Jardineros y DomÈsticas (gardeners & housekeepers)

I drive to school/work through wealthy neighborhoods such as Cheviot Hills and Holmby Hills to avoid the freeways and main streets. The route isn’t much shorter, but avoiding the 405 freeway makes it worth it.

I’ve been taking this route for years. I’m used to the magnificent $1 to $3 million dollar homes. The gardens are equally lovely and they have nice cars in the drive way. I think to myself that I’ll probably never live in such a neighborhood beside other professionals. I’m on track to become a professional and have the kind of income where I’ll be able to buy a nice home in a nice neighborhood. I just can’t see myself ever living a neighborhood where the only brown people I see are the nannies and gardeners.

Sometime in my first year at UCLA, my siblings came along with my parents to drop me off at my residence hall after a weekend with them. They stared awestruck at the homes as we drove through Sunset. At the intersection of Bellagio and Sunset, they noticed a gated entrance and sign.

“Bel Aire? As in Fresh Prince?” my sister asked.

“Yeah, the only Mexicans who enter there are the gardeners, nannies, and housekeepers.” They laughed in a knowing way. We all knew that my grandfather used to tend lawns for rich families. There was nothing wrong with such work to us, but it was clear that people who looked like us probably didn’t live in the area.

A few months later, I argued with a woman who accused me of lying about being a student. I was on a bus in Downtown LA headed toward the stop where I would transfer to a Foothill Transit bus and return to my home in the San Gabriel Valley. I don’t know how the conversation began or why I even spoke to someone on the bus who looked quite unstable.

She insisted that I was not a student at UCLA and that I was too ashamed to admit that I was really a domÈstica (housekeeper) or nanny. She asked me to prove that I was a student by showing her my school ID. I didn’t bother, I didn’t need to prove myself to her.

At the time, she angered me with her ignorance and closemindedness. But now that I think of it, I realize that most Latinas on the MTA 2 bus through Sunset were going to work in homes and not go to school. Still, it should not be unheard of or ridiculous for Chicanas and Latinas to be attending a university.


Those two experiences have shaped me in some way. I know that the men I see tending the gardens and the women walking babies in strollers are not much different than me. I may have greater opportunities for upward mobility, but I still can’t see myself living in such an area. I need to be in a community with people who look like me, speak my first language, and share similar experiences.

19 thoughts on “Jardineros y DomÈsticas (gardeners & housekeepers)”

  1. I need to be in a community with people who look like me, speak my first language, and share similar experiences.

    The irony is that the people in those houses would say the same thing.

  2. There is a myth about how rich people are exploiting “brown” people by employing them. But here’s the thing, the woman who washes my shirts is Mexican. The guys who cook my food when I eat out are generally Mexican or Chinese. My butcher is Mexican. The guys at the corner car wash are all Mexican. The guys across the street at the 7-11 are Pakistani. Never mind who picked the produce I bought at the supermarket. I could probably go on, but you get the idea.

    I’m not rich, but all these “brown” folk are at least partly paid (directly or indirectly) by me. Now here’s my question: Would it be more or less racist if I only patronized non “brown people”?

    Sure, there are rich scumbags out there who exploit minorities, but there are many others who employ them in good faith because they are the best at their job. I haven’t been hearing a whole lot about white nannies who can’t get a job. In the meantime, many common folk like you and me “employ” brown people in the various ways (and more) that I mention above.

    If and when I reach some generally accepted level of “rich”, I *promise* to employ as many poor brown people that I can, as long as they are the best at what they do. Anything else would be wrong.

    And I hope I never get to the point where I crave “a community with people who look like me, speak my first language, and share similar experiences.” We live in the melting pot baby, and are richer for our diversity.

  3. DB, thanks for your comment, but I don’t think that has anythign to do with what I was addressing in my post. I didn’t mention anything about whether or not those who employ Latinos or other people of color are exploiting them or not. I don’t know that for sure, and it wasn’t the point of my post. However, I do know that my grandfather and uncle (brown men) worked with some very kind and goodhearted rich people.

