Poetry & Interview: “Las Marías” by Josslyn Glenn
Josslyn Glenn is a transgender Afro-Latina (Mexican-Belizean) author, intersectional feminist, and filmmaker from UCLA. In her piece «Las Marias», both sad and poignant, she describes the oppression and the trauma that immigrant women suffer in the United States through the hard housekeeper job.
I have wondered why the housekeepers in baby blue dresses and white smocks,
the custodians and employers
tolerate each other amidst los secretos dentro de las paredes.
I have consoled other Marias in the locker room
in disbelief of the threats toward their existence.
I am aware of your brochures,
boasting diversity and inclusion with beaming Marias, nativas de las Américas,
since they perform glee in captivity as you wave their visa sponsorship behind the camera.
I know Amalia–not “Maria”
–folded blankets and stacked clean towels in your suite with the fingertips
made for work beyond fields and your vomit puddles beside the toilet.
So she stood there, cursing them in Spanish in her head,
but this time, it wasn’t in her head.
How she aches
with what may very well be whips and branches as the work does not end upon returning home;
how she groans upon bending over to clean the floor of the mess you made,
stopped by the graze of your crotch against her face because nowhere is there
an HR that cannot be paid off by green justifications of an unquenchable thirst for the silenced;
how she bears emotional strain sin la oportunidad para más días de resto o promociones
as time flies when she comes to find her niños speaking in your tongues,
their vestigial accents screaming pleas for mercy from la migra
how she swallows her dignity with your cum
for no insurance covers broken spirits nor revelations of mythical American dreams
how she withstands dozens of jobs in one,
carrying with her the depths of despair that receive no gratitude–only expectation
and how she walks away lighter, without papers, without a job,
without a say, without time on her side,
without a miracle, without them ever calling her by her name…as the next “Maria” comes to take her place.
INTERVIEW by KALIE GRANIER
- This story is so sad and touching. Who or what inspired you to write it?
Martín Espada’s poem “For the Jim Crow Mexican Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts Where My Cousin Esteban Was Forbidden to Wait Tables Because He Wears Dreadlocks,” John Rechy’s The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez, and all of the “Marias” I have walked across in my day who don’t even hide how exhausted they look but who find a moment amidst the chaos to laugh when in the company of another female domestic worker.
- This piece inspires deep reflection on so many levels. What was your initial intention in writing this story?
I simply intended on capturing the oppression touched upon in Espada’s work initially, but the more I started writing the more I wanted to capture the inner psyche of these women. I’ve seen domestic workers while riding on the bus all my life, noticing the sleep they catch up on, the liberty to speak in Spanish with their fellow maid friends that catch the bus at a later stop, the ability to feel invisible of their own volition. This is why I indicated the lines: “So she stood there, cursing them in Spanish in her head, but this time, it wasn’t in her head.” Anyone that works in a demoralizing, hostile environment wherein, on a daily basis, people condescend and make undeserved assumptions, is very likely to hold in what they really mean. I also made an effort to include the issues outside of work that indicate how the work doesn’t end. For example, there is the struggle of coming to terms with their children growing up in an environment they themselves did not, one that is influenced both by US values and that of their parents’. There is the issue with leaving work, only to come home to more work. There is the issue of fearing the deportation of your family, and the criminalization of Black and Brown children that is not very forgiving of more than one misstep.
- Every day we meet Marias–these vulnerable and strong women who are part of our daily lives–yet we do not see them. It is as if they were invisible. When did you realize the urgency to write this piece?
