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“Yo sé hablar, dije” The conditions for Peruvian domestic workers to speak out for their rights

Carola Mick

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Apoyándose en narraciones autobiográficas de trabajadoras del hogar peruanas en Lima, el presente artículo estudia las condiciones de la participación activa de esas mujeres en los debates públicos acerca de sus derechos. Concentrándose en el uso que hacen las narradoras de los dos verba dicendi (verbos de actos de habla) hablar y decir, el análisis muestra la construcción por ellas mismas de una competencia comunicativa desde la perspectiva socialmente marginada. El análisis permite discutir las condiciones de la participación de mujeres en Latinoamérica en la lucha contra las desigualdades sociales, así como el papel y la responsabilidad del proceso etnográfico de investigación en miras de esta competencia.

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Thank you very much for the editors' and reviewers' comments that helped to strengthen the argument of the present article significantly

Life seen from the point of view of a domestic worker

  • 1 I refer to the Peruvian law 27986; only few countries officially regulate domestic service (ILO, 20 (...)

1Notwithstanding significant changes in recent years, domestic service remains one of the most neglected domains of the job market. Domestic workers frequently are employed without contract, salary and social insurance; their weekly working time very commonly exceeds the authorised maximum of 48 hours on a maximum of 6 days per week1. In Peru, they are mostly young women, often children of migrant origin (AGTR, 2004). Mainly living and working at their employers’ homes, social, affective and financial dependence as well as isolation makes it difficult for them to undertake autonomous projects. Domestic workers are particularly exposed to discrimination and other types of abuses (Goldsmith, 2007): The domestic service is profoundly marked by gender ideologies considering – and devaluating – the housework as a specific female occupation and vocation. Even though it is mostly the man who is considered as the boss by the domestic worker since he pays the salary, she interacts mainly with the female employer. Their relationship is marked by ethnic, racial and class inequalities,that subject domestic workers not only with regard to men but position them also at the bottom of a female hierarchy (see Mick, 2015).

2In recent years, the increasing organisation and active intervention of domestic workers in public debates reveal their grievances and gradually reduce their vulnerability. However, important difficulties remain for them to overcome isolation and the status of ‘victim’, to claim legal and institutional support, and to struggle with a common voice for their rights.

  • 2 In Latin America the percentage of female domestic workers reaches 92% (ILO, 2013); domestic servic (...)
  • 3 In 2003, about 40% of the population of Lima are migrants, 25% from the Andean regions (sierra), 12 (...)
  • 4 This high degree of formal education is not representative of the domestic workers neither in LCP, (...)

3The present article enquires about the conditions of the domestic workers’ struggle against social inequalities, by analysing their own concept, construction and evaluation of their communicative competency. It analyses a corpus of interviews with 32 female2 domestic workers in the capital of Peru, Lima (see Mick, 2009). I met these women in 2005 in a non-governmental organisation called La Casa de Panchita (LCP) where they spend their Sundays off. This NGO provides domestic workers with a space for socialization, education and legal, medical, psychological support. The interviewees are aged between 14 and over 40 (with an average age of 22-23) and are all internal migrants mostly from the mountain regions3. They arrived in Lima at the age of 3 to 25 years (15-16 in average), 3 months and 20 years or more before our encounter (in average they have stayed in Lima for about 6-7 years). They are all unmarried and do not have any children. Our dialogue started during the homework support workshops of LCP when I asked them about their migration to Lima. With one exception they had already concluded primary school – most of them before their migration to Lima – and they were finishing secondary education, mostly in a public evening school4. The methodology of semi-narrative, autobiographic interviews (Labov & Waletzky, 1967) was used. Therefore, within the total corpus of 7 hours, the duration of each interview varies from 3 to 78 minutes according to the desire of each speaker to react to the interviewer’s open solicitations to tell her story. The interviews were developed in Spanish, the dominant language in LCP and Lima in general. However, 10 of the speakers declare to have been raised bilingually in Spanish and Quechua, 1 in Spanish and Aymara. 4 speakers define Spanish as language of their secondary socialisation only.

4The present analysis reconstructs the design, evaluation and performance by the speakers of a “communicative competence” (Hymes, 1972) through their particular uses of the two verba dicendi (“verbs of speaking”, Verschueren, 1999) decir (to say) and hablar (to talk). By focussing on the specific use of these two verbs, the argumentation first reconstructs the interviewees’ definition of what it requires and means for them to “speak out” (chapter 2). It then considers the participants’ learning process of this self-defined communicative competence by analysing the reported and enacted speech events in their autobiographic narrations in the interview situation (chapter 3). The discussion reflects on the collective capacity of domestic workers to rise up and speak out for themselves, and on the role and responsibility of the ethnographic encounter in view of this specific communicative competence.

