María Inocencia Benítez, a member of La Colectiva, a collective of female domestic workers in the Bay Area recalled: “When I left my family in Mexico to come to the U.S., my girls were very small and still needed many things from me, but I had nothing to give them.”
Benítez’ story is one of a dozen that will be presented on May 13 as part of a work-in-progress play that aims to humanize and dignify the struggle that many female immigrants face when coming to work in the U.S.
Presented in a simplistic storytelling format, the unaltered narrative opens the listener to a current of very real drama that runs parallel to our world.
“I think people may be curious to know everything we’ve battled against since we left our land,” mused Benitez. “I am not a professional actor … but I am conjuring what it felt like to be in the desert, gripped by fear and uncertainty.”
The project is directed by Bill Shields, chair of the Labor and Community Studies Department at City College of San Francisco. It calls upon thespian traditions such as Theater of the Oppressed, a social justice tool influenced by Brazilian theorist Paulo Freire.
The recital is composed of stories from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, and covers each woman’s initial departure and the way in which she arrived in the U.S. The second half of the play will launch in fall of 2013 and will cover the daily toil and longing that makes up these women’s lives here, as well as the positive effects of La Colectiva’s efforts.
Colectiva cofounder and director Guillermina Castellanos hopes that the performance will rally support for California State Assembly Bill 241, the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights that would ensure basic needs such as overtime pay, meal and rest breaks and workers’ comp.
Aside from establishing a powerful legal mouthpiece to counteract exploitation of domestic workers, La Colectiva also provides many social services and promotes cultural activities.
“La Colectiva is a circle where we women share the things that many of us lack at home and at work: respect, companionship and affection,” Castellanos said.
Colectiva member María Fernandez feels grateful for having found the organization.
“My first two years here I didn’t have a single friend. I just went from work to home, and sometimes my employers wouldn’t pay me,” she said. “By integrating myself with La Colectiva I learned so many things from women just like me—where to go to the doctor, and what my rights are as a domestic worker.”
Castellanos, a workers’ rights pioneer in her own right, hopes the project will provide a third dimension to the stigmatized immigrant woman in rubber gloves. “We have voices, a history, and often a great sadness of the abuse we’ve endured,” she explained. “Do they think we wished to lose our culture, our roots, our identity? We are here out of survival.”
She suggested that the violence plaguing Mexico can be linked to the great number of separated families from the cycle of migration. “Many of us left our children behind in order to provide for them. What kind of choice is that to make?” she said.
“La Colectiva has helped so many women, myself included,” said Fernandez. “But there are still so many who could be assisted. In order to continue our work we need a space, we need personnel, we need resources…and that means we need the community’s support.”
The show will be presented Monday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m., in the Creative Arts building at CCSF’s Ocean campus, in Room 133. Simultaneous translation from Spanish to English will be provided via in-ear listening apparatus.