by Susanna Raymundo
The muchacha: the maid, the servant, the cook, the housekeeper. These are courageous women, workers, and professionals of the household; poor people in the eyes of the economy but rich in the eyes of love, skills and intelligence. Most lack formal education, although some have studied at primary school, whilst others that have been able to graduate from certain courses, but due to the lack of employment opportunities within that profession and financial need are forced to go around knocking on doors and looking for adverts that say “muchacha needed” or “young women needed for housework”. When they ask, they will be offered a payment of Q300 – Q500, but if she comes with a child then it’s unlikely she will receive this much and if she does then insurance will take Q300 off it a month.
Her schedule will be between 5am to 8-9pm and normally she will not have Sundays off, so if she wants to go and visit a friend or take a walk that day, she will have to leave her services such the cleaning or the laundry finished. She would never eat in the dining room with the family, but instead under the terrace or in a corner of the kitchen; the family will eat meat whilst she eats soup. Over time the patron will start to complain about things which are missing in the house, but how can he expect things not to disappear with this salary?
There are daughters of patrons that still have the same domestic worker that they had when they were little, but even though they are now both elderly and the worker’s salary has been raised from Q50 to Q300, the roles never change: it doesn’t matter if she can hardly walk, if she has crooked hands or scars from the wounds that were caused by accidents or by her own patron.
At first only the Ladino people hired the muchachas but now all people have become integrated into the culture of materialism. We are like cannibals – not just at home but also at work, especially on the farms where coffee, sugar and cotton are grown, on the buses, the markets and the streets.
The word muchacha is a derogatory term like ‘indio/india’ (Indian), but when they are interviewed and they are asked ‘what is your occupation’ they respond with pride and say ‘I’m a muchacha’ because they know the value of this work and they don’t just work for one household, but also for their own.