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“We’ve Got to Provide for the Family” Women, Food, and Work Production, Reproduction, and Gender Antonito women articulated their gender identity through stories of courtship, marriage, gender ideals, and work. Over several generations these women have been providers as well as nurturers. They have worked inside and outside the home and taken pride in their public and domestic contributions. They have benefited from the relatively flexible gender definitions of the Upper Rio Grande region stemming from “frontier conditions and low population” (Swadesh 1974, 178), as well as from longstanding patterns of seasonal male migration for work (Deutsch 1987). Throughout their history in the siete condados, Mexicanas have made important contributions to the family economy. In Antonito, women have always had responsibility for producing, preserving, cooking, and serving food in the home—and some have labored with food outside the home as cooks, caterers, restaurant owners, or waitresses. Many have contributed their effort to commensal feasts such as church potlucks, family reunions, birthday parties, and funeral dinners (see Chap. 9). Even a teacher like Helen Ruybal—who minimized housework as much 5 Counihan_2PP.indd 91 Counihan_2PP.indd 91 8/20/09 10:15:23 AM 8/20/09 10:15:23 AM A T O R T I L L A I S L I K E L I F E 92 as she could—conducted some food work. While in some cases domestic chores held women back from paid jobs, in other cases they provided skills that launched women into public work. Moreover, many women allocated wages that they earned at jobs outside the home to provide food for their families, as Teddy Madrid demonstrated by using her first paycheck as a teacher to buy steak and oranges for her sisters. While the home and the public domain were in some ways distinct, women shuttled back and forth between them, very often through their command of food, weaving them together, blurring their boundaries, and mitigating the dichotomy between production and reproduction that has historically lowered women’s social status.1 The privatization and devaluation of women’s labor have characterized much of women’s food work since the global decline of subsistence farming, but women in Antonito have resisted the production/reproduction dichotomy and have struggled to balance the two domains in their multiple activities and identities. When Helen Ruybal fulfilled her dream of becoming a teacher by completing a high school degree in the mid-1920s, she saw that it would be very difficult to work full-time and take care of all the reproductive labor involved in running a home and having a husband and family . Her story about resisting marriage revealed cultural practices and expectations for women when she was coming of age in the 1920s and 1930s and how these clashed with her desire to be a working woman. Her story called into sharp relief key issues for women in balancing their independence and autonomy with cultural expectations that they be wives and mothers. HELEN RUYBAL’S STORY OF COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE In the seventeen interviews we did, Helen told the story of her marriage to Carlos Ruybal three times, always in great detail. The last time she told it she was ninety-five years old. She was suffering severe back pain and kept shifting around in the chair with a pained look on her face. I asked if she wanted to stop the interview, and she replied firmly, “No, I want to finish my wedding, and then I’ll work up to let you go.” Her wedding marked a major turning point in her life, one about which she was highly ambivalent. She had been a teacher for almost a decade, living at home, where her mother and sister did the domestic chores and left Helen free to work, play the piano, and read. She knew that marriage would threaten her independence and her career by imposing Counihan_2PP.indd 92 Counihan_2PP.indd 92 8/20/09 10:15:23 AM 8/20/09 10:15:23 AM 93 Women, Food, and Work responsibilities for taking care of home, husband, and children. Helen’s story was interesting because she differed from many other girls in the early twentieth century in prioritizing work over marriage. She began her story with the courtship that went on at local dances and highlighted the importance of conforming to societal mores. Oh, I was about sixteen or eighteen, and we lived out in Lobatos. We couldn’t even have boyfriends...


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