While a student at UCLA, I noticed the AFSCME Local 3299 union protests, which comprises service workers, patient care technical workers, and skilled craft workers across the 10 University of California (UC) campuses. They addressed systemic exploitation and inequities. They addressed the wage gap not only for employees of color, but the additional intersection with gender, as women of color, particularly Black and Latina workers, received far lower benefits and salaries compared to their male and white counterparts. I myself worked in the Housing and Hospitality department, which included maintenance and housekeepers, and had the opportunity to partake in the protests and meetings; however, I didn’t have the time to attend as many as I wanted. While this was happening, I found relevance in the issues based on the meetings I did attend when I took a class that was cross-listed within the Gender Studies and Chicana Studies departments about gendered politics in the Latinx community. The curriculum of this class ran the gamut of topics on Latinx views on sex and sexuality; Latinas in white-dominant institutions (e.g. politics, STEM, entertainment); and yes, worker exploitation with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, and citizenship status. This included a thorough reading of Hondagneu-Sotelo’s From Domestica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning & Caring in the Shadows of Affluence (2001) and David Montejano From Chicano politics and society in the late 20th century (1999), both of which gave me the impression that not much has changed in the past 20+ years since the publication of these works. 4. Immigrants like “Las Marias” are the ones who do the hard jobs that most Americans refuse to do. How are these housekeepers–who are disrespected, treated badly, and raped–the real forgotten people of our so-called democracies? What is society’s role in protecting these immigrant/undocumented female workers? We can start by being informed. Listen to the concerns of these women and those in a similar line of work, and take these issues seriously by addressing their issues at each level of the hierarchy. If you find that your network consists solely of people in your socioeconomic bracket, it would behoove you to broaden your connections. And if these new connections are your excuse of “I have friends who are [insert Black, Latinx, Asian, queer, etc.],” then really think about if the actions and policies you support would benefit these friends. This is a broad question I don’t entirely have answers for, but this is a start
- These women are the underestimated and ignored heroes of our contemporary societies. How could we change the narrative?
As an introvert and wallflower myself, I become aware of the “invisible” people I come across. As a creative, I value the stories of those whose stories are traditionally not seen as valuable–in any area of media: literature, film, television, etc. Maids are often a forgettable side character that are meant to serve, not be served. They are often serving “important” people who have the luxury of being served. It is even more shameful that media figures that cast.
- Do you believe that president Joe Biden is aware of the social injustices that plague immigrant/undocumented women’s lives, and do you think he will grant them more protections and rights?
Short answer, no. Long answer, no because he himself is a white cis straight US-born man who has the privilege of overlooking the issues of undocumented Latinas of lower socio-economic status. By the looks of it, Biden’s administration has deported a mass wave of Haitian immigrants, many of whom are women. They are not only Black, but many identify as Latina as well. This arises from the ambiguousness of Amalia, only one of the Marias we follow in this poem. In The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez, Amalia is Mexican American, but in this poem, she could easily be Afro Latina, like me. The ambiguousness of this aspect does a disservice as it erases Blackness in the Latinx community, which I can admit.
- Have you always been involved in social justice writing?
Do you have other commitments and how do you lead these? Not always. In my book, She Rotates with Pluto, which is a collection of short stories and poems I have written since I was eleven, my earliest works had no purpose. I wish I could say I was precocious and aware of civil liberties at that age, but I simply wrote for the sake of writing at that age. As I grew older and more aware of what people treated Black, Latinx, trans people, and women like me, the more I decided to engage in those conversations, read on the topics, and attend protests or events on the matter. I majored in Gender Studies and Chicana/o Studies with a triple minor in Film, Spanish, and LGBTQ Studies while at UCLA so I became exposed to a lot of disciplines, scholars, and creatives that concentrate on the intersectionality between race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender identity and expression, citizenship status–all of which inform what I write.
- What advice would you give to a student or anyone interested in getting into activism themselves?
a) Support non-profits not just by giving their organization a follow on social media, but instead by actually volunteering at or attending their events. b) Connect with some activists or workers of a nonprofit on LinkedIn or another social platform. Pick their brain and come prepared with questions. It’s okay to even ask them how you can familiarize with X movement if you don’t know where to start. They might put you in contact with someone. c) Put yourself out of your comfort zone, but not blindly. d) Turn to books, podcasts, figures, and movies/shows around the topics of interest. e) Don’t speak for others in that community. Instead, as an ally, recognize that it’s okay to listen to those enduring that actual groundwork and struggle. If you’re still learning about activism, if you’re going to speak, you best speak in questions rather than definitive statements of something you’re still articulating.
- Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share about yourself or your work?
Not at all! I really appreciate you reaching out to me. I had fun answering these questions! 🙂