Ayuda or Work? (1999)

rees ayuda or work [link]–Summarizes women’s work in the valleys of Oaxaca

Several years ago, Julio García, a Mexican migrant in Atlanta told me, Gracias a Dios, mi esposa nunca ha tenido que trabajar (Thank heavens, my wife has never had to work). This even though I’d worked with him through his unemployment, disability and other problems, during which time he was unable to send her money. How did she make it if she didn’t have a source of income? Throughout Mexico, male informants report that women don’t work in the campo (fields), even though everywhere I go, I see women working in the fields. About that same time, I read in Lynn Stephen’s 1990 book, Zapotec Women, that women took over the agricultural work during the bracero (literally, arms, for imported labor) period in the 1950s, when men from Teotitlán del Valle in Oaxaca migrated to the United States. (The men returned with enough money to buy the looms—the means of production for the “genuine American Indian rugs” so beloved by tourists—with designs by Picasso, Escher and lately, the Navajo). These two contradictory versions (that women don’t work, and that women’s work made male migration possible) led me to write the proposal this research reports on.[i] I asked how women manage, especially when their husband is a migrant (who may or may not remit faithfully). One of my ideas was to invert the migration question from asking how does (male) migration support the household back home, to ask: How does female labor support male migration? This chapter has two goals. One is to describe the historical and current remunerated activities of women heads of household (jefas)[ii] and the other, to look at definitions of work and ayuda (help) in the central valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico (Figure 1).

[i] National Science Foundation #9729824, Women and Migration in the Central Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. Analysis was carried out at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social-Istmo, Oaxaca, Mexico with the support of the Fulbright Foundation.


[ii] One of the limitations of this data is that it does not include all female workers in the household, just the self- and household-designated head.


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