Fanm pa chita: Stories of Mobility and the Intimate among Haitian Domestic Workers in the Dominican Republic”

Author: Masaya Llavaneras Blanco, PhD Candidate, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario, Canada

Abstract

Together with sex work and petit trade, domestic work is one of the three main sources of income for Haitian migrant women in the Dominican Republic. I argue that social reproductive work and other forms of paid and unpaid intimate labour are at the heart of Haitian migrant women’s experiences of migration and mobility. In other words, their spatial trajectories through the island of Hispaniola, and the way they experience them, are inseparable from strategies for social reproduction and survival. My argument draws on qualitative data collected through interviews and focus groups held in Haitian and Dominican border towns, bateyes (sugar plantation communities) in south-western DR, and Santo Domingo, with over one hundred Haitian women and women of Haitian descent who work as domestic workers in the DR.

By looking at the ways in which social reproduction and intimate labor interact with these women’s spatial trajectories, this article contributes to decentering linear understandings of mobility and volition creating room for approaches grounded on everyday lives. Testimonies that were shared with me reveal the ways in which social reproduction and other forms of intimate labour serve as both sites and strategies through which trajectories of mobility are imagined, carried out and experienced. Unpaid care provision to distant relatives as well as other forms of intimate labour, including sex, to adult men who they meet upon border-crossing, are some of the ways in which the intimate mediates the ways in which women move through the island. Similarly, intimate violence consistently appears as a driver of mobility across the island both crossing and within borders.

Far from idealizing or vilifying intimate labor, this work aims at bringing the intimate as a fundamental realm to mobilities studies and research on political subjectivity from a subaltern perspective. Engaging with the entanglement between mobility and social reproduction contributes to the elaboration of a kinetic politics that is grounded on the everyday and the quotidian acts of sustaining life. It contributes to moving away from the sub-political status attributed to the intimate and the prosaic, and allows us to imagine subjects that are political because and through their everyday struggles to sustain themselves and others. In this way the paper contributes to understanding mobility as a form of politics while being attentive to McNevin’s warning to avoid implicitly attributing “an ambition to mobility and migrants that is not necessarily there” (2013:41). This is particularly crucial when understanding the (in)mobility of women who are pushed to the limit both literally and figuratively.

Discussion

This paper will be presented at CARISCC’s 4th Postgraduate Research Conference on Caribbean In/Securities and Creativity, University of Amsterdam, Roeterseiland Campus, The Netherlands, Wednesday 13 June 2018. Please feel free to participate in CARISCC’s online conference discussions by using the “Leave a Reply” space, shown below, to submit any questions, comments and feedback.