    I’m not going to answer your question because I didn’t mention anything about racism or people only emplying Latinos.

  4. I’ve never cared much if my neighbors look like, act like, think like or dislike me. All’s I care about is that they are quiet!

    Seriously, my question is this. Cindy, is it important that these “Brown” people that you live amongst be from a specific “Brown” heritage? Or, can they be from assorted “Brown” countries such as Costa Rica, Peru, Salvador, Mexico or any other nationality that looks “Brown”

    How “BROWN” or “brown” does this neighborhood need to be?

  5. I can’t afford those nice neighborhoods either, and I consider myself a professional in my career. I find it really sobering and depressing, but living in an apartment is better than living on the streets.

    As for employing “brown people,” I employ a cleaning lady who has all the flexibility in the world, gets paid quite well, and uses me to learn english to boot. I don’t find it exploitative when she actually gets paid well for her services, under the counter no less.

  6. I suppose I have a different perspective, because as much as possible I bring my husband around to hang out with my old friends. See, my husband is black, and most of my old friends are Asian. I especially like my Asian friends’ children to see my husband and experience that not all black men are bad like they see on the news.

    It’s good to be around people who are different than you. God knows I’d go bananas if I lived in a neighborhood that was all Filipino!

  7. Michael,
    Most of the Latinos/Raza/brown people (I use these terms interchangeably, and it seems like people have never heard Latinos referred to as brown, maybe it’s just my circle of friends) I grew up around and currently live near are Mexican. I have always wanted to live in cities and neighborhoods that had big populations of Mexicans. When I was looking into graduate schools, I wanted to be in a city that had a sizeable Mexican population. It’s what I know best, since my family is almost all Mexican.

    However, I can share a first language, immigrant experience, etc with people who are not just Mexican. I want to be able to find certain foods, hear people speaking Spanish, and other things you are more apt to find in Latino or Mexican neighborhoods.

    So, to answer your question, I don’t know. I’d like to live in a neighborhood similar to the one I grew up in that was quite diverse. I grew up playing with Asian, white, Navajo, Mexican, Peruvian, and African American kids.

    I love being around people of all ethnicities too. I’ve actually never lived in an all-Latino or all-Mexican neighborhood. I don’t know if that would drive me nuts.

  8. And where exactly do you get off saying those neighborhoods are all white? You drive through while homeowners are at work or out. There are plenty of black, latino and asian homeowners throughout LA — even in Cheviot Hills and Bel-Air. When I lived in Bel-Air 10 years ago, there was an asian couple across the street, a Mexican family next door, an Indian couple up the road. People talk about Baldwin Hills/Baldwin Vista being all black (the “richest black neighborhood in the country,” some say). Well, my BV street is the most integrated street I’ve ever lived on: white, black, asian, latino. You see what you expect to see. Your attitude is just as bigoted and blind as someone who says they’d only live in a “white” neighborhood. Try an experiment: stop looking at neighborhoods through your own perceived biases and get to know the neighborhood as it is.

  9. I rode the number 2 bus through sunset on my way to UCLA everyday last year. I felt the exact same thing you did. It’s not difficult to notice who exactly is on the bus, and where they’re getting off.

    Throughout my bus trips to school i was very aware of the fact that i could have been one of those nannies or housekeepers if my parents hadnt stressed the importance of an education to move up socially and economically. I realise that i’d been given more opportunities, and i somehow felt guilty about it. How is it fair that i get it so easy compare to them? My bus rides definitely made it visible to me that I am not different from other brown folk, esp those laborers. Its an important realization to come to sometimes.

    I understand youre not making any comments on exploitation, or racism…you were writing on an observation that affected you somehow. I’ve had those all too many times while on that route

    …I too question whether or not I can live in a neighborhood without ppl who look like me, speak my first tongue…everytime i think about settling in boston, i get scared. I’ve never really been away from what i grew up in, todo mexicano. I definitely understand your need to be with ppl like yourself. its important to have some sense of familiarity.

