``Menea esas manos'': Factory work, domestic life and job loss among Puerto Rican women in a Connecticut town

Date of Completion

January 1990


Anthropology, Cultural|Economics, Labor|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




This ethnographic study examines the experiences of 33 Puerto Rican women in migration, factory work and subsequent job loss due to factory closings in Willimantic, a small Connecticut industrial city that has experienced a decline in industrial jobs. Informants are former employees of two defunct factories that utilized largely unskilled labor and which prior to the 1980's had been the most important sources of employment for Puerto Rican migrants in Willimantic. The focus of the study is on women's own interpretations of their experiences in these processes in the context of the interplay between the workplace and the family.^ Several dimensions of women's lives are analyzed: (1) Reasons and patterns of migration taking into account family situation and labor market conditions both in Puerto Rico and Willimantic. (2) Evaluations of work experience in the defunct factories including gender division of labor, supervision, worker relationships, and unions. (3) Domestic labor with emphasis on the gender allocation of labor meaning of remunerated work. (4) Short and long term effects of factory closings on women's labor force status, socio-economic situation and personal life.^ Ethnographic field methods included a series of in-depth interviews, informal conversations and participant observation in the homes of women.^ Informants' interpretation of their position both in the workplace and in the home is mediated by cultural beliefs about women's proper roles, actual division of labor, the meaning of remunerated work and women's self-images. Women's social identities are embedded both in the workplace and in the home. The evaluation women made of their work experience in the defunct factories is based primarily on management's control of workers, work process, prior work experience, and perceived union responses to their individual and collective needs. The way women felt the impact of factory closings relates directly to structural changes underway in the Willimantic labor market, household composition and the meaning women attach to paid work. ^