Below is a brief description of my dissertation project, the documentary production that started it all, and my vision for an online platform that will bring visibility to this work. Specifically, I’d like to venture into developing a website for my oral history project and short documentary that will serve as the digital component of my project, as well as an online resource for caregivers and home healthcare workers in the city of San Antonio, and eventually the state of Texas. I look forward to connecting with scholars doing similar work with interests in the areas of labor law, healthcare policy, documentary filmmaking, and web-based interactive documentary.
Healthcare in the United States is an important site of exploration for understanding the contradictions created by liberal, progressive desires to provide a safety net for society’s most vulnerable populations and the conservative, capitalist desire to privilege wealth accumulation. In what I call the neoliberal healthcare state the body is valued and cared for according to its economic productivity. I argue that if your labor is not valued, the state does not value your body enough to provide healthcare. Even perceived liberal, progressive legislation such as the Affordable Care Act places the onus of healthcare onto individuals through the employer and the individual mandate rather than establishing a universal system that acknowledges the racialized and unequal economic histories it seeks to address.
My dissertation, “Patchworks of Care: Threads of Labor, Love, and Support Sewn in a Neoliberal Healthcare State” weaves a narrative of Mexican and Mexican American women’s oral histories that foreground the invisibility of care work and the experiences of caregivers, home healthcare workers, and care community members who comprise the networks that serve as a fusible for caregivers who labor from the periphery of the neoliberal healthcare state. My project serves to historicize care labor within the context of home healthcare as I examine the racialized, gendered, and classed experiences of caregivers and home healthcare workers through oral history and critical race theory. I analyze the ways in which their work, their bodies, and the bodies they care for have been disregarded and ignored within a system that exhausts their value as instruments of feminized labor. Most importantly, my project highlights Latina care networks, or patchworks of care, that sustain caregivers outside state apparatuses that continue to relegate Latina bodies and labor to the margins.
My main research question will address the many ways in which the neoliberal healthcare state developed and allowed for the disposability of certain bodies, as well as the undervalued labor of predominantly women who comprise these various care occupations, particularly working class women of color. My project seeks a corrective, pointing to the importance of making visible the labor and care provided by care workers whose labor is seen as unproductive as they care for individuals whose bodies will likely not be producers of labor going forward. My research will focus on connecting home healthcare work to larger institutional and systemic issues of subjugation and discriminatory practices affecting working class/low-income/ impoverished families and women of color.
In addition to my written work, I will soon complete the production phase of a two-year short documentary project that precipitated this dissertation. My documentary, The Nanny Project, follows my grandmother, great grandmother, whom my family affectionately called “Nanny,” and the healthcare providers who cared for Nanny over the last two years of her life between 2013 and 2015. The film aims to explore the intersections of caregiving, home healthcare work, and the effects of local and state health care policies on the lives of individuals. Specifically, the film will explore an aspect of caregiving routinely overlooked in healthcare policy discussions: the tremendous mental, physical, and emotional toll of caregiving. Within a week of Nanny’s passing, my grandmother suffered a heart attack and underwent emergency surgery to repair an inguinal hernia that threatened to burst her intestine. My documentary reveals the degeneration of my grandmother’s health as she pushed her now 75-year-old body to its limits in service of Nanny. Additionally, the piece will also focus on the community and relationships built between caregivers and the home healthcare workers who serve as invaluable resources for people like my grandmother, whose invisible labor goes largely unsupported in the state of Texas.
The documentary and web-based components of my dissertation project are meant to render visible this form of labor and the burdens of care that caregivers and home healthcare workers endure. The website will serve as an online presence for my documentary, and present my original archive of oral histories comprised of caregivers and home healthcare practitioners, such as nurses, social workers, respite care workers, hospice care chaplains, and many others. I aim to develop a site that not only archives these oral histories, but also serves as a resource for caregivers and home healthcare workers seeking information, programming, and services, with future potential for the development of an online community. My long term goal is to collaborate with, and seek direction from, members of the San Antonio home healthcare community in order to meet their educational, informational, and supportive care needs.
Photograph - Therese T. Tran