A woman’s role in a family has been commonly known to stay in the house and take care of their children. In Central America the beliefs that men and women have to follow a certain role in families has been a part of their culture for many years. Machismo and marianismo has influenced the beliefs of a women in a family and the work force. Machismo has affected men in Central America as being “macho” such as being the breadwinner of the family and being the head of the household. Men are believed to guide the children of the family and to be the parent that has a job. As for women, marianismo has been connected to the “La Virgen Maria” (the Virgin Mary) the mother of Jesus. A woman is taught to put her child first, similar to the Virgin Mary. The common traits of machismo and marianismo seem to be challenged when many Central American women migrate to the United States.
Introduction: The Roles of a Central American Women
When the civil war took place in El Salvador during the 1980s and early 1990s many people began to migrate to the United States looking for a better future for themselves and their families. Many men from Central America moved to the U.S. leaving women in El Salvador to be the breadwinner and the head of the household. The war brought a few changes in the roles of a women; they began working in factories or on fields and some of their eldest children stayed home to take care of their siblings. Women also left to the United States leaving their families behind with the hopes to find a better job in the U.S. and send money back home for their children.
Central American migrates began looking for jobs in the U.S. that would help them survive in a new country. With very minimal job opportunities, immigrants opened restaurants that would sell Salvadoran food, others would start to work in factories for clothing stores and many would get hired as housecleaners/nannies. In Los Angeles, California, Central American women hold jobs that follow the central norms of marianismo. In most cases women hear about the jobs from a family member or friend who has been living in California. Since women coming from Central America do not have any legal documentation in the U.S., working as house cleaners and nannies are jobs that most of them take because they doesn’t require them to show any legal documents. Although these jobs provide a chance for women in Central America to support themselves in the U.S., hey do not provide enough pay to send back home. When moving to the U.S. many women leave their children in Central America and try to make enough money to bring them across the border.
Women who work as nannies form a special bond with the children they are caring for, as if they were their own. Single mothers in some cases bring their children with them to the U.S., but they spend most of their days working, which gives these mothers less time with their children. Nanny workers also begin to form a special bond with the children they are taking care of and develop a sense of comfort with that family. The role of a Central American women has developed throughout the years in both, the U.S. and in Central America, but how has does marianismo and machismo influence Central American women’s employment in the U.S.? When women are looking for jobs in the U.S., jobs that require taking care of children and house cleaning are offered to them due to their cultural beliefs of marianismo and machismo. In this paper I will discuss the common beliefs of machismo and marianismo in Central American, how marianismo can be seen in housekeeping in Los Angeles, California and how it influences the U.S. workforce.
Machismo and marianismo are terms used to describe the gender behavior and roles in Central America. Machismo is referred to macho which is to be a strong man and proud of masculinity. Men are also believed to be the parent who provides income to a family, so it gives them a higher power other than a woman. Englander, Yanez and Barney (2012) discuss the idealized beliefs of machismo and marianismo in Latin American countries. For instance, “This maternal ideal is justified because women are ―spiritually and morally superior to men, so they should be self-negating and martyrs for their children (Dreby, 2006, p. 35). However, marianismo is not limited to mothers (Méndez-Negrete, 1999).” (Englander et al. 69). In the article it mentions how marianismo is believed to be women putting men in a higher position than themselves and staying at home nurturing their children. The Virgin María has also influenced marianismo, the Catholic theology describes her as nurturing and caring for Jesus. This role has stayed in the traditional belief that women should always care for their family but machismo has given men the privilege to be the defenders of the household and keep the family
in place. In machismo, men have the right to tell their children how to act and give women orders in their home. Marianismo has also been connected to the job offers in Central America.
Since women are not seen as being independent, they are paid less while working at maquiladoras. In some cases, a single mother suffers from low wage jobs because it’s more difficult for them to provide the necessities in her household.
In Central America there are jobs offered to women that include positions that are connected to marianismo. Maquiladoras are factories that export their goods from Central America to other countries such as the United States, in most cases the items being exported from Central America is clothing. These companies employ many women to work in their factories, specifically mothers who are taught to be at home and let males be the one to provide income to their home. Due to the belief that men are supposed to provide the income, jobs such as working in maquiladoras give a low wage payment to women. Gender ideologies are also seen in maquiladoras because women are provided with less hours to work. Giles (2006) talks about the important roles of a woman and the labor work they are given in Central America. For example, “Their primary goal is to raise their children’s standard of living (Ready 2003). Women accept lower wages in order to placate their husbands, in addition to being placed by their employers into a position where they have no choice.” (Giles 13). This relates to machismo because jobs offered in Central America provide women with lower wage jobs due to men being the provider of the household. Since women are not seen as being independent, they are paid less while working at maquiladoras. In some cases, a single mother suffers from low wage jobs because it’s more difficult for them to provide the necessities in her household. There are also other cases in which men start spending money on drinks to show their macho side; this causes the family to suffer because both parents do not have enough money to support the family. Women are given very low hours to work because of the stereotypical belief that women should be at their homes with their children. Labor work in Central America shows traits to marianismo because of the lower pay to women in the work force as well as the minimum hours given to them. Most jobs in Central America are given to men and do not provide enough money for single mothers which leads to many mothers migrating to the United States in hopes of finding a better paying job.
