The Maid's Daughter: Living Inside and outside the American Dream

The Maid's Daughter: Living Inside and outside the American Dream

The Maid's Daughter: Living Inside and outside the American Dream

The Maid's Daughter: Living Inside and outside the American Dream


At a very young age, Olivia left her family and traditions in Mexico to live with her mother, Carmen, in one of Los Angeles's most exclusive and nearly all-white gated communities. Based on over twenty years of research, noted scholar Mary Romero brings Olivia's remarkable story to life. We watch as she struggles through adolescence, declares her independence and eventually goes off to college and becomes a successful professional. Much of her extraordinary story is told in Olivia's voice and we hear of both her triumphs and her setbacks.

In The Maid's Daughter, Mary Romero explores this complex story about belonging, identity, and resistance, illustrating Olivia's challenge to establish her sense of identity, and the patterns of inclusion and exclusion in her life. Romero points to the hidden costs of paid domestic labor that are transferred to the families of private household workers and nannies, and shows how everyday routines are important in maintaining and assuring that various forms of privilege are passed on from one generation to another. Through Olivia's story, Romero shows how mythologies of meritocracy, the land of opportunity, and the American dream remain firmly in place while simultaneously erasing injustices and the struggles of the working poor.


When people exist under one roof, a tiny society forms,…the stuff of novelas:
masters and servants unconsciously dancing in lock step so that, when things
go wrong, traumas converge.

—JAMES L. BROOKS, Spanglish

She’s just a displaced person. She doesn’t belong in a mansion but then she
doesn’t belong above a garage either.

—SAMUEL A. TAYLOR, Sabrina Fair

She had spent her whole life working for de la Torres, and it showed. If you
stood them side by side—Mrs. García with her pale skin kept moist with
expensive creams and her hair fixed up in the beauty parlor every week; Mamá
with her unraveling ray bun and maid’s uniform and mouth still waiting for the
winning lottery ticket to get replacement teeth—why Mamá looked ten years
older than Mrs. García, though they were both the same age, forty-three….”

“The girls, they treat you well. Doña Laura has a special place in her heart
for you.”

“I know, Mamá but they’re not our family.”


A story of a child growing up within a household where her mother or father is employed as a maid, nanny, or butler can conjure up a plot filled with opportunities for social mobility. Sabrina, in both novel and film, elevates her social status from chauffeur’s daughter to wife of the employer’s son. In Spanglish, Cristina (the maid’s daughter) takes a journey all the way to Princeton University. Sarita (from ¡Yo!) is rewarded for determination and hard work when she becomes an orthopedist at “one of the top sports medicine clinics in the country” (71–72). Indeed, a common plotline for the children of live-in servants is rags to riches. Transformation from the servant class to the employer class is imagined as a result of gaining access to privileges and exposure to the lifestyle of the upper class. Living in the employers’ household allows them to see . . .

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