Empleada, niñera, nana, chacha, muchacha – these are the names identifying the domestic workers of South America, signifying employee, nanny, cleaning person, cook, servant. It is a shock for some foreigners to realize the ubiquity of the empleada in Latin American life. “We cannot live without our empleadas,” many a Limeña has told me. And in developing economies, where the stratification of rich and poor is vast, these occupations do allow some women to come from the countryside and study in the city, and improve their prospects and potential. “Música de Plancha” a Latin American ballad form is so called because of it’s popularity among servants performing household tasks (ironing music). Yet indignities exist - in the tony private beachside resort Playa Asia, empleadas are prohibited from swimming in the beach or wearing anything other than their uniforms to the beach. It is difficult to watch them, hovering on the periphery of family life, integral and seemingly invisible. Do they accept this fate as inevitable? Or consider themselves lucky to be part of a well-known family? Are they resigned to a situation where all they have ever known is lack of access to education and wealth-building? I cannot help but see similarities to the Jim Crow South in the United States, and wonder what it will take to provide greater opportunities to the lower classes that are so often disdained by those they serve. These photographs were taken during many visits to Lima over the past ten years.

Using Format