ESSENTIAL LABOR

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Garbes, a Filipina who describes herself as “a woman of color, a writer, and a mother,” melds memoir with social, political, and cultural critique to offer a thoughtful analysis of the social and personal complexities of mothering. Growing up with a mother who was a nurse and a doctor father, she admits, “one of the luxuries of my childhood was to remain oblivious to all the work that went into raising me.” Raising a child and caring for a home are only parts of what Garbes means by mothering, which, she writes, includes anyone engaged in “the practice of creating, nurturing, affirming and supporting life” within one’s family and community. The author argues persuasively that “the global economy is driven as much by care as so-called productive labor.” Garbes gives a historical overview to trace how care has become “gendered and racialized.” Her mother immigrated as part of a wave of Filipina nurses, recruited aggressively by hospital administrators, paid low wages, and often treated with hostility and resentment. As the author reports, 92% of domestic workers are women, and “fifty-seven percent of them are Black, Latina, or Asian American/Pacific Islander. We entrust the safety and cleanliness of our homes to Latinx workers, who comprise 62 percent of house cleaners.” As the global pandemic revealed to economically comfortable women who suddenly had to take on the work of primary caregivers, teachers, nannies, and house cleaners, servitude characterizes many workers that they depend on. Besides throwing necessary light on the need to recognize—and appropriately compensate—the value of mothering, Garbes draws on her personal experiences to consider “the details of caregiving, the small decisions that make up each day” in shaping children’s lives. The issues she has faced include talking about bodies and creating a world “that makes it possible for all bodies to thrive”; accepting one’s body and appetites; and fostering a love of nature.

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