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The working class rises up across Latin America

Maids, parking valets, and other domestic workers push back against ill treatment in 'the world's most unequal region.'

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"There is less tolerance for discrimination by society," says Raúl Villamil Uriarte, an anthropologist at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City. In the case of the parking attendant who brought attention to his own case, he adds, the classic "victim" devictimized himself.

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Changes in the maid's quarters

Nowhere is more change taking place than in the domestic sphere. While in the United States only the wealthy can afford live-in nannies and daily housecleaning, in Latin America, maid's quarters are ubiquitous, even in the homes of the middle class.

But newer apartments increasingly are built without such spaces – reflecting upheaval in the structure of the home.

In Chile, maids and nannies are demanding bigger salaries and more benefits and insisting on living with their own families, says Monica Escandon, who runs the nanny and maid service in Santiago. "[Domestic workers] know that their work has a high value and that they are necessary, especially for young couples who both work," she says.

Salaries have risen to at least $500 a month for a nanny who works five days a week and as much as $800 a month for a live-in maid, she says. Employers are also responsible for taxes, food, and transportation. As in the US, wealthier Latin Americans now hire immigrants from poorer countries like Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay to get the same amount of work for lower prices.

The rising wages and greater emphasis on professionalization is resulting in greater respect. When a popular gossip magazine in Colombia recently ran a picture of servants in uniform standing behind their wealthy employer, the depiction set off a storm of rebuke.

In Chile, meanwhile, a country club last month barred nannies from entering the pool with their young charges and said they had to wear their uniforms while on the premises. The club owners have faced a barrage of recriminations, with critics calling them snobs and classists.

'Respect comes first'

Fighting back has come later for the working class in general than it did for the indigenous, says Christopher Sabatini, editor in chief of the policy journal Americas Quarterly in New York. For one thing, the working class did not have the advantage of identifying along ethnic and geographical boundaries.


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