Delia (54 years old, Paraguay) came to Spain 15 years ago. With a degree in administration, in Paraguay she worked first as a manager, then she had her own business. The economic crisis that hit her country forced her to consider emigration. She wanted to ensure an education for her two children. When she left, her son was 10 and her daughter 16 years old. She saw them again 10 years later, as adults and parents. Now little by little she tries to recover the relationship and the lost time, but something had been broken and the gap is still wide. It's hard to rebuild some things - says Delia.

“I gave my best to them, but I never thought that my absence would affect them so much psychologically. If I knew this, now I would tell Delia no to come. I would not do it again, really, I would stay there with them, selling eggs or fish or whatever, but if I had to go back in time, I would not leave my children again.”
In Spain, Delia began working as a housekeeper without papers or a contract, since for Latin American migrant women it is practically the only option. The Immigration Law requires them to remain in the informal economy for three years, before completing this period they cannot even begin the process to regulate their situation.

A year and a half after her arrival, Delia was arrested in a police raid, which on December 23 searched the supermarkets for housemaids doing Christmas shopping for their bosses. They took her to the CIE with the bags in her hands. She manage to appeal the expulsion order but the trials took 5 years, meanwhile, she continued working without papers, locked up in her employer's house, going out once a week for a walk. It took her 5 more years to get someone willing to make a contract for her and, consequently, make it easier to regulate her legal situation. In general, employers preferred to have her without papers, in order not to pay social security taxes and avoid, as they said, unnecessary hassles with the Treasury.

“In my case, the bosses I worked with had a lot of money, and they were all professionals, who know what the law is, they had their lawyers, managers, it is not that they were getting into something blindly…. They just didn't want to make me the contract.”

For 11 years Delia had worked as a domestic internal maid. The domestic workers, when they speak of the internal regime, in general they define it as a modern slavery. They work practically 24 hours a day, being at the complete disposal of their employer. They don't even have time to rest, even less to make their own lives. In many cases they work on holidays and weekends, without this being reflected in their salaries. Even so, many hold on because employers promise them the contract and help in fixing the papers, things that few finally fulfill.

As an intern, Delia had to clean a three-floor chalet, shop, cook, iron, take the children to school and after-school activities, help them with their homework and play with them when they were on vacation. She even began to study English so that she could better help the children with their homework. Living in a small room, hidden from the world and next to the garage, Delia had the right to sleep in the children's room on Friday nights, while the parents partied. She spent the holidays with her bosses, who took her to the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands. Not for her to rest, but to work even more intense hours. She had to be dressed in a uniform, on the plane, on the beach playing with the children, on excursions. To all these conditions that reminded her of "her place" on a daily basis, abuse and discrimination were added.

"My boss treated me badly, he used to say to me: "You are not here to think, you are here to do what I tell you.” He even told me that I was an Indian and he was impressed that I knew how to write, read well, that I knew how to drive…. they never asked me what I did before. All bosses think that we are ignorant ... but when they were humiliating me, in my mind I used to says to myself: I am better than you!”

In her country Delia was an example of an independent and self-sufficient woman. The years of working as an intern in Spain, the arrest and the experience of the CIE made her self-esteem fall apart. She went through a depression until, thanks to a domestic workers association (SEDOAC) she realized that she was not the only one and that many other women suffered similar treatment. She started therapy, enrolled in workshops with lawyers to find out about her rights, did theater, and little by little she returned to being herself - "now after so long I wonder how she could hold out so much ..." - she says.

She managed to fix her papers thanks to a family that agreed to make her a contract. Now she works as an external house worker, dedicating herself mainly to cleaning. She has a small apartment where she shares her room with a woman who, like her before, works as an intern and comes to spend only one night a week.

During the pandemic Delia suffered a reduction in hours and consequently, a significant reduction in salary. But, being a domestic worker, and even having a contract and papers in order, she could not benefit from any institutional help or unemployment.

In April, under pressure from various groups and associations of domestic workers, the government approved an extraordinary subsidy for this sector during the period of state of alarm. Delia submitted her request but 6 months later she still has not received any response. She thinks that at some point they will grant it to her, but when she would receive any payment, is another question.

In the first wave, she had no choice but to go to the solidarity pantry to ask for food, it was that or else she would not be able to pay her rent. Now she works 25 hours a week, which allows her to cover her basic needs. The pandemic made her feel more strongly the loneliness and instability in which she has been living for last 15 years.

Domestic employees, although registered with Social Security System in Spain, do not have the right to unemployment and can be fired by their employer at any time. In the time of Covid, many were left with nothing. Those who worked as interns either had to accept total confinement at home with their employers or were fired, literally finding themselves on the street from one day to another.

“The truth is, when I was still in my country, I said to myself - God, first world! Spain, the best you can see in Europe! - and now…
A lot of bad things happened to me here and it was hard for me to see that I have rights like anyone else. Without us the families cannot go to work. They would not be able to stay calm if they had not an employee who takes care of their children or their parents, and who leave everything well arranged and organized for them. Why then is it so difficult for them to value our work? "


To find out more: Interview with Edith, spokesperson for the SEDOAC Association (Active Domestic Service) in Madrid.

Hanna Jarzabek - Photography & Documentary Storytelling

Documentary photographer and Multimedia Storyteller specialized in projects addressing discrimination and societal dysfunctions, with accent on Europe.
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