For most, pillowcases bring to mind a comfortable, safe place. But for women in the hotel industry, they can be a reminder of hours of work, sometimes in unfair working conditions and the possibility of assault or abuse.
On Friday, Long Beach coffee shop Viento Y Agua, in partnership with the Long Beach Coalition hosted “The Pillowcase Project.” The Long Beach Coalition is an organization that is dedicated to creating equality in the workplace and establishing healthy communities.
The movement was established to raise awareness about women who are abused in the service sector. The event featured a display of pillowcases with artwork and messages expressing support for female hotel workers.
“There’s power within the art and art is often a medium of change,” said Norberto Lopez, an organizer of the event.
An open mic was held and speakers, some of whom were hotel employees, touched on sensitive subjects such as physical and sexual abuse, as well as the poor working conditions that many women hotel workers face—grievances that often go without resolution.
According to a pamphlet published by the Long Beach Coalition, women make up 85 percent of housekeepers in the Long Beach tourism industry. Nationally, 82 percent of hotel employees have been subject to verbal aggression or incidents of customers and guests.
According to organizers, the project aims to change discussions into action by unionizing these “invisible” workers and pushing for laws that expand worker’s rights. During the summer, approximately 500 supporters of the movement marched down Ocean Boulevard in Downtown Long Beach to pressure the city council into passing legislation that would create better working conditions for housekeepers in the hotel industry.
Some speakers told stories recounting abuse or harsh working conditions. One story in particular sparked an open dialogue between the organizers and the audience.
Rosa Casarrubias, a hotel server in Long Beach, said she was in a situation where she felt uncomfortable entering a guest’s room after he invited her in while she was working. She was afraid to enter because she didn’t know what could happen to her. “In his room, he’s in control,” she says in her story, written in the pamphlet.
Some speakers opened up about their experiences with rape and sexual assault, as well as instances when they’re discriminated against as a result of microaggressions—words that are unintentionally discriminatory.
Tzitziqui Romero, sociology major at CSULB, shared her frustrations about being called “exotic” regularly in regards to her name and her appearance.
“My name shows my ancestry but it’s not mainstream so it’s not entirely accepted,” Romero said. “When guys look at me and call me exotic, I know they’re going to try and sleep with me. I’m more than just a piece of meat.”
What began as an event raising awareness of abuse and unfair work for women in the hotel industry, turned into a night of catharsis as more and more speakers opened up about their experience with discrimination, sexual assault and abuse.
For the next month, pillowcases covered with drawings and words will decorate a wall of Viento Y Agua, a symbol of women’s rights and a reminder to stand up against abuse and assault. One pillowcase in particular encapsulated the meaning of the event. It said: “Escucha Mi Voz” or “Hear My Voice.”