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Oakland at Work: Oakland’s domestic workers share their stories

on December 10, 2015

Etelvina López, a 33-year old mother of two, is grooming the 400 square-foot nursery room located on the first floor of the headquarters of Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), an Oakland-based advocacy group for Latina domestic workers. She’s preparing for the arrival of the children who she takes care of every Thursday evening.

López came to Oakland from Guatemala almost 16 years ago to seek job opportunities. In addition to this job, which pays $15 per hour, López works as a domestic worker for Bay Area families and volunteers for MUA.

It’s past 4 p.m. and the organizations’ members will start bringing their children to the nursery room. The women leave their children here while they attend a meeting on the second floor of the building. At these weekly meetings, the women receive orientation and counseling on issues ranging from domestic violence to domestic worker’s rights and obligations.

With a vinegar soaked cloth, López cleans the toys displayed in a bookshelf in a corner of the purple nursery room. Vinegar is the best natural sterilizer, she says.

Minutes later, her colleagues Maricela Alvarado and María Ortega join López in the nursery room. As the children arrive, the three women chat among themselves about their busy week. They laugh as they recall stories from their home countries’ traditions and culture. Alvarado and Ortega come from Mexico and are also domestic workers.

López admits that she misses her mother in Guatemala. Ortega has children who live in California, but she chimes in, saying that she misses her husband, who went back to Mexico four years ago to have eye surgery. He hasn’t been able to come back since it has become more dangerous to deal with the “coyotes,” the immigrant smugglers. The coyotes demand roughly $7,000 dollars to smuggle an immigrant from southern Mexico to the United States, Ortega says.

As they talk, the five Latino children draw and eat sliced fruit around a small table in the center of the room. Shortly after 7 p.m., the meeting upstairs ends and the children’s mothers pick them up. López, along with Alvarado and Ortega, clean the room, so it will be ready for the children next week.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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