“I worked in a maquila for 15 years and developed carpal tunnel syndrome there. The factory conditions are awful but I stayed to make enough money to send my daughter to college. My experience and that of my coworkers gave me the confidence to stand up for myself and no longer afraid to be seen as the rebellious worker.”
Oliva is a single mother with one daughter who, “first worked doing embroidery at a small shop owned by another woman in her town. The money I made there wasn’t enough and I was lucky enough to find employment at a garment factory an hour and a half away from my home. In the mornings I would take a bus to the shuttle station that is half an hour away and then ride on the shuttle for an hour to get to the factory.”
In 2006 she was fired without notice and was out of work for nearly two months. She and a group of women fought back and were able to acquire some of the wages they were owed. “I found a job at another factory but I had to leave because of all the pain in my arm.” Oliva’s doctor told her she developed carpal tunnel syndrome and advised her not to return to work.
Oliva tearfully told us about all of her daughter Veronica’s hard work in school. Veronica does most of the cooking at home while Oliva babysits her nieces and nephews and makes hand embroidered tablecloths and pillowcases for her friends and family:
My supervisors in the factory tell me I’m replaceable but I am my own unique individual and they won’t find anyone else like me.
“I knew I needed to do something after I saw a young woman being groped by one of our supervisors on my way to lunch one day. I waited and waited to see if either of them would say something about what had happened but everyone was silent. It traumatized me. I knew I had to speak up but I had no one to speak up to.” In factories, women’s biggest fear is that they will lose their job and income if they try to stand up for themselves, “we don’t ever feel safe,” says Oliva.
I want people to turn around and take note of the women who have been ignored for so long; I have hope that change will come.
“We need to stop seeing each other as competition and join together to save ourselves and amplify our voices. We are dissuaded from going after promotions in the factories and supervisors tell the other women not to talk to me because they are afraid I will make them less easy to control.”
Oliva wants designers and consumers to know, “we are not inferior to you. I want to increase visibility for my fellow garment workers and for you to take the time to get to know us and hear our stories. I am hopeful that positive change is possible.”