A domestic worker's voice(s)

  • 5 This is a qualitative, micro-ethnographic study. As such, it adopts a constructivist and emic persp (...)
  • 6 Translation: To speak is to fight in the sense of playing, and speech acts fall within the domain o (...)

5The autobiographic narrations of their migration story and the experiences as domestic workers in Lima present several anecdotes that demonstrate their vulnerability, exclusion and oppression with regard to the employers. The most general grievance they reveal concerns the experience of de-legitimation of their voice and knowledge. This is what Ana expresses in the following comment; she is 25 years old and migrated from Huanta to Lima to work in the domestic service when her parents died in the armed conflict in the 1990s. She is bilingual in Quechua and Spanish: me privaban de: hasta de habla:r; de conversa:r en la casa; porque pensaban e:=que yo:- (1,5) que yo no tenía éste voz- (.) u:na opinió:n ést- (.) en la casa5. “Voice” is a crucial issue of most of the stories, even though it is not articulated explicitly by all the interviewees. The narrated action is mainly based on the report of past, imagined or real speech events (Hymes, 1972) or “language games” (Lyotard, 1979, referring to Wittgenstein) engaging the interviewees and others in action. As Lyotard (ibid.: 23) highlights, “parler est combattre, au sens de jouer, et […] les actes de langage relèvent d'une agonistique générale”6. Due to the asymmetry of their relationship, the interactions the domestic workers engage with their employers represent serious struggles for them, because their legitimacy as speakers and members of society is at stake. By alluding to discriminatory discourses on their migrant origin, socioeconomic situation, education and linguistic particularities (cf. Mick, 2009), the interviewees confirm their position as “subalterns” (Spivak, 1994). The heterogeneity of voice (see id.) is the most salient feature of the interviewees' autobiographic accounts: The voice of the one constructed as a “powerful other” influences their language choices, grammatical features (norm orientation), the applied terminology as well as the adopted points of view (see Mick, 2009), and is embodied in different forms of in-/directly reported speech (cf. Authier-Revuz, 1984, based on M. Bakthine).

6Nevertheless, the participants stage an important voice consciousness (see Spivak, 1994) when reflecting in their narrations on past conflictive as well as harmonious communicative encounters. They use them to discuss issues of knowledge and validity, social status, individual stance as well as their link with power issues and identity. Speaking is evaluated and performed as a crucial competence not only for analysing and learning the “legitimate competence” (Bourdieu, 1982), but also for active participation in the interview situation and for struggling against abusive practices. They use the narrations to elaborate and practice an own – even though intrinsically dialogic – voice, and to develop a “communicative competence” that suits the particular conditions and circumstances of their speaking. Their taking over of the role of the interviewee is a possibility to analyse, review, test and perfect the conditions for their active participation in society.

  • 7 With almost 900 occurrences, the verb decir (to say) is by far the most used in the corpus, the oth (...)
  • 8 In Hymes' view, as opposed to N. Chomsky, “performance” is part of the “communicative competence”.

7The verba dicendi (“verbs of speaking”), foremost decir (say) and hablar (talk)7, are strikingly frequent in the corpus, either to report speech events, or to stage and analyse speaking as an action in the interview situation. Their specific use of these verbs demonstrates what they consider as a required “communicative competence” in order to be able to speak as a domestic worker in Lima. As Hymes stresses with this concept, what counts as grammatical, feasible, appropriate and performative8 language use varies cross-culturally and “is integral with attitudes, and motivations concerning language, its features and uses” (Hymes, 1972: 277f). The analysis of the construction and enacting of a specific communicative competence by the interviewees themselves allows not only for reconstructing the particularities and conditions of an articulation of a subalterns' voice, but also to reflect in general on the possibilities of the “divided subject” (Spivak, 1994) to speak.

Speaking as a domestic worker

8According to the narrations, the communicative competence of a domestic worker demands above all the two abilities of talking (hablar) and saying (decir). In line with Spanish semantics (see Escobedo Rodríguez, 1992), the speakers choose hablar when alluding to the capacity to address someone, to master a specific code and to develop communication as a joint activity. Being able to decir is related by the participants to the position of the speaker and the addressee, the knowledge with regard to the information that is passed, and the concrete elaboration of the message (mejor dicho).

9The use of these speech act verbs in the corpus is not neutral, merely declarative or representative, as suggest certain studies (Caldas-Coulhart, 1992; Pérez, 2003). Similarly to what has been observed in various analyses of the use of verbs of speaking in contact situations of Quechua and Spanish in the Andean region (see Babel, 2009, Pfänder & Palacios, 2013), the interviewees exploit existing forms, conjugations, tenses, modes and grammatical functions of these verbs in order to exploit and develop a wide semantic spectrum. As the following sections illustrate, being able to hablar and decir implies their capacity to analyse, specify and stage their particular stance with regard to the reported information, their sources and the situation of communication. They do not only mark the degree of reliability, certainty and commitment with the information and the reported voice, but analyse and interpret the communicative encounter and the reasons for their successful or failing participation in language games.

