A domestic worker is an occupation that many people forget still exists today. This type of employment has become a cultural phenomenon in many Latin American countries. I had the experience of a lifetime when in the fall of my junior year I had the opportunity to study abroad in Lima, Peru. I took classes at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Peru in Lima, made new friends, and deeply immersed myself into a new culture, and making new friends by deeply immersing myself into a new culture. I found many differences between my college experience and that of Peruvians. For example, on-campus housing does not exist and everyone commutes to the universities and technical colleges while living with their family. Since this was the situation, I had the opportunity to live with a host family and commuted to the university. There was nothing out of the ordinary at my new home until one day a woman came to clean the house and offered to wash my laundry. This was new to me because I had never seen a domestic worker and I had the notion that this was no longer a job. Even more striking was having a domestic worker for a middle class family home, as opposed to an affluent family where domestic workers are historically common. I Immediately knew I wanted to learn more about this situation and decided to volunteer with a non-profit organization, La Casa de Panchita, which educates women workers in Limain order to learn more about domestic workers.
Domestic women workers are very common in Latin American countries including Peru. This job, which includes over 40 hours a week, has become a culture that distinguishes women. Many Peruvian authors such as Mario Vargas Llosa and Alfredo Bryce Echenique have included the role of a domestic women worker in some of their most prestigious novels. There are also many films that encompass the role of domestic workers and their representation in society. What I learned from my time spent at La Casa de Panchita was that these women were mistreated, and for the most part, unhappy with their lifestyles. When I left Peru to return back to the United States, I was curious and eager for more information on domestic women workers.
This past summer I returned to Lima to work with the same non-profit, La Casa de Panchita, in search of a deeper reasoning behind this phenomenon. I was fortunate to have conducted interviews of women who visited and participated in La Casa de Panchita. I heard a wide variety of personal stories about how these women were treated by their employers, the house residents, and society. Speaking to actual workers and with volunteers helped me have a better understanding of their situation. I also traveled Lima speaking with the residents and scholars about how these women are represented historically and today.
The research done in Lima has been translated into an independent study with Professor Wolfenzon where we will immerse ourselves into Peruvian literature and films in order to find the role of domestic women workers and their representation in comparison to modern day Lima.