Note on a fellow warrior, survivor of domestic violence, domestic worker, and member of the Domestic Workers’ Committee in south Texas
In front of Juanita, a domestic worker, immediately beginning the conversation, I feel a deep connection with her, who at first has a hard time remembering her past and her gaze is lost in the void when remembering her origins in Mexico.
Born into an indigenous family in her native Chiapas, she decided to become independent at age 18 when her parents came to live in Mexico City and she moved to Mexico City with the firm intention of studying a university career. There she meets the father of his son who works making prosthetics and in agriculture in Monterrey and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
They decide to come to work definitively to U.S. but they return and their son is diagnosed with a serious disability and needs to undergo several surgeries.
Upon returning, she began her immigration problem because she was not allowed to cross the bridge and her son was required to be operated on. She hires an attorney, whom defrauds her and she hands herself over to the immigration authorities and eventually gets granted a 10-year permit, time she spent supporting her son with therapies, surgeries and everything necessary to save his life.
The father of her son decides to abandon them. Years later she marries the father of her second son, who at the beginning of the relationship was an excellent stepfather and companion, and he decides to submit papers to request her permanent residence in this country. As a result of a departure to Mexico to give the last goodbye to her mother who had died, wanting to re-enter the country she is imprisoned 1 month and treated as a drug trafficker.
She still remembers with pain as they opened her legs looking for drugs and is finally deported to a border town of Tamaulipas. At that moment I feel her pain when expressing how she suffered being separated from her children, not knowing about them, without giving them the care and love of mother. Her family turned their back on her when she needed them most out of fear of immigration. Knowing that her partner is trying to take custody of her children she made the decision to cross the river even at the cost of her life to meet with them.
With tears in her eyes, she tells of the life she lived in order to care for her children, while at the same time coping with the domestic violence she was going through. Speaking almost to herself she says that every day of work was painful as she left her children with other people to get to work. She recalls working in agriculture, painting houses and cleaning houses.
She has 23 years here and continues to clean houses and apartments and remember that there were occasions where she was paid with used things as if she could pay the rent or expenses with scrap. Juanita recalls when she was not paid she was threatened with immigration to intimidate her and press her into a position of not continuing to fight for her salary, a very common tactic used by exploitative and abusive employers.
In 2013, Juanita attended a labor rights talk at the Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center and realized that workers with or without documents have labor rights, she also realizes that the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. She reasoned the abuse to which she was subjected by the people to whom she worked. At the same time she recognizes that there were people who treated her as a human being, as a worker who only wants to live in dignity.
“Unknown, they see us vulnerable, without documents and in need of money for our basic needs, that is why they exploit us,” says Juanita.
When she became more involved with the Workers’ Center, she decided to “not work in these conditions” and now she does not work if she is not paid the minimum wage and sometimes she is paid up to $ 10 per hour.
She is currently an activist and community leader who helps empower other domestic workers in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, motivating them to know their rights through Fuerza del Valle and defend them as she found a space there to be heard.
Juanita is one of the 1.6 million domestic workers in this country who clean houses, care for children, the elderly or disabled.
Historically excluded from labor protections, domestic workers are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation coupled with the anti-immigrant climate that contributes to the already existing fear of undocumented domestic workers putting them even more at risk of labor exploitation and abuse such as those suffered by Juanita.
The Domestic Worker Committee, part of Fuerza del Valle, has more than 60 active members who recently participated in the first study of domestic workers in the Texas border. Fuerza del Valle in coordination with the National Domestic Workers Alliance developed the project where they surveyed 262 domestic workers documenting working conditions, and will give light to the problems of domestic workers in South Texas.
The struggle for dignity for domestic workers continues throughout the country. In the Rio Grande Valley, this powerful movement is motivating domestic workers to defend their rights organizing their activity through the Domestic Workers’ Committee. As part of Fuerza del Valle Workers Center, they have the support of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and the Equal Voice Network of the Rio Grande Valley, since Fuerza del Valle is part of this great network that prioritizes working families needs.
For more information, to join and support call (956)433-3523 or send an email to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 10, 2017
Rosa Sanluis, Community Organizer
Juanita Castillo, Leader and Active Member
(pseudonym for actual member)
Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center
Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center cultivates the leadership and power of unprotected workers to stop the rampant problem of wage theft, and to build a movement for economic justice in the South Texas. Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center and the Labor Justice Committee in El Paso form Border Workers United to uplift the voice of border workers.