In the United States, Central American women mainly take on jobs that require house cleaning and taking care of children. In Los Angeles, California there are many immigrants coming from Central America looking for jobs that offer them about as much as the minimum wage and do not ask for any documentation papers. Jobs such as housekeeping and being a nanny usually do not require any documentation and are recommended by other family members who have been living in the U.S. Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila (1997) mentions a few cases of women working as housekeepers and living with the home owners as well as women who work day shifts, so they are able to go back home to their children at the end of the day. It says, “They (employers) want a live-in to have somebody at their beck and call. They want the hours that are most difficult for them covered, which is like six thirty in the morning 'till eight when the kids go to school, and four to seven when the kids are home, and its homework, bath, and dinner.” (Hondagneu-Sotelo et al. 555). Women working as housekeepers begin to spend more time working in the U.S. to be able to support their families in the U.S and send money back to Central America. There are also women living in the houses they work for to be able to clean and take care of the children. Working as caretakers gives women from Central America the opportunity to be able to pay for their own homes and provide care for their children which follows the roles of the Hispanic ideology of marianismo.
California is one of the top states that many Salvadoran people migrate to, there are also family members/ friends who help provide jobs for new immigrants. In Los Angeles there are many Salvadoran women who work in cleaning homes and take care of children. Some companies provide their workers with many houses to clean per day and provide them with a pay of minimum wage. There are also homeowners who provide a place to stay for their workers which makes them feel part of the family. In the case of Luz Alcantara, she works for one homeowner throughout the weekdays and then goes home to her family. Born in El Salvador, Luz America Alcantara came to the United States at the age of 15, like many Central Americans, Luz did not have a choice to leave El Salvador. Her parents got a divorce and her mother moved to the U.S., leaving Luz in El Salvador. After some time her mother asked her sister to bring Luz with her to the U.S. along with Luz’s cousins. They took a plane from El Salvador to Guadalajara and then to Mexico. Then, they took a bus to Tijuana and walked three days in the desert until they arrived in California. I have known Luz Alcantara for seven years now, she is the mother of my high school friends Corina Vasquez and Nicole Vasquez. I decided to interview Luz about her past experience in taking care of an actor’s home in Los Angeles for more than eight years as well as her past jobs in El Salvador and in California. The interview took place at Luz’s apartment, we decided to share some pan dulce at the table in the kitchen. The interview about her past employment went as followed:
Question: What was the first job you got when you arrived in the United States and how did you hear about it?
Answer: My first job in the U.S. was babysitting even though I wasn’t being paid for it. I had to watch my siblings and cousins that I had come to the U.S. with, which is why I wasn’t allowed to go to school when I got here. My first paid job in the U.S. was at a factory that made girls party dresses and I heard about it through a neighbor we had at the time. In El Salvador my mother had a little market that she would run out of our home, my siblings and I would have to help out with the store.
Luz’s first job in the U.S. was watching over her family members in their new home. In El Salvador she also had to help her mother with the store; this shows how work was her family’s first priority, then, going to school. Luz wanted to go to school but wasn’t allowed because her role as a woman was to help her family in their home. When she arrived in the U.S., her goal was to go to school but that dream changed once her mother and her aunt put her to take care of her siblings and cousins. She believed that once she arrived in the U.S., she would have the opportunity to go to school and get the education she always wanted but wasn’t allowed due to her working in El Salvador. Being a caretaker in the U.S. shows how women from Central America are still influenced with the roles brought by the central norms in marianismo. Her family’s priority was to have her taking care of the house and her younger family members instead of going to school. Her interview about her current job and her experience as a housekeeper went as followed:
Question: How did you get the offer for your current job?
