Housekeeper. Nanny. Maid. Surrogate mother. Such are the many roles of las domésticas—undocumented workers who came to America in search of a better life and found themselves scrubbing toilets and setting tables, working long hours for little pay in private homes.
Most have no health insurance, no driver license, no pension and no recourse when it comes to employment injustices. They cook meals they could never afford, clean houses they could only dream of owning and care for strangers’ children when their own children are thousands of miles away. Deportation is a constant fear. And still they come to the United States by the thousands in hopes of a better life for themselves and their families.
MAID IN AMERICA is an intimate, eye-opening look at the lives of las domésticas, as seen through the eyes of Eva, Telma and Judith: three Latina immigrants, each with a very different story, who work as nannies and housekeepers in Los Angeles, California. Filmmakers Anayansi Prado and Kevin Leadingham followed their subjects for several years, and their cameras caught some of the most intimate moments of these women’s lives, both on and off the job.
"Am I going after the American Dream? No, I'm not. Because here we have to live in the reality of who we are.” Those are the words of Judith, a Latina housekeeper who emigrated from Guatemala to find work in Los Angeles. A mother of four, Judith left her children back home in search of a better future for her family.
Like Judith, Los Angeles is filled with stories of women who leave their families behind to come work in American homes cleaning and raising other women's children. The film also follows Telma, a Salvadorian immigrant nanny and Mickey, the 6-year-old she's been taking care of since he was a baby. Through their story, audiences see what life is like when Mom goes to work and the nanny becomes a surrogate mother.
For Eva, being a housekeeper is a means of making a living until her situation changes. She holds an accounting degree from Mexico, but because of her legal status she cannot obtain employment as an accountant and is forced to work as a housekeeper. But this persistent and determined woman is not about to give up.
MAID IN AMERICA also introduces others in the three main character’s lives, including Rossana Perez, coordinator for the Domestic Workers Project at the Coalition of Humane Immigrants Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA); the Marbury family, who are both reassured and guilt-ridden by their son’s near-maternal relationship with Telma; and Eulalia Camargo, a retired domestic who has written Call Me María, a short play based on a humiliating incident in her career when an employer threw a cup of hot coffee in her face. In the play, the fictional María is saved by a caped crusader called Superdoméstica, who fends off both the cruel employer and the immigration department with her domestic superpowers.
But Superdoméstica is fiction; unfortunately, the odds are against Telma, Judith, Eva and the other women profiled in MAID IN AMERICA. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are more than 10 million undocumented workers fighting for the same pool of low-paying jobs in the United States, and more than 100,000 of them are deported to Mexico and Central America every year. In November 2005, the Los Angeles Times estimated that Southern California alone is home to more than 62,000 Latinas working as nannies. It’s a hard life, but often better than the one they left behind.
The challenges faced by these women are as diverse as their stories. MAID IN AMERICA is the story of the American dream as seen from the perspectives of three women, all looking longingly through the glass…at the same time they’re cleaning it.
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