Mapuche migrant women in domestic work: A portrait of personal and collective survival

Date of Completion

January 2006


Anthropology, Cultural|Women's Studies




For over four centuries indigenous populations in Latin America have experienced rural-to-urban labor migration to secure their personal and collective survival. Such has been the case of the Mapuche women of Chile, who as a poor marginalized minority residing in southern "refuge zones," have found in urban, well-to-do households their means of survival. "Mapuche Migrant Women in Domestic Work: A Portrait of Personal and Collective Survival" is an historical and ethnographic account of the living and working experiences of thirteen women who escaped different levels of poverty in native Puerto Saavedra, Western bank of the Araucanian Region, by enrolling in the invisible and disregarded domestic service sector of Santiago, Chile's capital city. Through the use of audio-taped interviews, focus groups and participant observation conducted between 1994 and 1996 in the sending and the receiving communities among people directly or indirectly linked to the reality of Mapuche domestic labor migration, the study analyses the idiosyncratic motives and/or causes that led these women to become migrant domestic workers, the transitional adaptation processes/patterns they engaged in, the power relations and/or forms of control or discipline they faced and the various patterns of resistance and/or accommodation through which they navigated oppression in and outside the working environment. Through this analysis, and contrary to what is commonly believed, I contend that the institution of domestic service in Chile continues to be anchored in a colonial ideology that forces the migrants to secure their jobs by submitting themselves to coercive, uninterrupted and controlling disciplining targeted at their labor as well as their physical and mental make-up. I also contend that regardless of how docile the workers may appear in order to secure these jobs, they are not completely mute or passive, since at the same time that they show support for, and/or accommodation of domination, they also demonstrate, whether actively or passively, subconsciously or consciously, resistance to those in power. ^