A day in the life of Alejandra

When called for a job, Alejandra Garcia gets up fully energized, earlier than usual. She wears sporty clothes and her most comfortable shoes. Alejandra, 34, cleans her employers’ homes before her own. She is a domestic employee whose weekly salary ranges from $50 to $200, depending on the number of clients who call her.

It is estimated that in New York City there are 250,000 domestic workers, working for families with annual incomes of more than $100,000. But there are many who work for agencies, for $5 an hour. “Cleaning is hard work, and right now the wages are not adequate,” Alejandra says. Like any other professional, she controls her own hours. “It is the clients who work around my days,” she declares.

She prepares breakfast and lunch baskets for her family, then she prepares herself to clean, mop, wash, and scour the homes of her clients. When she heads back home, she takes care of her own chores. Fortunately, she says, her husband is not that demanding. “If I give him beans, he eats beans: if there are only eggs he eats eggs.” She also counts on his financial support. If it weren’t for his job as a waiter, they would not survive.

In getting to their modest apartment, two blocks from the Queensboro Bridge, one realizes what good shape Alejandra is in. The building does not have an elevator so one must climb five flights of stairs.

In apartment 5D, everything is clean and in order. The floors of this friendly lady’s house shine like a mirror. Walking through the sparkling hallway one sees her bedroom, filled with a collection of stuffed animals. Next door is her 14-year-old daughter’s bedroom, the walls covered with posters of Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and other pop stars. After that is the living room, home to her husband’s collection of toy cars of all models and sizes. The only place free from a collection of some sort is the kitchen, which is mostly white and clean.

Like Alejandra and her husband, many other Mexican immigrants face heavy work loads every day. But Alejandra did not have such long hours in Mexico; there she use to take care of her baby and do pedicures and manicures in homes, for three dollars each.

Here in New York, the nature of her job forces her to enter strangers’ homes. With some clients, she has established relationships and has unintentionally entered their private lives. Sometimes she serves as their “carnalita” (confidante). “They speak to me about their husbands…if they are having affairs or not!”

She visits her favorite clients twice a week. First, she takes care of household chores, then of the beauty needs of the lady of the house, such as Mexican-style manicures and pedicures. Sometimes she even dyes their hair.

Most, but certainly not all, of her clients are Hispanic. Some of them wait for her to share breakfast; others don’t even offer her a glass of water. At some jobs she feels at home. “I arrange things the way I want to and I do not think it bothers them since they do not tell me to stop.” Others jobs are very unpleasant. “Things are really dirty and you need to scrub. I do not know how they can live like that. I know they pay me to clean but there are some personal things that one must take care of” she said.

She remembers when her daughter was young, she use to babysit two babies and take the trash out of a six story building. “I used to do everything really fast. When my husband came home, the house was clean, there was stew and I had even taken a shower,” she said.

After marrying her husband, Alejandra hopes to receive residency status and get a new job. But for now she will continue doing what she calls her “heavy work load.”

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