Chose the “correct” code

10The migration experience leads to a language contact situation not only for the bilingual speakers. The domestic workers learn that the way they speak (hablar) is evaluated, used to categorize them socially (see Irvine, 2001) and to discriminate them. This is what Ana explains when talking about bilingual persons in Lima:

(a) si: hablan quechua, piensan que la gente e:: de lima los va a marginar. va a decir <<h> a:; > es una serrana. es una chola. es una aquella persona.

Similarly, Jo, a monolingual 25 year old domestic worker from Tingo María is afraid

(b) que la otra que me va=a rechazar? por ha=por ha:blar así […] po=jemplo dice=ésas, […] no saben NAda; o sea como decir no saben nada di dónde viene.

11The interviewees therefore stress the need of linguistic assimilation to a code and style considered as typical of speakers from Lima as a condition of their integration. Only Ina, a monolingual domestic worker aged 24 from Cañete, a township not far from Lima on the South coast, overcomes the fear and benefits from the possibility of being positioned linguistically in a creative manner. She imitates the specific linguistic style of a classmate in secondary school in Lima in order to make her friends laugh and become popular:

  • 9 Translation: (a) When they talk in Quechua, they think that people will discriminate against them, (...)

(c) yo hablo como charapa porque- (.) hay veces, a mí me gusta. cuánto:- (.) me ha gustado a ser charapa.9

12The capacity of talking (hablar) depends on the domestic workers' analysis of the sociolinguistic landscape in the society of arrival and on the learning and adoption of a style that corresponds to the social position they would like to take over.

Feasibility and appropriateness of a domestic worker's messages

  • 10 Translation: When they are telling the truths.
  • 11 Translation: When I did not understand something they told me how one should do it.

13The interviewees evaluate saying (decir) something against a “true” vision of reality, so that some enunciations count as lies and others as truths: cuando dicen las verdades10. Knowledge is partly defined as being universal, through the use of impersonal forms of the verb decir (se dice, como dicen, dice(n) que). However, as migrants and marginalised speakers, the domestic workers experience the relative validity of this presupposed “universal” knowledge, and they need others to teach it to them at their arrival in Lima. Decir is a way for them to receive and provide instructions that are considered as truths in the society of arrival: lo que yo no entendía, ellos me decían así se hace11.

14The interviewees link the appropriateness of an act of saying (decir) to the respective social status of the interlocutors. Others' saying can count as advice or suggestion like in the last mentioned example, but the comments received can also be interpreted – and feared – as orders (d), insults (a, b) or accuses (e):

(d) me m::e o sea me me decían a que cocinara- (-) que lavara que limpiara y que echara ce:ra;

  • 12 Translations: (d) They told me to cook, to wash, to clean and to polish the floor. (e) “You have st (...)

(e) <<f> tú has robado;> me dijo.12

  • 13 Translation: We joke in Quechua.
  • 14 Translation: I taught the child, I said to him “look, one has to sit down like that. You are alread (...)

15Whereas the activity of decir suggests an asymmetric relationship and a certain authoritative stance, hablar is interpreted by the speakers either as less portentous small talk or as a more symmetrical interaction. Interestingly, hablar is an activity either developed in Quechua (bromas hablamos (.) en quechua13), or in confidential interactions in Spanish with peers; rarely the domestic workers talk (hablar) with the employers. Hablar can imply teaching, but in a playful and respectful, empowering manner, as Sue's following anecdote illustrates. Aged 32 she is the second oldest and the only Aymara speaker of the corpus; she came from Puno to Lima 10 years before the interview. She narrates how she succeeded, contrariwise to her employer, in teaching her son to sit down when eating. She prosodically marks a non-authoritative and comprehensive form of speaking when reporting her own teaching hablar: yo le enseñé al chiquito; le dije- (.) <<len> mi:ra;[...] uno tiene que sentarse así::;> […] ya estás grandecito; desde entonces le hablaba al niño, y empezó a sentarse14.

Performativity of one's speaking as a domestic worker

  • 15 The participants tend to repeat the verbs of speaking at the end of the reported enunciation or, ra (...)

16Different from hablar, the interviewed women evaluate decir as a potentially dangerous activity. Others' saying tends to make them feel inferior, and their own saying exposes them to the evaluations and coercion of the powerful other. To say also implies a certain engagement of the speakers, since it can count as statement (f), decision (g) or promise15 (h):

(f) quería- (--) alejarme de::- (.) <<h> un pueblón;> que digamos,

(g) me decía no; nos va:mos; y yo- (.) no tenía plata. entonces le dije no;

  • 16 Translations: (f) I wanted to distance from some backwater, let's say. (g) She told me “let's go”, (...)

