Engendering and Coloring Labor Unions*
Transcultural Readings of Latin American
Mary Garcia Castro
This article is based on an old affair of alliances: my research on activism among Puerto Rican women in labor unions in New York City during two different historical periods and on union women in Brazil in the city of Salvador, Bahia. 1 Latin American working-class women in New York reconstruct an engendered and enraced class, deterritorializing “nuestra America, la America mestiza” (Martí 1983:20) or multiplying its northern territories through continuities and ruptures with Latin American identities (or their stereotypes) in the process. These trends are present in the narratives of pioneras—Puerto Rican women who arrived in New York in the early part of the twentieth century and worked in the garment industry (Benmayor 1992) and are still present today in the voices of their heirs, Puerto Rican women in leadership positions in labor unions, whom I began to study in 1993 and whom I shall refer to as the 1970s generation.
A focus on union women had been part of my work in Brazil since 1989, and after returning from New York, in transcultural readings of my Bahian work, I discovered new issues, some commonalities with Latinas 2 in New York but also many differences in practices and visions on gender, class, and race. In both places, the ways that women labor activists understood and combined gender, race, and class were an exercise in transcul____________________