While most people say they “have to” go to work, thousands are just happy when they get to. Many of us take for granted the security offered by our jobs: making at least minimum wage, working daily to earn a steady income and being protected by workers’ rights. Day laborers, individuals who are hired on a day-to-day basis with no guarantee of future work, do not enjoy the same stability.
Brenda Narvaez ’17, a women’s studies and foreign language double major, is spending the summer in Brooklyn, N.Y., examining this phenomenon. Narvaez is working with Associate Professor of Women’s Studies Anne Lacsamana on an Emerson Project: “Community Mapping with Day Laborer Women.” Narvaez is in the early stages of her work, currently mapping the day laborer paradas, the popular “stops” where day laborers congregate seeking work, in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
Although Narvaez has had exposure to day laborer communities, she was intrigued by Lacsamana’s work, which focuses on female day laborers. Day labor is an inherently hazardous business, and the vast majority of the day laborer community is comprised of immigrants, who are struggling to earn enough to feed themselves and their families. Although she has been attempting to build relationships and speak with these women, because Lacsamana does not speak Spanish, she found herself impeded by the language barrier. That is, until Narvaez, who is studying Spanish and Arabic, contacted Lacsamana about getting involved.
Narvaez is using her language skills to translate for Lacsamana, and to create a lasting rapport with some of the female laborers. Noting strong anti-immigrant sentiments in the area, the pair expects to find patterns of gentrification when they analyze the locations of the paradas. Narvaez will also parse and transcribe the “soundscape” recordings collected at, or near, the most highly attended paradas to gain insights to the logistics, the workers, and the immigrant community.
Narvaez identified the prevailing misconception about day laborers: they chose this line of work. On the contrary, most are forced into this type of labor after unsuccessfully searching for alternative employment. Living with no sustainable income, no insurance, and no legal protection, women day laborers are particularly vulnerable, she points out. They face physical abuse, sexual harassment and even lower pay than their male counterparts. Narvaez said, “for day laborers, this is a matter of survival, [these individuals] did not want to leave their food, their culture or their families, but were left with no other options.”
Passionate about her work Narvaez is enthusiastic about pursuing it after the summer ends. She will be continuing her research during the academic year and even through next summer as one of the CLASS Fellows with the Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi). During the summer of 2015, Narvaez will be working with the Worker’s Justice Project, a nonprofit organization founded in 2010, to address the racial and economic injustices indenturing low-wage immigrant workers.
Narvaez is a graduate of Braddock Senior High in West Kendall, Miami, Fla.