(h) yo te voy a aumentar en julio. la señora me dijo. y yo:: esta: confiada que me iba=aumentar. no? ella me prometió, y ya.16

17The interviewees learn that the degree of engagement of a speech act depends once again on the respective social status of the interlocutors. For instance, they experience that promises do not necessarily bind their employers.

18However, as the next section explains in detail, the speakers also are aware of the performative dimension of speech acts, i.e. their possibility to influence social reality (cf. Butler, 1997). Once they overcome the fear of speaking out (j) and use language for reflecting on their reality, designing and articulating an own (even though dialogic) communicative stance, they succeed in struggling against their oppression. Sue, for example, tells how she succeeded in educating her employer by clarifying clearly that she does not tolerate her abuses (k).

(j) no sé <<pp> si debo decir.

  • 17 Translations: (j) I don't know whether I should tell. (k) “That's bad. I don't like you to shout on (...)

(k) <<firmly> y es mal. no me gusta que me grite; le dije. usted no me paga por gritarme;> le dije así. y la señora ni <<laughs><f> más > me gritó.17

19Even the report in the interview situation of unsuccessful “language games” provides the speakers with a new chance as a “player”; it allows them to practice the stance of the powerful, elaborate a style that suits themselves, and identify potential allies for their struggle.

“Yo sé hablar, dije”

  • 18 Translation: silent girl, without voice. – I'm able to talk, I said.

20However, it is a long way until the domestic worker succeeds in overcoming the intimidated position of the chica- (-) cohibida; sin habla, as Ana tells, and to feel sufficiently confident as to evaluate their communicative competence as complete. Ana is the only interviewee who states firmly: yo sé hablar. dije18. By analysing the reported language games as well as the interview situation, the following section studies the participants' process of designing, testing and perfecting a performative speaking.

Imitating, analysing and practicing a powerful stance

  • 19 Translations: He told me (that), he would pay/give me/save the money, he did not give me (anything) (...)
  • 20 Translations: They were abusive over there. – This was a lie the employer invented in order not to (...)

21Nina, who is 19 years old and works as a domestic worker since she migrated from Caraz to Lima at the age of 7, puts herself narratively in a dominated position when reporting a past conflict. She hardly dares to tell her story (j), and stages the authoritative stance of the abusive employer in the interview situation. He is the subject of all the 8 actions she reports (me dijo (que), me iba a pagar/dar, iba a ahorrar, no me dio (nada)), and she enacts the violence of his accusations of theft by the increasing volume of her voice (e). She sums up her own silent reaction to this abusive behaviour in the very short last sentence of this reported anecdote (bueno, yo lo dejé así19). In her telling of the lost language game in the interview situation, Nina stages again her powerlessness. But, contrariwise to the reported confrontation with the employer, in the interview situation she dares to present her perspective on the happenings and to counter. The integration of the story in a new conversational frame gives her the possibility to reinterpret the story and to denounce the employer as a tyrant (allí:: eran abusivos;) and a liar (e pura mentira fue. i'- (.) o sea invEntó el señor para no pagarme20). Thereby she reaffirms her position and practices a powerful, self-conscious voice.

  • 21 Translation: She told me “ay, you are such a chola.” – “Ha, you are surely more of a chola than I a (...)

22Similarly, Mara who came from Puno to Lima at the age of 15, 13 years before the interview, reports a confrontation with her employer's daughter. Similarly to Nina, she stages the abusive comment of her employer in direct reported speech, but, contrariwise to Nina, the volume and the pitch of her voice introduce an ironic dimension and a critical distance: me dijo; <<f><h> ay; eres una chola tal;> She reports her own mirroring of the offence and the succeeded silencing of the employer: <<f> ja.> tú serás más chola que yo. pues=si tú también eres igual; le dije21. She takes her distance with regard to this “abusive voice” and frames her story by metalinguistic reflections on the use of the term chola. She thereby analyses the conditions of a performative way of speaking and practices it in the re-living of the conflict in the interview situation.

Finding one’s own language and voice

  • 22 Translation: With her we also insult each other, as a joke.

23Among bilingual comrades, the use of Quechua allows for playful complicity. Eva is 20 years old and migrated only 2 years ago from Cusco to Lima. She declares to miss to speak her second language Quechua in Lima, and therefore introduces it in a playful way with her colleague at work, who originates from the same region (con ella también nos insultamo=<<ff> bueno; de broma;>22). However, since defining oneself as bilingual in front of a non-Quechua-speaking person requires some courage (a), only Eva and Ana teach Quechua to their English teacher and neighbours respectively. Eva gives the only example of the use of Quechua with a monolingual Spanish-speaking interlocutor; she tells that when a boy tries to seduce her (te dice cosas), her answer in Quechua (le dices en quechua) surprises and destabilises him, establishing a relaxed and confidential conversational atmosphere.