    ::shrug:: I had something else to say. But i lost my train of thought.

  10. Lee,
    I did not state that the neighborhoods were all white. However, my statement that the only Mexican beyond the Bel Air gate were workers hired by residents was false (who knew sarcasm was lost so easily on a blog?). Census data shows that there are small percentages of blacks and Latinos in the area. As you mentioned there are also Asian residents in those neighborhoods too, but whites are the largest group making up at least 74.1% of the residents in the area. (Source is Neighborhood Knowledge California)

    Your assumption that I only drive through when residents are at work is also false. I live close enough to Cheviot Hills to take walks in the area and walk to the park on Motor and Pico. I also frequently drive home when residents have probably already returned home. I’ve taken time to observe the neighborhoods and they are not much different than when I drive through in the morning.

    I don’t feel that my attitude is either bigoted or blind, yet if you want to stoop to name calling and telling me that I am unaware about MY experiences, I won’t stop you.

  11. Nice entry Cindy. I think people are misinterpreting her entry for something that she never put in her entry. Meaning, this was never about exploited workers or the absolute non-existence of minorities in rich neighborhoods. I mean you will have your eventual family down the block once in a while, but the bigger scope still shows a big disparity between certain groups of people in l.a and areas…

    all in all this was just a personal observation from her eyes, and didn’t show any signs of bigotry or anything of that sort.

    from one chicano to another chicana.


  12. As stated before me, this post was a personal, deep reflection and had no negative connotations towards anybody.

    It was an insightful and beautiful take on a person’s thoughts.

    I would advise those who start making accusations of any negative intent on the writer’s part to please carefully read in the future, as to not tarnish such a nice post.

  13. To Cindy, Jerry, AL & Brenda,

    Read this and then I hope you will understand the knee-jerk reaction of some of the readers.

    I drive to the store through poor neighborhoods such as Lincoln Heights and Boyle Heights because I live downtown and the closest stores are located in those neighborhoods.

    I’ve been taking this route for years. I’m used to the ugly, cheap homes and apartments. The gardens are equally ugly and they have broken down cars in the front yards. I think to myself that I’ll probably never live in such a neighborhood beside these poor people. I’ve been as poor as one can be but I never parked a broken car on my lawn. I just can’t see myself ever living in a neighborhood where the only white people I see are avoiding the freeway on their way to downtown.

    Sometime in my first year living downtown, my siblings came along with my parents to get groceries at the local Vons. They stared awestruck at the homes as we drove through Lincoln Heights. At the intersection of Lincoln Heights and Broadway, they noticed some cops making an arrest.

    “Cops? Bad Boys, Bad Boys” my brother asked.

    “Yeah, the only Whites who enter this neighborhood are the cops and the junkies looking for drugs.” They laughed in a knowing way. We all knew that my brother is a Cop and works in neighborhoods like this all the time. There was nothing wrong with such a neighborhood, but it was clear that people who looked like us probably didn’t live in the area.

    I know that the people I see in Lincoln Heights are not much different than me. I may have greater opportunities for upward mobility, but I still can’t see myself living in such an area. I need to be in a community with people who look like me, speak English, and share similar experiences.

    What would you say if I had written this? Would you have had a knee-jerk reaction to the implications of my simple drive and observations as I drove through “The Hood”

  14. Cindy, all I had to go on were the words in your initial post. If I misinterprested you, I apologize. I just have a huge problem with statements of the “The only (insert group here) who go there don’t live there” variety 8-)

  15. Michael,
    I honestly wish you hadn’t put such effort into adapting my post. To put it simply, it’s not the same. If you had written such a post, yes I would be offended. You painted the communities you drive through in a negative light. As you know, I really didn’t write anything negative about the areas I drive through on my way to school/work. Also, you made comments about a community and the residents there who (I assume) are not the same race/ethnicity as you. I assume this because frankly the people who seemed to “get” where I was going with my post about the intersection of race and class issues happened to be Latinos (well I know 2 of the 3 were). I made comments about Latinos who work in those neighborhoods. If you had really written such a post, I would have been skeptical about your statement that the residents in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights are “not much different than [you].” I on the other hand, am quite similar to the workers in such neighborhoods as my family history shows (immigrant, working class, gardeners, etc).

