The gentle touch of Brazilian housecleaners

Got a clean house?

Chances are those nicely dusted surfaces have the touch of a Brazilian.

Housecleaning, it seems, is the number one choice of work for Brazilian immigrants. As they balance pay, flexibility, little need for language skills and immense market of houses and apartments producing mess and dirt every week, new and established immigrants are glad to have tapped into this profitable trade.

“Some people are ashamed of this job, but for me, it’s a good one,” said Cleonice Arruda, of Framingham, who has been a devoted cleaner for the last two-and-a- half years. “It’s a very well paid job. You make more per hour than a professional with a tie and briefcase.”

While the numbers seem to vary, cleaners agree that they never make less than $15/hour. For veterans, it’s $20 to $25, sometimes more. An established immigrant, now an American citizen, said she makes about $1,000/week after paying for three helpers and taxes.

As the routine goes, new arrivals find work as helpers of experienced cleaners who, most likely, started with the help of other immigrants. Some jump back into a lighter line of work, say, as clerks for Brazilian stores. But compensation speaks louder and so do close acquaintances.

“All my friends are house cleaners,” said Nilva Patussi, who moved to Metrowest in 1997. “Some say they don’t like to do it, but I do.”

Patussi and her husband owned a clothing store in southern Brazil and lived above it. In those days, she was the buyer for the store and had no time to do housework.

“We hired help and I had a maid do all my cleaning, at the store and at the house, she said.”

The bad economy made business difficult; they had to sell and decided to move this way. “First I had a bad experience as a cleaning helper,” said Patussi. “ But I’ve met very nice people and now I’m happy with my own schedule.”

Often a job for women, housecleaning is also a common choice for men. Many couples have taken to the task together and there are also mother-daughter teams. Many plan it as teamwork to allow for some breaks or vacations without the fear of losing ground. Some are veterans of the trade and happy to be. Others are new but already sold.

“This job has the best pay,” said cleaning helper Marlene Silva, of Framingham. “Stores pay only $7 an hour. In Brazil, I used to be a secretary and sales assistant, but while I worked a lighter job, it didn’t really pay, you can’t think of the future.”

Carmen Queiroz, of Worcester, worked for years as a nurse’s aid in a nursing home in Framingham. She changed into housecleaning because of schedule flexibility, but soon realized there were many more advantages to it.

“At the nursing home, I was always tied up on weekends and holidays,” said Queiroz. “I had been a nurse in Brazil and I was going to go back to school here, but after one meeting at the college, I changed my mind. I realized that I would do it all and still be working when my family was home.”

Queiroz advertised her cleaning in newspapers, then cut down her schedule at the nursing home as she got cleaning jobs. Eventually, she owned her time and much more.

“I have three helpers and about 50 houses in my schedule,” said Queiroz, who has been in the business for the last five years. “I don’t work everyday anymore, only two or three times per week. The girls do most of it but I make calls to help because they don’t speak any English.”

The most common way cleaners get new jobs is by word of mouth.

“I’ve had some very nice people who just tell their friends about me and I have a lot of houses now,” said Patussi.

For many, the relationships go way beyond the work schedule.

“Even though I don’t speak much English, I understand some people I work for and they seem to understand me,” said Arruda. “There’s one who always asks about my life and now we have become friends.”

Queiroz said that among the 50 houses she has, only a couple of people have been nuisances. “Most of the time they are very kind and considerate,” she said.

Raquel Coelho, of Framingham, said she always sings while cleaning houses.

“I’m really happy to do it,” said Coelho. “I love to clean bathrooms, I love to vacuum. The women I work for find me very happy. And I am! I’m so thankful for the work and the nice people who helped me.”

And if you ask Beth Valadares, of Marlboro, her cleaning comes with one extra ingredient not everyone advertises.

“I tell people I clean with love, “ said Valadares. “I know at night they will come home and be all happy because of what I did. I used to be a teacher in Brazil and I don’t find my job now any less important. I really like to do it. I imagine the busy women coming home to their families and finding it all in place and that seems just great. There’s nothing better than arriving at a very clean house!”

Este artigo foi originalmente publicado no Metrowest Daily News, em junho de 2001.


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