cover image Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change

Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change

Angela Garbes. Harper Wave, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-293736-0

Journalist Garbes (Like a Mother) mixes memoir and cultural analysis in this probing if uneven look at “the state of caregiving in America.” Drawing on her parents’ experiences as Filipino immigrants recruited to work in the U.S. healthcare system, she discusses how caregiving in America is “racialized and gendered” and compares the “communal solidarity” of life in the Philippines with how modern American families are “siloed off from one another behind fences, out of sight and out of mind.” She also critiques Western culture’s prioritization of “the rational, well-contained mind” over “the messy, unruly physical body,” and argues that mothering is skilled labor because it “cultivates [the] bodily knowledge that informs how we show up in the world throughout our lives.” Elsewhere, recollections of how the differences between her body (“a little too brown, a little too round”) and her mother’s (“petite, hairless”) made “body acceptance a long, emotionally turbulent process” and of the sex talk her parents gave her (“My virginity was a beautiful gift from God—a precious flower—that no matter who asks for it, I should give to just one person. My husband”) lead to insightful discussions of how she is raising her daughters differently. Though the segues from personal reflection to social criticism can be awkward at times, as in the chapter on disability, aging, and the “inherent worth” of human bodies, Garbes’s call for care work to be more valued in American culture is persuasive and well rendered. This encomium to mothers and caregivers hits home. (May)