  • 23 Translations: I explain them that it is not easy to live in Lima. – But they only tell me to come a (...)

24Once complicity is established, not only hablar but also decir becomes possible. As against the fix idea of her parents of a happy life in Lima, Lyn tells them – in Quechua – about her experiences: yo les digo que no es fácil vivir en lima. Her parents consider her opinion, but Lyn (22 years old, born in Puno, living in Lima for 9 years) also appreciates their advice and makes an effort to finish her studies: por lo único que me dicen es que salga adelante; que siga no más23.

  • 24 Translations: Sometimes when one already stayed a certain time, one starts talking. “And where do y (...)

25However, Quechua is not the only means to establish a relation of confidence, as Ana's case demonstrates. Even though she feels proud of being bilingual, she defines her bilingualism as accessory to a more important communicative competence in Spanish. She takes care to emphasise her complete linguistic assimilation by telling the story of an encounter with a boy from her town of origin Huanta who thought she originated from Lima. She explains this confusion as follows by alluding to language: hay veces uno cuando ya: mucho tiempo ya se- (.) ya empieza a hablar. no? y éste- (.) y tú- (.) tú? de dónde eres; así me dice. y en eso- (-) él mismo me- (.) tú debes ser de lima. no? Once confidence established, they finally start to talk (hablar) to each other in Spanish: nos hemos puesto a hablar24.

  • 25 Translations: The doors will open for me. – I told him/her, I told them, I said. – I don't care at (...)

26This confidence in the legitimacy of her knowledge leads Ana to firmly articulate an own –not heterogeneous, but dialogic – voice reporting her successful struggle against an abusive former employer in court: When she uses reported speech, these contain her own past speech acts, arguments, pleas and accusations in front of the former employer and her religious community. Most of the conjugated verbs used in this reported story are conjugated in the first person singular, and even those conjugated in other forms still refer or are oriented towards her own point of view: se me van a abrir las puertas. The only point of reference for her evaluation of reality is her heart or god, she declares. Her reproduced verbal actions imply not only sayings (le dije, les dije, dije) but also a steadfast positioning in front of the others' constructions of reality: no me importa nada; total no me interesa. van a salir al=al aire. todo. Ana declares to feel strong in this situation because she lost the fear of solitude and manages to be autonomous: total, yo no tengo nada que perder; porque yo no tengo nadie aquí dije25.

  • 26 Translations: They made me speak. – They applauded and said bravo. I told them “from Monday to Frid (...)

27However, the way to social participation and recognition is not necessarily a solitary one: It is only thanks to consultations with the Ministry of Labour and lawyers, and through the decisive intervention of the court of arbitration that Ana finally succeeded in forcing her ex-employer to financially compensate her 10 working years. This recognition among the community of “powerful speakers” makes her feel like a kind of leader, as she demonstrates with an anecdote of a meeting of the youth organisation of a party she participates actively in. She declares proudly that the organisers of the event invited her to speak on the same stage like the national director of the organisation and other important personalities. She takes care to establish a certain familiarity with these persons by using their complete and pet names. In front of the audience she did not only dare to talk as she was asked to (me hicieron hablar), but she even made declarations that provoked the enthusiastic reaction of the audience: <<f> ya:;> aplau- (--) en eso ellos me dijeron- (-) me aplaudie:ron; muy bien. bravo dijeron. les dije; de lunes a viernes me encuentran en la oficina del segundo piso nueva generación. (--) ya chicos. She did not only talk to (hablar) the powerful others who were present (son tantos chicos allí; que estudian; […] que algunos están haciendo su maestría en derecho; su maestría en odontología)26, but even succeeded to establish a symmetrical dialogue in which she was as able as the others to decir (dije, dijeron, les dije). All these positive experiences of speech events seem to have strengthened her ability to speak with an own voice, that she performs in an impressive and convincing manner in the interview situation.

The importance of solidarity

28Given the absence of close family members and the fact that in Lima, the migrants often start working for relatives, it is difficult to overcome the isolation at their living and work place. The evening schools as well as the meetings on Sundays in LCP represent the only opportunities for most of them to get to know others. This is where some of the speakers become aware of the need of solidarity for their struggle.

  • 27 Translation: The teachers gave you psychological advise. They told us to defend and to be self-cons (...)

29The positive encounters with teachers at school and volunteers in LCP seem to have been a key experience for Ana, Ina and Lía. Ina learned about the NGO's existence through the secondary school’s psychologist who organises dance workshops at LCP, and she remembers enthusiastically the first exchanges with foreign volunteers at the organisation. Ana started to learn about her rights when talking to her religion teacher at secondary school in Lima, and Lía, who is 27 years old and has been living for 12 years in Lima, explains her rare negative experiences with employers through her education in Ica, her town of origin close to Lima on the South coast: y los profesores pues también te daban conse:jo:s; te decían no; que:- (.) é:ste- (.) te hacían éste: psicológicamente decían no; no hay que hacerse pisar por no:- (.) su autoesTIma27.

