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Mujeres Mágicas - Domestic Workers Right to Write

front cover mujeres magicasThis section contains excerpts from Mujeres Mágicas - Domestic Workers Right to Writeby Las Malcriadas

The book is edited and translated by Karina Muñiz-Pagán and Argelia Muñoz Larroa.


by Karina Muñiz-Pagán

I am a grandchild of immigrant domestic workers and a writer connected to la frontera, as if my ancestral umbilical cord is buried in the desert terrain of the U.S./Mexico border. I’ve spent the last several years excavating stories never told.

When my father was ten years old, he lived near in el barrio Val Verde, Texas. One day in 1947 he was playing stickball with his friends on a dirt road when the green border patrol trucks charged towards them. They scattered, praying la migra wouldn’t send them far away. Being born on the U.S. side of the border didn’t help. They ran past the evaporating traces of disappeared neighbors, family and friends. At that time, ten years had barely passed since the massive deportations of thousands of Mexicans and Chicanas/os, blamed for the U.S. Great Depression.

Today, migrants are scapegoated all over the world, and the U.S./Mexico border is ground zero for deadly and draconian policies. Stories of resilience and survival, such as the ones in this book, must be excavated with a newfound urgency.

As an immigrant rights activist, I first became familiar with Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) in 1999. I heard Clara Luz Navarro, co-founder of MUA, speak about their work at a training for domestic violence counselors. Clara Luz had a vibrancy that filled the room. She had short, dyed blond hair and a passion in her voice that made you fix your posture and listen attentively. She spoke of the dignity and power of Latina immigrant women, cleaning homes in San Francisco, taking care of children and the elderly, making all other work possible and building their own power.

What Clara Luz shared resonated with me. My maternal great-grandmother, Karin, was a domestic worker too. She migrated from Sweden to San Francisco and worked for 30 years for a family on Russian Hill. My paternal grandmother, Candelaria, migrated to the U.S. from México and was pulled out of primary school to work as a domestic worker, washing the clothes of others on the El Paso/Juarez border. With grandmothers from both sides of my family, having done the often invisible and invaluable work of home care, I was drawn to community work that honored the dignity and value of immigrant women and domestic workers of today, as well as their legacy.

MUA is a Latina immigrant and domestic worker rights base-building organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. I worked there as the Political Director while I was also a student at Mills College, pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. As a Community Engagement Fellow, Mills gave me the opportunity to teach creative writing and step outside our campaign work. This book includes writing from the participants in those workshops and reflects MUA’s accomplishment of their mission through art and literature. The MUA writers have also been at the forefront of preserving San Francisco as a sanctuary city. Together, we have fasted and engaged in civil disobedience. They’ve taught me what bravery looks like when they have risked their own safety to strengthen the #NotOneMore deportation campaign and led the domestic worker rights movement in the state of California.

In 2015 when this project began, my biggest fear was failing my compañeras. I wanted the class to be worth the sacrifices made to attend. For members who weren’t staff, attending class meant at times turning down a job. We didn’t have childcare the first year; participants had to arrange that as well. For MUA staff, the workload didn’t lessen; the 3-hour-a-week class plus homework was in addition to the responsibilities they held in each program.

We began the class with ceremony. I learned the power of this intention from workshops taught by Cherríe Moraga, a mentor instrumental in my life and in so many others. La maestra pushed us to bring our whole selves to the space and page. One of the compañeras, Sylvia, was from a danzante indigenous community in Oakland. She and her daughter began by recognizing we were on Ohlone land and guided us through the four directions, keeping the copal burning on the altar as we each set our intention for ourselves and collectively. This is how we would hold and push each other through the process.  

One main goal was for each participant to discover stories inside themselves they never knew existed. They were there, waiting in the ethers to come to life. I opened our first class, after ceremony, with Gloria Anzaldúa’s “Letter to Third World Women” in the anthology This Bridge Called my Back published in 1981 and co-edited by Cherríe Moraga. As a queer Xicana, the book, and the letter in particular, have had such an impact on me over the years. Anzaldúa’s words exposed me, broke open my heart and put it all back together, as if her voice said to me, “Ándale, mi’ja, you’re meant to do this. We’ve got you, now get to work.” I hoped her words could move others as much as they had transformed me. So we read out loud parts of her letter translated into Spanish and printed to take home to read in its entirety:

“Rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you...
I say mujer mágica, empty yourself. Shock yourself into new ways of perceiving the world, shock your readers into the same. Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire. Don't let the pen banish you from yourself.”