Jornalero: the life and work of Latin American Day Laborers in Berkeley, California
- Author(s): Ordonez, Juan Thomas
- Advisor(s): Scheper-Hughes, Nancy
- et al.
This dissertation is an ethnographic exploration of the everyday life of Latin American day laborers -jornaleros- in Berkeley, California. Based on more than two years of fieldwork consisting of participant observation on the streets and neighborhoods these men inhabit, my research follows the daily experience of marginalization of two-dozen immigrants. Working informally on street hiring sites day laborers actively participate in the US economy while they are marginalized through the very nature of the work they undertake and a disjuncture between substantive forms of citizenship and formal recognition of their social status. This study addresses the nature of informal work, the harsh living conditions, separation from home, and contact with state and NGO bureaucracies that jornaleros must face to survive. I argue that the nature of day labor precludes the consolidation of strong ties of solidarity on the street, making day laborers' ability to organize and offer each other support virtually impossible. The first two chapters describe the tenuous balance between maintaining social and labor networks and maximizing one's individual exposure to employers amidst a life of solitude and seclusion that are products of street violence and fear of immigration enforcement. Day laborers emerge as a population isolated from the rest of US society who must become visible to make ends meet, while at the same time remaining "under the radar," hidden behind closed doors and in fear of the world around them. I explore the various forms of racialization that the men must engage in order to learn to live in the United States and that regiment their interactions with employers. Chapter three follows some of the men on the long and tedious paths through which they try to obtain legal redress for work related abuse and injury. My research shows how the institutional bureaucracy that is supposed to help "undocumented" immigrants follows rationales that exclude their cases because they represent very little money, or are simply too complicated to make it worth their time. Sociality on the street plays an important role in this course of action, since the corner is virtually the only place where the men have access to information that can guide them in the process. I suggest that through this sociality a new subjectivity arises, one I call "street corner cosmopolitanism," that both shapes the men's experience in the US and hinders their access to services that they see as inefficient and that they incorrectly assume to result in contact with the police or immigration services. Amidst these interactions, I study the practices of documentation that jornaleros have access to and their relationship to formal and substantive forms of citizenship. Car ownership, insurance, bank accounts, and fake documents result in various practices that both make the life of "undocumented" immigrants possible -and sometimes very similar to that of legal residents and citizens- and assure their marginalization. I develop the concept of para-citizenship to describe this disjuncture arguing that day laborers are governed through alternate regimes of governmentality that replicate some of the central aspects of formal citizenship but that can never be legitimized by the state. In my work this is made visible by state tactics of terror where immigration raids aimed at other immigrant populations result in a wave of rumors and panic that reinforces the notion that no matter how much access to services is available, jornaleros must remain invisible in order to survive. In the last chapter I explore sexuality and the tensions between the men and their families back home as they are talked and joked about at the site. The Sancho emerges as a trope through which jornaleros express their fears of loosing their wives and children, and the very harsh reality that while many of them live almost monastic lives of poverty, they are assumed to be "living it up" in the North. Finally, I address the disarticulation of the men's identities as husbands, fathers, and ultimately the threats to their notions of masculinity. Here the analogies between day labor and prostitution some of the day laborers joke about melt into reality as they face not only the commodification of their labor, but of their bodies as well. Day labor, I argue, renders this population vulnerable not in the specificities of each of these aspects of their marginalization, but in the ways that they are each articulated into everyday life.