Closup of a woman’s tired brown eyes with cleaning products surrounding her.
Illustration by Frida Retana.

Invisible Women: The Unseen Impact of Domestic Workers

Words by Souther Recio

Edited by Abigail Vela

Additional Edits by Freddy Jimenez and Nina Alegre

I woke up to yelling downstairs, jumped up and ran into the guest room that had been turned into a mini hospice center for my stepmom, who was lying on the bed, actively dying of cancer. My dad and I were panicked—running around, trying to do something, anything, knowing at this point there was nothing more to be done. We knew this moment was coming, but it was hard to believe it was finally here. I had kept a brave face on for weeks, but I couldn’t hold back my tears anymore. I burst into sobs and sat outside the door, terrified to watch it happen. My dad sat by the bed and held my stepmom’s hand as she left this earthly plane of existence. It felt like it was just my dad and I that morning, experiencing one of those moments that will stick with you forever. 

But there was someone else there too: Sandra, the caregiver who had been hired to help take care of my stepmom in her last weeks. Sandra was there every day, making smoothies, changing the sheets, helping my stepmom in and out of bed, keeping track of medicine, washing dishes, and making sure we all had something to eat. While my dad and I were panicking that morning, Sandra was also there, sitting by my stepmom’s side, playing peaceful instrumental music on her iPhone as she passed. 

It didn’t occur to me until later that Sandra had not received an invitation to the funeral.

Over 90% of Domestic Workers are Women

Domestic workers are defined as people who are paid to do “menial” tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for children or the elderly. However, I’d argue that those tasks aren’t menial at all. According to the Economic Policy Institute, over 90% of all domestic workers are women. And historically we’ve seen women in these kinds of caregiver roles, whether that be at home as a wife and mother or in these jobs working as housekeepers and caregivers. 

Domestic work is essential to the function of the home and outside life. We all need food to eat, clothes to wear, and a clean, safe home to live in. All of these tasks are invisible work that often goes unappreciated or unnoticed. 

So What Exactly is Invisible Work?

Things like laundry, cooking, cleaning, picking up the kids, scheduling appointments, etc.— Invisible work is everything that keeps the home running smoothly. These tasks, although seemingly “easy,” have a lot of thought and preparation that goes into them. 

For example, let’s take cooking dinner for a family: this requires grocery shopping, which first means you need to have a good idea of what’s already in the fridge, what foods are about to expire, what you’re running low on and so on. There are so many steps that have to happen mentally before any food is cooked. This is called the mental load, and it can be heavy. 

According to a study from the National Library of Medicine, when your brain is full like this, it can lead to a rise in cortisol levels resulting in anxiety, depression, strained relationships, and even chronic illness. Oftentimes this kind of work falls to the women in the household, the mothers, wives and daughters. Some folks are fortunate enough to have hired outside help to lessen the load, but that doesn’t mean the load itself is any less heavy. 

A woman in a white top and jeans mops the floor of a living room. At the forefront is a family portrait of a man, woman, and child.
Illustration by Frida Retana.

The Reality of Domestic Workers

According to Zip Recruiter the average pay per hour for domestic labor is roughly $10.50 an hour. The MIT Livable wage calculator says that a living wage in Texas for an adult with no children is $20.92 an hour. The numbers speak for themselves here. Women are doing mentally, physically, and emotionally draining work for not enough pay. These women could be caring for their own families but instead are carrying the load for someone else. 

 

According to the Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center, “The inequality of this growth and wealth is plain to see. Low-wage workers live in colonias that lack basic infrastructure while highly paid professionals live nearby in luxurious gated communities.” Additionally, organizers from Fuera del Valle stated that workers are vulnerable to potential exploitation from employers. 

 

Whether you’re getting paid (not enough) or not at all to do this kind of work, women overwhelmingly perform tasks like laundry, dishes, meal planning and prep. These thankless tasks are necessary to keep homes and families functioning properly. 

In the Rio Grande Valley, domestic workers are faced with a special set of circumstances that puts the workers in a position to be more easily taken advantage of. More often than not, women who are doing domestic work are without secure documentation. Working without secure documentation puts them at a higher risk for abuse, both physical and emotional. They also are less likely to have any kind of official contract in place, which can lead to withholding of wages, being asked to do more than they were hired for, and overall puts people in a position to be taken advantage of. 

 

According to a 2018 survey report by A.Y.U.D.A. Inc., Comité de Justicia Laboral, Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, out of over 500 domestic workers in the RGV, over a third of them reported that someone in their homes went hungry over the last twelve months. More than half said they couldn’t pay for medical care either they or a family member needed. And about half reported having difficulty paying their bills on time. These women are doing the work to keep wealthy families functioning, yet they cannot afford to support their own in the same way.

Advocate for the Women in Your Life

March was Women’s History Month, but these issues continue to persist beyond days on a calendar. I urge all of you to take a second to appreciate the Sandras in your lives. Your mothers, grandmothers, tias, older sisters, teachers, housekeepers, nannies, girlfriends, wives, and daughters. Pay attention to the people who are there, in the shadows, doing the work to keep the ship afloat. Tell them thank you, take them out to dinner, give them a raise, and most importantly, speak up for the rights of women everywhere. Without domestic workers, life would be chaos! 


If you’d like to get involved in advocating for domestic workers in the RGV, or if you are a domestic worker and want to know more about your rights, there are a number of resources and volunteer opportunities available. Get involved with Fuerza Del Valle and learn more about their mission
here.

Mira Más

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