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Female wage labor and stratified reproduction in Durham

Aleida, pride and perseverance

In the context of the decentralization of the productive processes that fathered the organization of labor under the flexible accumulation model, the women from Pahuatlan found precarious part-time and low-paid jobs in industrial laundries, providing janitorial and catering services to large firms and governmental institutions; in restaurant and hotel chains; domestic work and caring for the children of others. Other women, pioneers from San Pablito Pahuatlan, evoke their first and fleeting work experiences in large meat packing companies that provided restaurants and homes with various semi-processed and frozen supplies. This is, as we will see in what follows, the case of Aleida, an Otomi woman from San Pablito Pahuatlan, one of the 32 localities in the municipality, who arrived in 1999, only 20 years old at the time, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Aleida found work at the Tyson poultry packing plant, where she received a check for USS380 a week in exchange for working 12 hours daily. She started work at four in the afternoon and finished at four in the morning. During the months prior to the Christmas celebrations, after finishing this strenuous working day, she hastily ate a can of corn before she went to work part-time in the manufacture of Christmas wreaths, another one of the county’s rural enterprises. Thanks to this second job she was able to send money to her mother in San Pablito who, in those days, took care of her terminally ill father. Even though Aleida did not have a temporary work visa, her profile was similar to that of “single,” hyper-mobile (Smith & Winders, 2007) men and women who move without partners or children, under the military migration model, disconnected from reproduction tasks and caring for dependents. Regulated migration, including even political refugees and undocumented migration, run parallel in these sites of cheap labor.

Aleida left the poultry packing plant when migratory documents were required of workers. Another event that influenced her decision was her reconciliation with her husband Martin, from San Pablito, who had been living in North Carolina for a couple of years. When they got back together, they procreated two children in their new home. From the time they settled in Orange County in 2000, in the strip that borders the east of the city of Durham, the couple lived in a ramshackle traila (trailer conditioned as housing), a common recourse of poor African American and white families and immigrants (Flippen & Parrado, 2012). Between them both, with plenty of effort, they saved USS13,000 to buy the traila and thus save the US$850 rent they paid for a house. In order to lower the maintenance costs, they had to live with relatives, even tolerating the unbearable presence of her mother-in-law, with whom Aleida has never been able to get along.

This couple embodies the most common daily life and reproduction arrangement that we were able to identify in October 2013 in North Carolina among the immigrant families interviewed. It entails, usually, the coexistence of a male linked to the construction industry and a wife-mother-worker in the restaurant industry, services or janitorial work who have had children in the United States. Women with a longer migratory trajectory have a similar family constellation with the addition of an adolescent son or daughter born in Mexico. During the last 12 years, Aleida was a faithful worker in the Bojangles chain, well-known for its chicken and biscuits, a cheap fast food menu that makes life easier for thousands of workers overwhelmed by extreme schedules, taxing part-time job combinations and extra hours. Aleida’s workday started at 4:30 in the morning. She prepared the biscuit dough in the kitchen and, when finished, continued with the preparation of hundreds of refrigerated chicken parts. Mexican, Central American and African American women predominated in the food preparation and cleaning, as well as in customer service. Aleida showed us with pride the badge she was awarded for her exceptional ability to make dough, the distinctive mark of this fast food chain with “Southern flavor.” At 6:00 am she made a cell phone call to her husband: Martin changed diapers, prepared bottles and took Alexander to the babysitter’s home, a Guatemalan woman from the neighborhood of about a hundred trailas, hidden in a woody corner of a secondary road. Martin quickly left for work in a fence installation company to start a workday that kept him away from home until late at night. In the meantime. Gaby, the couple's 11-year-old daughter, got herself ready and then waited for the school

Accelerated migration to Nuevo New South 73 bus that picked her up at 7:40 am. Aleida left Bojangles at 3:13pm; if needed, on her way home, she picked up some groceries in the small Latino shops located along the way. Before 4:00pm she picked up little Alexander and, once home, started making dinner or, simultaneously, cleaning the house and doing laundry while following the plot of Mexican soap operas on a huge television screen that captivated Gaby, distracting her from her schoolwork.

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