Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Living Inside and Outside the American Dream

by Mary Romero

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8147-7642-1
Publisher: New York Univ.

In this penetrating case study, Romero (Justice and Social Inquiry/Arizona State Univ.; Maid in the U.S.A., 1992, etc.) examines the life history of Olivia Salazar, a successful public relations professional who grew up in a wealthy Anglo household where her mother worked as a domestic servant.

The author followed her subject for more than 20 years, gathering data through a series of in-depth interviews that began in 1986. She organizes her analysis around actual interview segments, which she explicates with a rare combination of rigor and sensitivity. Olivia was the American-born daughter of a Mexican woman named Carmen who had originally come to the United States to find work that would allow her to support family members that lived south of the border. When Olivia was three, Carmen located a job in an exclusive Los Angeles gated community. It was here that Olivia would spend most of the next 15 years growing up as a “member” of the Smiths, wealthy family that employed Carmen. While her mother worked within the defined—and frequently exploitative—parameters of domestic servitude, Olivia occupied an uneasy interpersonal, cultural and economic middle ground. As Romero writes, “the social boundaries between ‘being like one of the family’ and ‘the maid’s daughter’ [were] blurred and in constant flux.” Olivia’s association with the Smiths gave her access to the schooling and social connections that allowed her to eventually enter the ranks of the professional middle class. At the same time, it put her at odds with a mother unable to provide complete nurture while forcing her into anguished questioning of who she was and where she ultimately belonged.

A moving work that deconstructs the American Dream at the fraught intersection of race, class and gender.