  • 28 Translations: What else could I tell you? – Okay, tell me. – That's it. That's my current situation (...)

30In this sense, the ethnographic encounter gains even more importance. The participants feel proud to take over the position of the expert in the interview situation, reacting to the interviewer’s invitation to tell (cuéntame) or say (me dices, or dime) their story. The securing environment at the LCP seems to encourage them to act with a certain degree of self-confidence, to take position and speak out freely. Whereas some of the narrators carefully conclude each statement, asking often for the acknowledgement of the interlocutor (no?), Dani and Nela act at one level with the interviewer: Dani is 20 years old and came from Apurímac to Lima at the age of 15 because she suffered from her parents' marital problems; in the interview situation, she partly acts as interviewer, too, when she asks herself <<dim> qué más te puedo contar>. Nela, who is 26 years old, came from Cusco at the age of 11. She is the only interviewee who is preparing the admission exam for university. She opens and finishes her interview autonomously: ya. dime. – y a' es=es- (.) mi actualidad de ahora; señorita28.

  • 29 Translations: Let's go, Carola? Let's go! – That's how it is, Carola. And I do not want that it hap (...)

31Ina and Ana use the interview situation to establish stronger ties of friendship and solidarity. Ana, for example, invites the interviewer to join her on a travel to her parents' place in Ayacucho: vamos carola? <<ff><h> vamos.> She explicitly considers talking to be a social act. Even though she starts to cry she decides to continue to tell her sad story on violence in Ayacucho and oppression in Lima, because she considers important not to keep the memory to herself. She wants to inform people about how she was abused and spread her vision of reality in order to prevent those things happening again: así es carola. (1,6) porque yo no quiero que nadie más le pasa29.

32Once feeling confident about their communicative competence in a specific context, the interviewees act as authors not only of a story about the past, but of a whole universe of meaning with its proper values and truths (Foucault, 1969/2001). In the interview they become the main protagonists of this universe, and try to influence the future by planning actions, taking decisions, impeding developments that concern themselves but also include others. Telling their own stories to the interviewer creates a new shared world.

Finding a common voice

33The domestic workers' analysis of their own and of others' speaking and talking demonstrates their impressive degree of metacommunicative sensibility and “voice consciousness” (Spivak, 1994: 80).

34Their enunciations show a profound linguistic, pragmatic, cultural and social analysis of their own and others' interactions. They develop a precise metalanguage elaborating on different forms and functions of the verbs decir and hablar. In the interview situation they enact and practice various communicative stances, and dare to evaluate the formal possibility, cultural feasibility and social appropriateness of their own and others’ talking and saying. They establish an intercultural dialogue and anticipate the interviewer’s point of view when explaining their experiences and ideas, thereby transcending cultural borders. Most importantly, by taking over the role of the interviewee they join in the public debate struggling for their individual rights.

  • 30 Translations: Sometimes they abuse, for example when the people from the province come. – No, it's (...)

35The only limit to the performativity of their speaking is their difficulty to join efforts collectively, to develop a common voice and get organised as an interest group. This is not only a result of the individual interview situation: two recordings actually happened in the presence of two domestic workers each time, but only one participant tried to build a common story with her peer (a veces se aprovechan porque es como por ejemplo vienen las provincianas. no?); however it failed because of her interlocutor’s objection: <<f> no:; pero-> (.) pero no es que otra cosa- (.) hay diferencia; mucha diferencia30.

  • 31 See Mick (2015) for further discussion of the notion of gender in the interviews.

36The narrations do not show any collective identification with a common struggle for the rights of domestic workers, migrants or women in Lima. Most of the speakers hope to overcome their condition of “domestic workers”, and the only collective category used in the interviews, provincianas, carries for them a notion of victimisation and passivity, which additionally provokes discussions on regional cleavages (Mick, 2009: 151). Since the domestic workers make most of their negative experience with the woman employer whose responsibility for the household is not questioned, it is difficult and probably not the most empowering strategy, neither, to struggle as “women”31.

37Their impossibility, or refusal, to identify with any category of “oppressed” calls Spivak’s (1994: 78) comments on the “manipulation of female agency”. Their search for a way to speak as a subject and actor who is conscious of her divided condition concerns not only domestic workers, women or migrants, but everyone. It claims to struggle all together, independently of social status, against social inequalities.

