Courage and Hope: Former Domestic Worker, Activist-Leader Shares Her Story!

by Anne Ryan | Communications Associate

“In my country, I began working as a domestic worker when I was 5 years old. I cleaned homes while there were children playing outside.”
— Guillermina Castellanos

Guillermina immigrated to the United States from Mexico. She is co-founder of La Colectiva at La Raza Cetro Legal, an anchor organization for DataCenter’s national domestic worker survey. Your generous support makes it possible for her voice to be heard. Here is her story.

After a difficult and violent past, Guillermina met other immigrant domestic workers and they began learning together about their rights. These women also began sharing stories with each other about their difficult life experiences. After Guillermina heard others’ stories, she found the courage to share her own story of domestic violence. These women continued to work together and eventually founded Mujeres Unidas Y Activas (MUA). MUA works to build community power for social justice. They also help Latina women experience personal transformation.

At MUA, Guillermina also began learning about United States politics and her rights as an immigrant worker woman. But she didn’t stop there; “Mujeres Unidas gave me the courage to be a leader amongst others, teaching them their rights…from this experience, my mission became obvious, to help these women be heard.”

Currently, Guillermina is elevating women’s voices in work on the campaign to pass a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in California. These efforts are modeled after the successful campaign for a Bill of Rights in New York State. Guillermina has received wide recognition for her commitment and service to domestic worker activism. She even advocates at the international level: Guillermina recently represented domestic workers in Geneva at the International Labor Conference.

Currently, Guillermina is surveying here in California for DataCenter’s national domestic worker survey. “This survey is going to change the lives of women domestic workers [and] I feel a special connection to fulfill the mission of the survey because it will…change their lives.” The survey is life-changing for two reasons:

1.      It will create important knowledge that can be used to campaign for domestic workers rights across the country.

2.      Domestic workers themselves will become experts in their own right. “Each component of the project strengthens the [domestic worker] organizations and the women” workers who are conducting the survey. The benefits of this activism are already visible: “[W]e are survivors,” said Guillermina. “Being apart of this alliance’s mission has healed the scars of being a domestic worker.”

When it comes down to it, Guillermina does this work for the same reason that so many others work for change: so the next generation can thrive in a better, more equitable world: “I am proud to represent this mission so that other children won’t have to experience the abuse of working at the age of 5.”After years of struggle, Guillermina is positive and energetic about the future: “My hope is to make a difference at the local, national and international level [and] to mobilize domestic workers in the movement to create change.”

Guillermina Castellanos was one of the 8 founding mothers of Mujeres Unidas Y Activas. She received  recognition during the 20th anniversary celebration for MUA for her commitment to and work in the community. In 2006 she also received recognition from La Raza Centro Legal for 10 years of services . She is also one of the founders of La Colectiva at La Raza Centro Legal along with Renee Saucedo in 2001. She works at the local, state, national, and international level. She works for social justices and is deeply motivated to continue the struggle and create new horizons for all immigrants.