The two-day event draws thousands of people to the Mission district for a colorful festival and parade.
In 2019, among samba dancers, drummers and school bands, a group of women also marched and danced to the beat.
It was the first time that these women participated in the parade.
They belonged to The Colectiva de Mujeresthe Women’s Collective, a group that educates domestic workers on their labor rights.
It was a kind of coming-out party for women, who are often considered invisible in the job market.
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One in six domestic workers worldwide is a migrant. Many work without adequate pay and may experience physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
When the pandemic hit, these workers felt the impact firsthand.
Many lost their jobs when governments ordered shelter in place. Then, when some were able to return to work, they were forced to work overtime by their employers who needed extra childcare while working remotely.
“Their employers wouldn’t let them go. They were like, ‘You have to stay because I’m still working on the computer,'” said Guillermina Castellanos, who co-founded The Colectiva.
Castellanos said many domestic workers began to feel depressed because they were neglecting their own family to take care of other people’s children.
They also feared getting sick. The stress has accumulated.
“There was certainly fear and concern. Employers were not providing equipment to protect them, such as masks, gloves and other materials. Domestic workers were then exposed to higher rates of transmission. high levels of Covid. The toll on mental health was really high,” explained Andreina Maldonado.
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In 2018, she began offering wellness classes to La Colectiva members through a partnership with Dance Mission Theater.
She introduced them to yoga and restorative exercises. After a hiatus at the start of the pandemic, Maldonado saw the women begin to show signs of depression and increased stress, so the group began meeting again at local parks.
“We would sit in circles, we would meditate together. Just sitting and breathing,” Maldonado said.
They also danced. These movements began to empower them.
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“These courses allow us to forget a bit about the stress we face in our work. It takes the stress away. It also makes us more sure of ourselves because we can be shy,” said Teresa Palacio, who has suffered wage theft until she learned help from The Colectiva.
Castellanos said she was motivated to help start the organization in 2001 after noticing the lack of labor rights for domestic workers when she started cleaning homes.
Doing domestic work has rekindled what she calls repressed childhood memories.
Castellanos said her mother placed her in a home with a wealthy family in Mexico City when she was five. She said her family gave her household chores before she left for school and then other chores when she returned home.
“They were telling me that I should be grateful that they even let me go to school and that I was learning how to clean a house well so that I could find a job later. They didn’t pay me,” said she added.
Castellanos has become a strong voice for domestic workers’ rights.
In 2008, she spoke to the International Labor Organization in Geneva about her experiences. Two years later, the UN agency adopted a historic document recognizing the economic importance of domestic work and urging the adoption of better working and living conditions for domestic workers.
In 2013, The Colectiva helped secure the right to overtime pay for domestic workers in California.
And last year the group collected sick pay for San Francisco’s 10,000 domestic workers, the first such law in the country.
They were activists but continued to do domestic work.
This year, The Colectiva has been hired to be Carnival’s cleaning crew, but they will do more than that.
A group of them will again march and dance in the parade. This time they will be wearing feather dusters and colorful cloths.
“Using props is a method of grounding us. To use something that’s used at work, we translate it into our weapon. It’s about saying, ‘I’m here and these are my tools’ “said Maldonado.
“When we dance with the feather dusters, we show that we are not just workers. We are leaders,” said María Aguilar, member of The Colectiva.
For more information on hiring La Colectiva workers, visit the La Colectiva website.
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