Transcription conventions (Selting et al., 2011)

. ; - , ? falling, low falling, level, rising, high rising intonation

(.) (-) (--) (1,0) micro, short, intermediary pause or pause of a specific duration

<<pp> <p> <f> <ff> > low, medium low, high, very high volume

<<all><len><cresc><dim> > fast, slow, increasing louder or softer, faster or slower speech rhythm

<<h> > higher pitch register

= latching of intonation phrases

: :: ::: lengthening of syllables

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Bibliografía

invEntó focus accent

AGTR, De la sierra a la capital, Lima, Asociación Grupo de Trabajo Redes, 2004, 76 p.

ATTAC, Quand les femmes se heurtent à la mondialisation, Paris, 1001 nuits, 2003, 190 p.

AUTHIER-REVUZ, Jacqueline, “Hétérogénéité(s) énonciative(s)”, Langages, 73, 1984, p. 98-111.

BABEL, Anna M., “Dizque, evidentiality, and stance in Valley Spanish”, Language in Society, 38, 2009, p. 487-511.

BOURDIEU, Pierre, Ce que parler veut dire, Paris, A. Fayard, 1982, 243 p.

BUTLER, Judith, Excitable Speech, New York, Routledge, 1997, 200 p.

CALDAS-COULTHARD, Carmen Rosa, “Reporting Speech in Narrative Discourse”, Ilha Do Desterro, 27, 1992, p. 67-82.

ESCOBEDO RODRÍGUEZ, Antonio, El campo léxico “hablar” en español, Granada, Universidad de Granada, 1992, 362 p.

FOUCAULT, Michel, “Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur”, Dits Et Ecrits I, 1954-1969, Paris, Gallimard, 1969/2001, p. 817-849.

GOLDSMITH, Mary, “Disputando fronteras”, Amérique Latine Histoire et Mémoire, 14, 2007, accessible online: <http://alhim.revues.org/2202>

HYMES, Dell Hathaway, “On Communicative Competence”, PRIDE, John B., HOLMES Janet (eds), Sociolinguistics, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1972, p. 269-293.

ILO, Domestic workers across the world, Genève, ILO, 2013, 134 p.

IRVINE, Judith, “Style as distinctiveness”, in RICKFORD, John R., ECKERT Penelope (eds), Style and Sociolinguistic Variation, Cambridge, University Press, 2001, p. 21-43.

INEI, Estado de la población peruana 2003. Adolescencia y Juventud, Lima, OTA, 2003, 91 p.

LABOV, William, WALETZKY, Joshua, “Narrative Analysis: Oral Versions of Personal Experience”, in HELM, J. (ed.), Essays on the Verbal and Visual Arts, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1967, p. 12-44.

LYOTARD, Jean-François, La condition postmoderne, Paris, Minuit, 1979, 128 p.

MICK, Carola, Diskurse von “Ohnmächtigen”, Frankfurt/Main, Peter Lang, 2009, 322 p.

MICK, Carola, “Se raconter en situation de marginalisation: genre et langage dans des récits de migration d’employées de maison péruviennes”, Langage et Société, Vol. 152, 2015, p. 57-73.

PÉREZ, Sara Isabel, “Verbos de actos de habla y modalidad”, Iztapalapa, Vol. 23 53, 2002, p. 51-66.

PFÄNDER, Stefan, PALACIOS Azucena, “Evidencialidad y validación en los pretéritos del español andino ecuatoriano”, Círculo de Lingüística Aplicada a la Comunicación, 54, 2013, p. 65-98.

SELTING, Margret et alii, “A system for transcribing talk in interaction: GAT 2”, Gesprächsforschung, 12, 2011, p. 1-51.

SPIVAK, Gayatri Chakravorty, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, in WILLIAMS, Patrick, CHRISMAN, Laura (eds.), Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory, Harlow, Pearson Education, 1994, p. 66-111.

VERSCHUEREN, Jeff, Understanding Pragmatics, Oxford/New York, Arnold, 1999, 295 p.

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Notas

1 I refer to the Peruvian law 27986; only few countries officially regulate domestic service (ILO, 2013).

2 In Latin America the percentage of female domestic workers reaches 92% (ILO, 2013); domestic service is the main motor of female migration and points to the feminization of poverty as well as the sexual distribution of labour (see ATTAC, 2003).

3 In 2003, about 40% of the population of Lima are migrants, 25% from the Andean regions (sierra), 12% from other coastal areas (costa) and 2% from the Amazonas (selva) (INEI, 2003).

4 This high degree of formal education is not representative of the domestic workers neither in LCP, nor in Lima in general.

5 This is a qualitative, micro-ethnographic study. As such, it adopts a constructivist and emic perspective (approaching the speakers' point of view) on reality, elaborating a data-based argumentation and interpretation. In view of the sociolinguistic analysis of the oral testimonies the transcripts of the presented interview excerpts try to indicate the main characteristics of the individual pronunciation, wording and performance of the speech (see Selting et al., 2011). A list of the abbreviations is provided at the end of this article.

Translation: They even prohibited me to talk, to converse at home, because they considered that I did not have an opinion.

