This article first appeared on the Huffington Post.
On average, few people work harder than a Latina, and few, on average, earn less. This isn’t cheerleading, but merely stating what is understood by anyone who gives it a moment’s thought. Women of color are among the most oppressed minority group in the United States, and Latinas, on the basis of their womanhood, are among those oppressed both from within and from outside their communities. A Latina, because she is a woman, is hated by men generally, and by the male-chauvinist system specifically. But also, being a Latina, she’s assaulted by the white-dominated world. And on top of that, as a woman in her specific community, she is hated, too, by the so-called men of her own culture. The first form of her oppression is called sexism; the second, racism; and the third, machismo.
Thus, why I can make the claim of Latinas being some of the hardest-working people on the planet. Latinas are not only forced to do more in a day — working at a job, birthing and raising kids, cooking and cleaning, grocery-shopping and doing laundry, and overseeing the management of the home in general — than most women, especially most white women, but they also must overcome more obstacles than most women face — obstacles which, as I’ve said, are imposed from outside their Latino communities and from within them.
For all the work she does at home and at her job, and the mental acrobatics she must perform simply to make it through another day, a Latina earns very little by way of pay or even praise. On the contrary, in 2016 she earned 54 cents for every dollar earned by a white, non-Latino man. On November 2, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda will observe Latina Equal Pay Day, on which the average Latina will have earned in the 22 months beginning New Year’s Day of last year what the average white, non-Latino man earned in the 12 months of 2016 alone.
Latina Equal Pay Day calls attention to the disparity in pay (and power) between Latina women and white, non-Latino men, but it perhaps ignores what should stand between Latina workers and their white, male, non-Latino counterparts — and what does stand between them, in fact. Because what is also generally known, but generally ignored, is that the exploitation suffered by Latinas at the hands of white, non-Latino men is aided and abetted, and therefore made all the more severe, by Latino men. White, non-Latino men are able to exploit Latina labor, and get away with it, because Latinas are first oppressed at home and in their neighborhoods.
That isn’t to say no white, non-Latino man would have ever mistreated a Latina had not a Latino man mistreated her first. The white world still knows sexism of course, and across history, white men have treated women of color however they wanted, regardless of how the men of color felt. It’s said, for example, that some Iroquois and Hopi tribes were ruled by matriarchy, led by an female elder known as a Clan Mother, though I’m sure tribal gender roles, as advanced as they may have been, never stopped a white conqueror from having his way with any young squaw he could get his grubby hands on.
What I am saying, however, is that a Latina cannot expect to be paid equally to a white, non-Latino man until she is treated as an equal by Latino men themselves. White, non-Latino men have little incentive to treat Latina women better than Latino men treat them, and the capitalist world has even less incentive to pay her more for her work for any reason whatsoever. Latina workers are treated as slaves because that has been their role traditionally within the Latino community itself — quiet, modest toilers who do their work and don’t complain. Generally speaking, this is how Latino husbands treat their Latina wives, how Latino sons treat their mothers, and how even Latina mothers and granddaughters treat their daughters and granddaughters. I’m sure a lot of readers will strongly object to such an accusation, but I’ve seen it too many times with my own eyes, within my own family and within my friends’ families, to know I’m not telling a lie.
And while I do believe Latina Equal Pay Day calls attention to an important issue, I fear its aim may be slightly off. Because true equality for Latinas, after all, will begin at home.
Featured image: theUdødelig/Flickr