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Elena: migration to the North as maternal sacrifice

Unlike Aleida, the Pahuatecan mestizas interviewed did not mention having work experience in the rural food packing industry. Instead, for most of them, restaurant chains are nowadays a “refuge labor market niche,” that is, a choice for those who cannot choose (Juliano, 2002). The extreme flexible conditions in this industry allow the youngest women—single, separated or abandoned with children—to “put together hours here and there,” a part-time in one chain and a part-time in another. This strategy allows them to reach the prized 40 hours or slightly more a week, with which they try to meet their daily consumption—living with austerity, buying clothes in second-hand shops, buying in Latino stores—to, eventually send money to the town or, as in the case of Aleida, build a house as a final refuge at the end of her work trajectory in the United States.

Overwhelmed by debts, Elena—31 years old, divorced and with two children born in Durham—in 2011 sold a small business that she and her ex-husband set up years before in Pahuatlan with the savings from their first time in North Carolina in the late 1990s and early years of the last decade. The business was already untenable in 2010: its few profits went into paying for the premises and restocking the merchandise. After selling the business, Elena set off to North Carolina for the second time. Once settled in Durham, some Pahuatecos/as gave her shelter: “The apartment was small, with only one bedroom, the living room and the kitchen. I stayed in the living room, my friends in the room, but I paid very little” (Elena, 31 years old, Durham NC, November 2014). Thanks to this support, Elena reactivated as a single and free worker, confident that she had left her children in good hands with their grandmother in Pahuatlan. “I didn’t find work quickly, I was unemployed for about two months, because I arrived in August, when it’s a bit slow. And, also, because I didn’t have a car, I couldn’t move. There was work all right, but far away” (Elena, 31 years old, Durham NC, November 2014). Finally, she found work in a sock packing plant, with low pay on a piece-rate basis: “There were days when we earned 50 dollars and others when we earned 90 and there were days when we earned 16 dollars a day, that’s how the check came” (Elena, Durham, NC, November 2014).

Day by day she increased her discipline to work intensely, secure modest consumption and support social reproduction processes in her distant town. The flexible worker’s body is redesigned to maximize its productive capacities and contain its potentialities and reproductive needs. To this end, the work and social reproduction costs are transferred to other places and people and, therefore, arenot contemplated in the salary calculation of these cheap workers (Binford, 2013; Cravey, 2003).

I worked in the morning in the packing plant and in the afternoon in the burgers until eleven. As soon as I could, I bought a second-hand car for two thousand dollars. Then, I started to send money to my children, even if it wasn’t much I’d send it to them, that’s why I needed to have two jobs. That’s what I got used to, because that's the only way, because with one job it’s just for getting by, I would’ve stayed in Pahuatlan for that, just to get by eating and living.

(Elena. Durham NC, 2014)

In 2012, reunited with her two adolescent children, Elena abandoned her condition as a single worker, hypermobile and without dependents—that is, as a “perfect worker’’—to configure herself as a “single, low-income mother” before the state, looking for recognition and aiming to create conditions for raising her children.

When my children came we rented here, we bought the beds, I couldn't furnish it quickly either, as I would’ve wanted, I didn't have the money. Because when you're going to rent a house you have to pay the electricity deposit, since it’s the first time, you have to pay the rent deposit.

(Elena, Durham NC, November 2014)

In addition to securing a house, clothing and utensils, Elena managed their entrance to schools, healthcare and access to basic governmental support:

First, I applied for food stamps, so that they would give my children food. Now I have a card that they give to everyone who’s low-income and have children, small children. My daughter is 16,1 think this will be the last year that they will give her [food stamps]. It’s 200 dollars per child a month, they only give me 250 for both. We applied for the school lunch program, because I’m a single mother they approved it. We are low-income, they give [lunch] to low-income children.

(Elena, Durham NC, November 2014)

In 2013, Elena worked four days a week in a Tobacco Road chain restaurant, in Chapel Hill, where her shift ran from 9:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon. After taking a short break and having a snack in her van, she worked in the kitchen of The Cheesecake Factory six days a week from 4:00 pm to 11:00pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, the workday in the factory extended well into early morning, overtime for which she was never paid extra, as stipulated by law; instead, she was paid 80 percent at best. How can we identify in these life stories the fields in which these super-exploited female workers display micro practices, albeit confusing and complex, circumscribing potential class

Accelerated migration to Nuevo New South 75 confrontations? As Gavin Smith (2015, p. 81) states “[A] class does not sit alone; it is made by the force of its opposed class.” However, in the identification of class we need to go further: “The unfolding of our potential, the development of what we might be against the reality of what we currently are, is a struggle against the conditions that exist in the present, in order to make them into new possibilities” (Smith, 2015, p. 81). With evident anger, Elena alluded to one of her frequent confrontations with the managers over work accidents caused by the lack of proper maintenance of work tools.

The day the manager came I told him “here in the contract it says that you have to give us the tools we need for working.” The fryer was broken for three months, and until Melvin came, I think he spoke to the owner, they kind of fixed it. But it only worked for a month and it’s broken again. I tell him “why don’t you replace them? why don’t you sell them?” He tells me “because there’s no money.” The thing is they don’t want things to go to waste. Plus, the less expenses the store has, the more bonuses the manager gets.

(Elena. Durham NC, November 2014)

With two adolescent children and without a stable partner with whom to share the monthly rent of USS560 and other expenses, Elena would not be able to move forward if it were not for her two jobs. Because of the debts to go back to the United States, the purchase of the second-hand car, and the pressure to send money to her aging mother in Pahuatlán, she had to put her project to finish building a house in her hometown on hold, anticipating that, given her migratory status, she might have to leave the country at any time. In October 2013 she spent her days buried in doubts and bitterness that she tried to hide, so her relationship with her children would not turn sour. She blamed herself for leaving them alone for long periods, she was barely able to steal hours from her sleep to make the food her children reheated upon coming home from school. “They watch too much television,” Elena laments, but she is unable to support the development of other formative activities because she, after all, “is here for my children, but can't do it all.” Keeping her children in the education system is a challenge, even if this means that their desired upward mobility will be spurious (Jiménez & Assusa, 2017) and will not always result in better salaries. However, receiving an education will at least entail the abandonment of the humiliating manual occupations of their mothers.

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