6 Translation: To speak is to fight in the sense of playing, and speech acts fall within the domain of general agonistics.

7 With almost 900 occurrences, the verb decir (to say) is by far the most used in the corpus, the other verbs of speaking, all together, only appear half as much, the verb hablar (to talk) being the second most used with about 300 occurrences. Other verbs of speaking that appear in the corpus are for example insultar, conversar, contar, preguntar, gritar, contestar or responder, explicar and prometer. Decir sometimes doubles another verb of speaking when marking reported speech.

8 In Hymes' view, as opposed to N. Chomsky, “performance” is part of the “communicative competence”.

9 Translation: (a) When they talk in Quechua, they think that people will discriminate against them, that they will say “she is a serrana, a chola, this kind of person”. [Chola and serrana are variations of a discriminatory insult used against migrants.] (b) that the other one would reject me for speaking like that; for example they say “they don't know anything, were do they come from?” (c) I talk like charapa because I really would like to be charapa.

[Literally, charapa refers to a variety of tortoise; in Peru, the term serves as a surname for speakers from Amazonian regions.]

10 Translation: When they are telling the truths.

11 Translation: When I did not understand something they told me how one should do it.

12 Translations: (d) They told me to cook, to wash, to clean and to polish the floor. (e) “You have stolen”, he said to me.

13 Translation: We joke in Quechua.

14 Translation: I taught the child, I said to him “look, one has to sit down like that. You are already grown up.” From then on I have talked to the child, and he actually started to sit down.

15 The participants tend to repeat the verbs of speaking at the end of the reported enunciation or, rarely, use a compound past perfect tense (see Pfänder & Palacios, 2013, in the case of Ecuadorian Spanish) in order to attribute authority to the reconstructed voice: vas a trabajar conmigo y vas a seguir estudiando; me ha dicho.

16 Translations: (f) I wanted to distance from some backwater, let's say. (g) She told me “let's go”, but I did not have any money. So I said no. (h) “I will increase your salary in July”, the employer told me. And I trusted that she would increase it, she had promised it.

17 Translations: (j) I don't know whether I should tell. (k) “That's bad. I don't like you to shout on me”, I told her. You don't pay me for being shouted on. That's how I said to her. And since then she has never ever shouted on me again.

18 Translation: silent girl, without voice. – I'm able to talk, I said.

19 Translations: He told me (that), he would pay/give me/save the money, he did not give me (anything).Okay, I let it like this.

20 Translations: They were abusive over there. – This was a lie the employer invented in order not to pay me.

21 Translation: She told me “ay, you are such a chola.” – “Ha, you are surely more of a chola than I am, you are the same”, I told her.

22 Translation: With her we also insult each other, as a joke.

See also footnote 15.

23 Translations: I explain them that it is not easy to live in Lima. – But they only tell me to come along, to simply keep on.

24 Translations: Sometimes when one already stayed a certain time, one starts talking. “And where do you come from”, he asked and answered on his own: “You must come from Lima.” – Then we started talking.

25 Translations: The doors will open for me. – I told him/her, I told them, I said. – I don't care at all. Everything will come out. – I don't have anything to lose because I don't know anybody here, I said.

26 Translations: They made me speak. – They applauded and said bravo. I told them “from Monday to Friday you find me at the office in the second floor of Nueva Generación [name of the organisation]. Okay fellows. – There are so many youths who study, some of them are doing a Master in Law or Odontology.

27 Translation: The teachers gave you psychological advise. They told us to defend and to be self-conscious.

28 Translations: What else could I tell you? – Okay, tell me. – That's it. That's my current situation, Miss.

29 Translations: Let's go, Carola? Let's go! – That's how it is, Carola. And I do not want that it happens again to someone else.

30 Translations: Sometimes they abuse, for example when the people from the province come. – No, it's completely different.

31 See Mick (2015) for further discussion of the notion of gender in the interviews.

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Para citar este artículo

Referencia electrónica

Carola Mick, « “Yo sé hablar, dije” The conditions for Peruvian domestic workers to speak out for their rights », Amérique Latine Histoire et Mémoire. Les Cahiers ALHIM [En línea], 31 | 2016, Publicado el 09 junio 2016, consultado el 23 agosto 2017. URL : http://alhim.revues.org/5437

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Autor

Carola Mick

University of Paris Descartes – Paris Sorbonne Cité (France)
Carola Mick, associate professor in the department of Linguistics of the University of Paris Descartes holds a PhD of the University of Mannheim (Germany) and develops research in the fields of migration and language/culture contact in the Centre for Population and Development (UMR 196).
Carola.Mick@parisdescates.fr

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Derechos de autor

Licencia Creative Commons
Amérique latine Histoire et Mémoire está distribuido bajo una Licencia Creative Commons Atribución-NoComercial-SinDerivar 4.0 Internacional.

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