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Working: A Housekeeper from Bolivia - 2002-04-18

English Feature # 7-34331 Broadcast December 11, 2000

In the United States you can find recent immigrants in all walks of life, in all professions and occupations. This week on New American Voices we begin a series of programs in which immigrants talk about their work, about the satisfactions and frustrations they experience in their jobs. Today we meet Shirley Graziella Colbert - a housekeeper.

"I love what I'm doing right now because it puts me in touch with the people, I mean with the families, American families. I'm coming to learn about them also, and to get in touch with the people, get in touch as a family member. That's very interesting. Besides that, you are involved with them with your feelings, you get to love them."

Shirley Graziella Colbert, an energetic, red-haired woman in her thirties, came to the United States eight months ago from Bolivia. She has a college degree in business administration, and back home she worked in a variety of administrative positions. However, she says she was not able to earn enough money at home to live on, so she emigrated to the Washington area. Although she grew up in a middle-class family with servants in Bolivia, she says she does not mind being a housekeeper herself now. Her duties include taking care of the house, cooking the meals, and looking after two young children. But she feels she is a member of the family, rather than a servant.

"The family… Actually, I cannot say that I'm working, you know. But I will say I'm helping. They took my level of education, they are asking me not as a really, let's say, housekeeper, they are asking me to support them in different kinds of things. They say, okay Shirley, I want you to run my house like it's your house, for instance, and that's the way I deal. They say okay, Shirley, please take care of my kids, and teach them Spanish, please, so I'm doing it."

Although she works very hard, Miss Colbert feels that she is paid fairly for her services.

"I earn practically 600 dollars a week. That's what I earn. I do have a car from the family where I'm working, and I have an insurance also with the car."

Actually, Shirley Colbert works for two families. She stays with one family for five days of the week. Then on Saturday she drives to the other family's house, and cleans and cooks and helps take care of four children until it's time to go back on Monday.

"Ya, that's why I'm having a very high, let's say, income right now. But that means working seven days a week, and more than 12, 16 hours a day."

This also means that Miss Colbert has virtually no time off, and very little time for herself.

"Not yet. I couldn't have it. Even, as I told you, I have a car, that's a very good advantage, but meanwhile it's not, because it's only to transport myself from one point to the other of the job, that's it. I don't have any friends. I cannot have it. I wake up wherever I'm working, and I start doing things - it's not because the people are telling me, you have to do it, tam-tam-tam like that, when I look around again it's already seven at night, or seven thirty, and well, I'm a little bit tired, I watch a little bit of TV, Spanish TV channel, you enjoy a little bit, and you're asleep, and you wake up the next day, and that's it."

Shirley Colbert says she doesn't know how long she'll be able to keep up this intense yet spartan existence. But she also doesn't know what else she could do, or what she would like to be doing a year or two from now.

"It could be a little bit hard to explain what my goals can be or not. Because let's say as a person, as a human being, I did till now as much as I could do, but it doesn't bring me too much benefit, at all. I don't know if it's because I'm coming from my country, which like all South American countries has economical problems, or because it's me. So right now I don't have too much goals. Just in my mind I have a red light saying "you have to pay your bills, you have to pay your bills, you have to pay your bills", and that's it. So, I don't have too much time to dream, right now."

Next week a medical doctor from Kuwait talks about her work, and about her goal of becoming a pediatric specialist, so that she can help children like her autistic son.