Answer: I currently work as a housekeeper. After my first job at the dress factory all my other jobs have been housekeeping jobs. I would learn about new jobs through my mother and aunt who were also housekeepers. When one of us couldn’t take a job we would recommend the other just so we wouldn’t lose work. At one point I was offered a job that needed someone 5 days a week but I wasn’t able to take it as I was already working for multiple people; so I recommended my aunt and she has now been with this couple for 30 years. Years later, my aunt’s boss told her that she had a client that was looking for a housekeeper 5 days a week, so she asked me. At first, I was scared because I had always had multiple people that I worked for just in case one decided they didn’t need me anymore, so that I wasn’t left without work. I decided to take a risk and take the job and now I’ve been working for this actor for 10 years.
In Los Angeles, women have worked with the same homeowner for years such as the case of Luz and her aunt. Many women worked for more than one homeowner because of the fear of being left with no job. Luz took a risk and has now been working with this homeowner for many years. In some cases, workers begin to develop a very good relationship with the homeowners; Luz doesn’t live with the house owner but will sometimes stay in the house to provide company to the owner’s dogs. While Luz was talking about her past experience as a housekeeper, she sounded more enthusiastic about speaking about her current job.
Her interview about her current job went as follows:
Question: Do you feel like you are part of two families why and why not?
Answer: Working for this actor does feel like being part of a family but my family; I see her as a daughter and was very emotional when she got engaged. I want the best for her. She has also mentioned that when she has children, she wants me to move in and take care of her kids. Luz’s relationship with the homeowner has developed into a very close friendship
throughout the years. My few years of knowing her I have seen the homeowner invite Luz and her family over to her parties and as also offer Luz’s daughters to help with taking care of the dogs. The homeowner has also given Luz many materials that she didn’t use such as shoes, make up, and clothes for her family. Luz and the homeowner have developed a relationship that feels like she is part of one family.
Marianismo has influenced the work field for women in Central America due to the ideologies of women staying at home and helping take care of the children. These roles have followed into Los Angeles with the job opportunities given to Central American women by providing them with only few hours of work and getting paid lower or at minimum wage. Although the treatment of women in the working field in Los Angeles is not the same, the beliefs that women are supposed to stay at home and take care of children can still be seen in the U.S. workforce. The women roles that marianismo describes sticks with Central American women even though they had left the country. During their time in El Salvador taking care of their homes and children is not labor work, it is the role that a woman should follow in the household. This trait is learned and passed on by family members and has also influenced the jobs offered to Central American women in the U.S.
In Los Angeles, the jobs being provided to Central American women shows connections to the cultural beliefs of marianismo. Working as housecleaners and nannies are two of the very few jobs that usually don’t require any legal documents. This shows how the jobs being offered to Central American women aren’t just following the social norms of marianismo but are also the very few options given to women in the U.S. This makes it harder for women to depict from the
stereotypical beliefs that women cannot take on jobs that are not similar to characteristics of marianismo. This leads to Central American men in the U.S. still taking the hire paying jobs such as construction workers.
Machismo also affects the influence of marianismo in the U.S. because women begin to take on the roles that men would have normally taken in Central America. Single mothers in the United States take on both roles of machismo and marianismo, women have to go to work during the day and then come back home to take care of their children. In Central America seeing a women work for very long hours is unusual because a woman is to stay at home to take care of the family. Although this trait is not something that a woman from Central America is taught to do, many mothers begin to take on both roles of machismo and marianismo. Women in the U.S. can take on both norms but they are still not given the same opportunities as men when it comes to the workforce.
Many women from El Salvador migrate to the United States looking for a better future. Single mothers also come looking for a job that can provide them with enough money to take care of themselves and to be able to send money back to their family. Most jobs offered to women from Central America involve labor work such as housekeeping and taking care of
children. Although it may be seen as a job that many women dislike and where they are mistreated, in some cases workers enjoy the company of their house owners and begin to develop a family relationship with them. In the case of Luz, working for this actress is not seen as part of the roles of marianismo to her, she enjoys her job and loves spending time with the house owner.
Today in Central America there are many families that still follow the roles of marianismo and machismo. Men are still seen as the superior sex and young girls are still taught to take care of their home by their mothers. In the United States these roles have changed in the household for Central American families but not in the working force. Single mothers are left with doing both, jobs in the household and going out to work to provide money for the family. Marianismo and machismo will be a social norm that will be passed on to Central American families for many years to come. Even though the United States depicts a negative view of marianismo due to influence in the workforce, this is not the case for Central American families.
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Giles, D. M. (2006). An Understanding of the Relationship between Maquiladoras and Women’s Rights in Central America. Nebraska Anthropologist.
Hondagneu-Sotelo, P., & Avila, E.. (1997). 'I'm here, but I'm there': The meanings of Latina transitional motherhood. Gender & Society, 11(5), 548.
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