There are many ways of understanding identity. In one of them we could start by imagining it has two sides, like a coin, or that it works like dialogue or a game, shifting between two poles. On the one hand, identity is something that is given to us. We are constantly positioned in certain labels that are also in a hierarchical relation to others. Identity cannot exist without hierarchies, we are crossed by power systems that set certain limits for us. Going outside these limits is frequently penalized: it implies going through some sort of pain or, at least, an extra management. Positioning yourself might mean losing something, for example, what you were in the past. You lose that image associated with what was once important to you. However, it can also involve a benefit, since identity can be a comfortable place, a place from which you can claim, for example, political demands. This leads us to the other side of identity: there are times when one may choose to adopt an identity, either because it gives us a vision of ourselves that we like, or because it allows us to make certain things at a collective level (i.e. with the categories of “woman”, “domestic and care worker”, or “migrant”). So in identity there also is also agency and a capacity to transform. Identity is thus situated between these two poles: the one that is given to us, and the one that we choose to take; the one that limits us, and the one that gives us the possibility of doing certain things. And in this sense it is never static, but is something that is constantly becoming and that is built in the everyday, through certain ways of feeling and being in the world.
Identity, as a collective process, starts from mutual recognition. To recognize ourselves, we need at least one more person.
Recognition points to the fact that identity is not only about thinking about ourselves, but rather to do so in relation to others.
In a second way, recognition points to the relationship of collective identity with the social context in which we live. In the case of household and care work, neither the kind of work itself nor the people who carry it out are socially, economically or politically valued. The fact that society doesn’t recognise the work of women, of migrants, at home, implies, on the one hand, that we are not able to grasp the struggles of a majority of the world population that are not waged workers. And on the other hand, that we remain ignorant of the fact the capital of the Global North has been built and continues to be built in relation to an often enslaving and precariously waged work, growing and growing thanks to a shadow economy fed by millions of people working in precarised agriculture, in kitchens, or trapped in prisons (Federici, 2013).
Acknowledging a context in which we are valued and claiming our identity as domestic and care workers gives us a certain security. It allows us to empower ourselves. This implies, for example, that we do not want to be seen “as the migrants who always have to be recipients of aid, as those who cannot have a say in our own issues.” It implies that thanks to certain experiences of other colleagues, we are gaining the confidence to give our opinion, participate and recognize ourselves as valid interlocutors from the construction of a new position from which to speak, as political subjects and part of a group.
In narrating these discussions, we realize that we might be portraying a static image of identity. Are we necessarily caught in that game between subjectivation and agency?
Our experience of being in the world cannot be separated from the ways we feel. Feeling is the fundamental matrix through which we weave our identity in relation to the world (Cromby and Willis, 2016). In this way, a person who lives in an irregular administrative situation (see the Tool Structural Racism) will live in fear of being deported. If this person is a domestic worker and lives in the same place where they work, is isolated and also goes through violations of labour rights, that fear will make them think twice before stepping up and reporting their employer. The room for action is reduced. We normalize the violence we go through. On the contrary, building bonds of solidarity with other colleagues who are going through the same situation can break that fear of that situation. Thanks to hope, we envision a different scenario. What previously seemed impossible is now a reality that opens possibilities for action in our day to day life. Feeling hope opens up our experience to other ways of being in the world.
A possible answer is found in the process of collective organizing of Sindillar. This process comprises the ways in which we come to use an identity to feel welcomed, and the fact of being able to recognise ourselves in this identity allows us to have a certain “control” over our lives and conceive ourselves as political subjects. In our experience, we have been often criticised by white feminisms because of the fact of wanting to speak of distinct identities. We are pointed to the problems of essentializing identities. Sometimes it gives us the feeling that we cannot afford to engage in these discussions, since as racialized and migrant women it is vital for us to generate a collective identity that gives us status of citizenship, that allows us to be able to simply exist, freely move and live. For this reason, we often find ourselves between these dichotomy of resisting identities and, on the other hand, having to appropriate them,
However, the fact that an identity such as ‘migrant’ is a place of encounter for us, it does not mean that all of us have come to it in the same conditions. We have different experiences, different stories and trajectories that have made us reach it. Patricia Hill-Collins referred to this with the idea of identity as the place of a “heterogeneous community” (2003: 221). And it is this heterogeneity that, for Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991), makes identities a fruitful terrain on which to establish political coalitions.
How did we develop this concept?
PAR Barcelona's Common Conceptualization Process
Starting from the idea of the “identity game”, the activity proposes to explore the “two faces” of identity. On the one hand, that which is given to us, and which we do not always like; on the other hand, that which we choose to take and that conforms our identity.
The objective of the exercise is to reflect on the structural and systemic components of our identities, as well as on the spaces for agency or transformation we may have at hand.