buying services such as fast food, laundry services, and child care. Ibarra outlines the contours of what she calls the “new domestic labor” for Latina domestic workers as she profiles the work lives of nannies, housecleaners, and elder care workers.

  • Prado, Anayansi, dir. Maid in America. New York: Women Make Movies, 2005.

    A fifty-minute documentary film that follows three Latina domestic workers through their lives and work with middle class families in Los Angeles. It is helpful for classroom discussion about the dilemmas for both employees and employers of immigrant domestic service workers.

  • Romero, Mary. Maid in the USA. New York: Routledge, 1992.

    This book mines twenty-five open-ended interviews with US-born Chicana maids from Denver to analyze the complicated ways in which gender, class, and race intersect in the lives of domestic service workers and their employers. The book covers the history of Latinas in domestic service, documenting the prevalence of Mexican immigrant women in these jobs in the US Southwest. The last three chapters are particularly helpful in detailing both barriers to solidarity between women and struggles to transform domestic labor.

  • Ruiz, Vicki L. “By the Day or the Week: Mexicana Domestic Workers in El Paso.” In Women on the US-Mexico Border: Responses to Change. Edited by Vicki L. Ruiz and Susan Tiano, 61–76. Boston: Allen Unwin, 1987.

    Drawing from recorded interviews housed at the Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso, Ruiz describes the work, lives, and thoughts of Mexican domestic workers who cross the border to work in the private homes of El Paso’s middle- and upper-class white families.

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