Informal Sector Work in the Immigrant City

Informal Sector Work in the Immigrant City

Many Latino immigrant workers work in unregulated, informal economy jobs in U.S. suburbs and cities. When people discuss immigrants and the informal economy, they sometimes assume that immigrant workers do this because they like evading occupational health and safety regulations and taxation, as though this was a cultural preference. Globalization scholars typically only see top-down exploitation. But informal sector jobs come in shades of grey, sometimes allowing disadvantaged workers the possibility of using their ingenuity and hard work to innovate opportunities—often better opportunities than those available to them in the formal sector.

My research on paid domestic work and suburban maintenance gardeners explains how inequalities of gender, race and immigration status are central in shaping the way these jobs are organized. These are important jobs, vital to keeping households and society running, and I try to capture the mixed bag of satisfactions and aches and pains experienced by the people doing this work.

In Domestica (2001/2007), I interviewed a range of Latina immigrant women who work as nannies and housecleaners, as well as the women they work for to give an inside look at how the occupation operates.

Several articles co-authored with former PhD students Hernan Ramirez and Emir Estrada—both of them now professors–examine suburban maintenance gardening and gender and generational dynamics among street vendors in East L.A. To write Paradise Transplanted (2014), I also interviewed homeowners to analyze the suburban immigrant gardener labor system. In Gender, Migration and Domestic Work (2013), Hernan Ramirez and I joined with British colleagues to analyze masculine domestic work, fatherhood and the jobs of Polish immigrants handymen and Mexican immigrant gardeners.

Selected Books:

Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo (2001/2007) Domestica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence. University of California Press.


Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo (2014) Paradise Transplanted: Migration and the Making of California Gardens. University of California Press.


Majella Kilkey, Diane Perrons, and Ania Plomien, with Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Hernan Ramirez (2013) Gender, Migration and Domestic Work: Masculinities, Male Labour and Fathering in the UK and USA. London: Palgrave Macmillan.


Selected Articles:

Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette, Emir Estrada, and Hernan Ramirez (2011) “Mas alla de la Domesticidad: Un analisis de genero de los trabajos inmigrantes del sector informal,” (Beyond Domesticity: A gendered analysis of immigrant informal sector work,” in Papers: Revista de Sociologia (Spain), special issue on Inmigracion e integracion sociolaboral en Espana y Estados Unidos. 96(3):805-824.

Estrada, Emir, and Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo (2011) “Intersectional Dignities: Latina Immigrant Adolescent Street Vendors in Los Angeles.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 40(1): 102-131.

Hernan Ramirez and Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo (2009) “Mexican Immigrant Gardeners in Los Angeles: Entrepreneurs or Exploited Workers?Social Problems 56(1):70-88.

Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo (1994) “Regulating the Unregulated: Domestic Workers’ Social Networks,” Social Problems, 41:201-215.