Uprooted Women: Migrant Domestics in the Caribbean

Uprooted Women: Migrant Domestics in the Caribbean

Uprooted Women: Migrant Domestics in the Caribbean

Uprooted Women: Migrant Domestics in the Caribbean

Synopsis

An explanation of the migration culture of the Caribbean that injects gender into existing labor migration theories. It views labor migration from the female migrant women's perspective as a major entrepreneurial activity for those who refuse to be fazed by foreign nation-state boundaries. Aruba, the site of a giant U.S.-owned oil refinery, became a major participant in supplying Western Europe's and North America's insatiable needs during the decade of the 1940s and World War II. Therefore, the island is presented as the prototype of a 20th-century industrial worksite that attracted the female migrant labor flow.

Excerpt

In 1975 I moved to Aruba in the southern Caribbean. Whenever I went to Oranjestad, the island's capital, I noticed black women walking alone or standing in twos and threes at the post office, in the banks, or shopping in the bargain basement shops on the main street, Nassaustraat. These were women of childbearing age, and their hairstyles, simple dresses, and body language set them apart from the majority mestizo Aruban population, tourists, and the small numbers of local blacks. the women seemed strangely familiar to me; in fact, they strongly resembled women I had known during my childhood in Grenada in the eastern Caribbean. Moreover, they were out of place on the streets of Oranjestad. Why were they there in seemingly large numbers? I had to find out about them.

I began to get close to the women as they shopped. If they spoke English, I chose a right moment to interject and inquire about their purpose on Aruba. As women conversed with me, the pieces of the puzzle began to fit. During my childhood in Grenada in the 1950s, labor migrations from eastern Caribbean islands were common. Nearly everyone knew of someone or had a relative who had gone off to seek work in the oil lands of Trinidad or Venezuela, Aruba or Curacao.

In 1975 as my inquiries deepened, memories from my childhood flooded my mind, filling in even intimate details. I realized that I had known several women--neighbors and relatives--who had set off to the oil lands. One of these women, my own childless, middle-aged spinster aunt (long deceased), had used her younger sister's passport to gain entry and meet Aruba's stringent age stipulation for migrant domestics. That first year on Aruba, I recollected how I had been very friendly with the children of another woman who had left them while she went off to seek wage work. This woman, a widow at the time, put her older children in . . .

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