Wednesday, July 14, 2010

La Nana

Dearest all,

Although I feel I have settled in surprisingly well in this country, there are some cultural differences which stick out a bit more than others. One of these is the daily presence of la nana, or a maid in the house. She cooks, cleans, does the laundry, everything. I make an effort to make my bed in the morning but when I return in the afternoon, I find that she has remade what I thought was a perfectly well made bed. Many of the other host families have maids as well; it seems these women are a common aspect of middle-upper class home. Last week in my intensive language class, we watched a film entitled La Nana which depicts a woman who works as a live-in maid for an upper class family in Chile. Afterwards we discussed the presence of this type of work and what it means for the economic society as well as its effect on the class system. Here are a few of my complied thoughts.

The Film:

In the film, la nana (Raquel) lives with the family for which she works, yet despite her constant proximity to them, she is never really a part of the family. When they eat dinner in the dining room, she eats alone in the kitchen and may only enter their space if she is summoned by the ringing of a bell. Raquel rarely leaves the house and on the few occassions she does, it is apparent that she has no life outside of the family or her work and this fact has impeded her from maturing into an adult woman (at the beginning of the film, she celebrates her 41st birthday).

The Reality:

There are maids who live in the home (puertas adentro) and maids who travel to the home each day (puertas afuera). A law was recently passed which prohibits las patronas (people who employ maids) from making las nanas work on sundays or holidays. Yet many of these women are paid the very minimum salary the law states which is barely enough to afford the daily commute they make. Often times the job of la nana is outsourced to Peruvian women because of the comida rica (rich food) they cook and the fact that they are immigrants means the minimum salary does not apply.

The Reality in my host family:

There is a woman who comes to the house everyday to attend to the cooking, cleaning and laundry. She is delightful, we've had many nice conversations over lunch (please note that at these times, I am the only one eating and I am consuming food she has prepared for me). She told me that she commutes two hours to the house each way and she arrives around 9AM and leaves about 6PM, both of which coincide with rush hour for the metro and bus system. Sometimes she comes on Saturdays as well and when we are all eating lunch in the dining room, she stays in the kitchen attending to different chores, always with the connecting door shut.

Personally, it has been difficult for me to get used to her presence. She is a lovely person, but I am uncomfortable with the hierarchy which her presence represents. In my real family, if I'm the only one eating, I prepare my own food. If I don't make my bed in the morning, it doesn't get made and the same with my laundry. From my background, it's easy for me to quickly judge this lifestyle as being wrong and demeaning and I've definitely had those thoughts, yet I'm not Chilean and I don't understand completely where this inequality comes from. In addition, if the role of nana were suddenly outlawed, would there be other jobs available to these women? From another viewpoint, women in the US who work full time and don't have hired help are often tired and overworked from their "second shift" at home as mother and housekeeper. Perhaps the nanas are keeping women like my host mom sane. But then again, who helps la nana do her chores or take care of her children?

Thoughts to think on. Shout-out goes to Mary Vasquez for always being able to cheer me up. Hope you're having a better week this week!

Abrazos y besos,


1 comment:

  1. Abby what up! I was in the mountains when you wrote this post, but now that I've read it, I have to say that I am sort of experiencing a similar thing here in Pakistan. The house where I am staying has a cook, three drivers, and three maids, two of whom live here. And a guard for the front gate. It's very very different from the idea of a "cleaning lady" in America or something like that. Like, they are such an integral part of our lives here, but at the same time so removed. I've been here for five weeks now, so I'm ALMOST used to it, but it still is very strange to me that I haven't cleared away a plate or a glass after eating/drinking in over a month. And it is like this in every household.....