Year 146 – 2006: Orange County Housecleaners by Frank Cancian

Published: Albuquerque, 2006

This photo documentary profiles seven women, largely through their own words, all of them currently or formerly housecleaners in Orange County, CA. There’s Sara Velazquez, an immigrant who crossed the river into Laredo on an inner tube and nearly cried when asked during her first interview about her children back in Mexico. There’s Tina Parker, an Orange County native whose mother pulled her out of school when she was a child (ostensibly to be home schooled, but really to be taken door to door as a Jehovah’s Witness).

Leidi Mejia, originally from Guatemala, enrolled in a cosmetology program – with classes offered only in English – and earned straight A’s. Victoria Rua left an abusive father in Mexico, only to find that the shame of her mother’s infidelities had followed her to the States. Sharon Risley, born and raised in Laguna Beach, earned her BFA twenty-six years after an unexpected teen pregnancy derailed her original plans. Esperanza Mejia, Leidi’s sister, took up housecleaning after two very unpleasant stints as a nanny. Julieta Noemi (Mimi) Lopez stopped cleaning houses just before giving birth to her son. Then, unable to afford their Orange County apartment on her husband’s salary alone, the family eventually moved in with a relative here in Boston.

All seven of these women rank among what Frank Cancian calls “the elite of domestic workers.” While he does profile two white Orange County natives, he makes it a point to underscore the dramatic increase in the number of Latina domestic workers in recent decades. “In the Los Angeles area Latinas were 86 percent of female household employees in 2000,” he writes. “They were 23 percent in 1970.”

The women generally live within the same county as the families whose houses they clean, but they dwell in starkly different worlds. Cleaners live inland in places like Santa Ana; their clients live along the coast in Newport Beach. It comes as no surprise to read that “per capita income in Newport Beach is more than five times that in Santa Ana.”

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