    I made the same post on my personal blog and found that my regular readers had much different reactions. There were no knee jerk reactions. They seemed to get it, and I guess it’s probably because they’ve had similar experiences.

  16. Would you find it offensive if a rich white person living in Bel-Air said that they grew up rich and in a pre-dominantly white neighborhood, so they would want to live only in a rich, white neighborhood? Because that’s what is familiar to them and it’s the people they can relate to?

    If you find offense in something like that, I think that reaction is similiar to what’s happening here.

    Noting that in those wealthy neighborhoods the only brown people are workers is pointing out a segregation by race and class. However, by adding that you need to be in a community of people who look like you and speak your first language (race) and share your experience of immigration and being from working class background (class), you send a message of segregation. And even if you didn’t mean to, a lot of people pick up on that.

    I know your post was about your personal experience of growing up from a working class background and becoming upwardly mobile and how it’s shaped you as you are today, but anytime you use an “us” and “them” mentality to talk about something, it automatically sounds more hostile, even if that wasn’t your intent.

  17. Cindy.

    Exactly! What Jessica said. I don’t write as well as her. Can we just pretend that I wrote her post?

  18. Jessica,

    I don’t know if I would find that offensive, but I wasn’t talking about the type of neighborhood I grew up in compared to the ones I drive through. Nor did I allude to my own class experience (my mother and father grew up working class, but I didn’t). I also did not grow up in a neighborhood made up almost exclusively of one race or ethnicity. Instead, it was pretty mixed and I liked that.

    I don’t mind pointing out segregation by race and class. If it makes some people uncomfortable, oh well. You can call East LA an “ethnic enclave” or you can talk about the redlining and restrictive covenants that prevented other upwardly mobile potential homeowners from buying homes in other parts of the city.

    If I said I wanted to live in a neighborhood made up exclusively of Latinos or Mexican immigrants, then perhaps I’d accept criticism about self segregation. I didn’t specify a percentage, but I just don’t want to be the one Mexican family on the block. I checked out the percentage of Latinos in those wealthy neighborhoods (about 10% and below, according to NKCA and Census data). That’s a little too low for me.

  19. Cindy, the reason I posted was because it seemed like you felt misunderstood and attacked and I had hoped I could help you understand why people would be bothered by your post, but I guess I didn’t do a very good job.

    I only brought up the whole background thing because you had said “I on the other hand, am quite similar to the workers in such neighborhoods as my family history shows (immigrant, working class, gardeners, etc).”

    The point isn’t that you pointed out race and class segregation, but that you did so and then made statements that were interpreted as volunteering your own segregation via race and class. It’s pretty different to say “I need to be in a community with people who look like me, speak my first language, and share similar experiences.” and “I just don’t want to be the one Mexican family on the block.”

    Even if you thought you were saying the same thing, those two statements give off different meanings to other people. It’s fine to not want to be the only Mexican family on the block; everyone feels more comfortable around familiar things. But can you see how it seems pro-segregation to say that you need to be in a community of people who look like you, speak your first language, and share your experiences? Especially after you said you could never see yourself living in an area that is 74.1% white and only 10% (and below) Latino.

    Race and class segregation is such a touchy subject. I’m not white and I’m an immigrant to America. It took ten years for my parents to secure permanent status for me in this country and another 4 years to get us all citizenship. When my parents first came here, my mom cleaned houses and my dad delivered pizzas. They left me with my grandmother for the first 4 years of my life so that they could save to get me here. I know how comforting it is to have people around you who can understand where you are coming from, but that doesn’t mean I would alienate those who don’t.

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