Preserving a Domestic Tradition?
But many women of every social class and in every kind of job are faced with a common problem: how shall I preserve the domestic culture of my mother and grandmother in the age of the nine-to – five or eight-to-six job? In some ways, the experience of Chicana women condenses the experience of all working women. Many Chicanas have experienced the strains of three movements—that from rural to urban life, from Mexican to American life, and from domestic work to paid employment. In her research on Chicana working women, the sociologist Beatrice Pesquera discovered that many conceived it to be their job as women to keep alive la cul – turn, to teach their children Spanish songs, stories, religious rituals; to teach their daughters to cook tortillas and chile verde. Their task is to maintain an ethnic culture eroded by television and ignored by schools in America. The Chicana considers herself a cultural bridge between present and past and this poses yet another task in her second shift. When they don t have time to be the bridge themselves, Chicana working mothers often seek a “tortilla grandma” to baby-sit and provide la cultura. Many white working mothers have fought a similar—and often losing—battle to carry forward a domestic culture—a culture of homemade apple pie, home-sewn Halloween costumes, hand-ironed shirts. On weekends and holidays most working woman revert to being housewives.
Many traditional women such as Carmen Delacorte and Nina Tanagawa feel they should carry on all of the domestic tradition. To them, the female role isn’t simply a female role; it is part of a cultural tradition, like a rural or ethnic tradition. To the traditional, it seems that only women can carry on this tradition. Having secured a base in the industrial economy, having forged a male identity through their position in that economy, men have then relied on women to connect them back to a life outside it. In The Remembered Gate, Barbara Berg argues that as Americans moved off the land, the values of farm life moved into the home. The woman at home became the urban agrarian, the one who preserved the values of a bygone rural way of life while living in the city. By “staying back” in this sense, she eased the difficult transition for the men who moved ahead. Who is easing the transition for women now?
Although traditional women want to preserve the “domestic heritage” their mothers passed on, most working mothers I talked to felt ambivalent about it. “Do I really need to cook an elaborate meal every night?” they ask themselves. Cutting back on tasks at home often means working mothers are not living up to their mothers’ standards of care for home or child, nor to the collective female tradition of the recent past. One woman summed up the feelings of many others: “I’m not the type that has to see my face in the kitchen floor. That part of my mother’s cleaning routine I can let go, no problem. But I don’t give my child as much as my mother gave me. That’s why I want my husband involved—to make up for that.”
Some men have responded to the declining domestic culture, much as colonizers once responded to the marginalization of traditional peasant life. Secure in their own modern culture, the colonizers could collect peasant rugs, jewelry, or songs, or cultivate a taste for the indigenous cuisine. Today, some successful professional men, secure in their own modem careers, embrace a few tokens of the traditional female culture. They bake bread or pies on Saturdays, or fix a gourmet meal once a month. But very few men go completely4 native”; that would take an extra month a year.