The Maid's Daughter: Living Inside and Outside the American Dream

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At a very young age, Olivia left her family and traditions in Mexico to live with her mother, Carmen, in one of Los Angeles’s most exclusive and nearly all-white gated communities. Based on over twenty years of research, noted scholar Mary Romero brings Olivia’s remarkable story to life. We watch as she struggles through adolescence, declares her independence and eventually goes off to college and becomes a successful professional. Much of her extraordinary story is told in Olivia’s voice and we hear of both her triumphs and her setbacks.

In The Maid’s Daughter, Mary Romero explores this complex story about belonging, identity, and resistance, illustrating Olivia’s challenge to establish her sense of identity, and the patterns of inclusion and exclusion in her life. Romero points to the hidden costs of paid domestic labor that are transferred to the families of private household workers and nannies, and shows how everyday routines are important in maintaining and assuring that various forms of privilege are passed on from one generation to another. Through Olivia’s story, Romero shows how mythologies of meritocracy, the land of opportunity, and the American dream remain firmly in place while simultaneously erasing injustices and the struggles of the working poor.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Mexican-born Carmen settled in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s as a live-in maid with her young daughter, Olivia. Aside from occasional visits to relatives in impoverished Mexican neighborhoods, Olivia lived her childhood and teen years with Carmen's primary employer, the Smiths, who in ways embraced Olivia as one of their own—from paying for her education to, many years later, inscribing her name on a Smith family gravestone. Over the course of 20 years, social justice scholar Romero interviewed the adult Olivia about her childhood experiences. Olivia's knowledge of two disparate communities gave her broad social capital and a high degree of social confidence, but her cultural competence was muddied while growing up by her proximity to privilege, with her access to the fruits of privilege strictly limited. VERDICT At once a valuable case study and a dramatic life story, this oral history explores identity and illuminates race, class, and gender in America at a peculiarly intimate intersection between upper-middle-class white families and the women of color who provide domestic labor for them. With Romero's analysis, extensive footnotes, and a through bibliography, it will be of greater interest to scholars than to casual readers of memoir.—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, State Lib. of Ohio, Columbus
Kirkus Reviews

In this penetrating case study, Romero (Justice and Social Inquiry/Arizona State Univ.; Maid in the U.S.A., 1992, etc.) examines the life history of Olivia Salazar, a successful public relations professional who grew up in a wealthy Anglo household where her mother worked as a domestic servant.

The author followed her subject for more than 20 years, gathering data through a series of in-depth interviews that began in 1986. She organizes her analysis around actual interview segments, which she explicates with a rare combination of rigor and sensitivity. Olivia was the American-born daughter of a Mexican woman named Carmen who had originally come to the United States to find work that would allow her to support family members that lived south of the border. When Olivia was three, Carmen located a job in an exclusive Los Angeles gated community. It was here that Olivia would spend most of the next 15 years growing up as a "member" of the Smiths, wealthy family that employed Carmen. While her mother worked within the defined—and frequently exploitative—parameters of domestic servitude, Olivia occupied an uneasy interpersonal, cultural and economic middle ground. As Romero writes, "the social boundaries between 'being like one of the family' and 'the maid's daughter' [were] blurred and in constant flux." Olivia's association with the Smiths gave her access to the schooling and social connections that allowed her to eventually enter the ranks of the professional middle class. At the same time, it put her at odds with a mother unable to provide complete nurture while forcing her into anguished questioning of who she was and where she ultimately belonged.

A moving work that deconstructs the American Dream at the fraught intersection of race, class and gender.

From the Publisher
"A valuable case study and a dramatic life story, this oral history explores identity and illuminates race, class, and gender in America at a peculiarly intimate intersection between upper-middle-class white families and the women of color who provide domestic labor for them."-Library Journal,

"A moving work that deconstructs the American Dream at the fraught intersection of race, class and gender."-Kirkus,

"This detailed, intimate investigation of domestic work from the perspective of a domestic worker's child is a significant achievement that reads like a more academic Random Family." -Publishers Weekly,

"For this sequel to her groundbreaking study on the social inequity of domestic work, Maid in the U.S.A., Romero spent two decades following Olivia, who was raised in between two worlds, living in an upscale Los Angeles house where her mother worked as a maid."-Ms. Magazine,

"[Romero] transforms twenty years of recorded interviews with a woman referred to as 'Olivia Sanchez' into a highly readable book which juxtaposes Olivia’s story, as told to Romero, with sociological commentary, research and selected interviews with other children of domestic workers. This thought provoking study raises many questions to wrestle with on both individual and societal levels… Open-minded readers may find their views transformed after reading this engaging narrative."-Englewood Review of Books,

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814776421
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2011
  • Pages: 277
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Romero is Professor of Justice Studies at Arizona University. She is the author or editor of many books, including Maid in the U.S.A. In 2012, she was awarded the Julian Samora Distinguished Career Award by the Latino/Latina Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association.

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Table of Contents

1 Who Is Caring for the Maid’s Children?
2 Becoming the Maid’s Daughter
3 Being the Maid’s Daughter
4 Passing and Rebelling
5 Leaving “Home”
6 Making a Home

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