She approaches men and women unassumingly – on the crosstown bus, outside garment factories, along street corners when the light flashes red.
How’s your day going? She asks in Spanish. How is work? Do you have children?
If they don’t mind, she whips out her Flip Video camera and begins to record.
Two years ago, Maria de Lourdes Gonzalez didn’t own a cellphone. Now the 62-year-old housekeeper carries a tape recorder and a video camera and regularly snaps photos and sends text messages.
Her interviews end up on her blog on vozmob, a new site launched by USC and the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California, which works to organize and educate immigrant communities.
The idea is to give immigrants, mainly day laborers, an online space to speak their minds and share their stories. They are also encouraged to document their work as a form of self-protection.
Organizers rolled out the program last month with a mix of grants from various foundations, including $40,000 worth of cellphones to train laborers. They fanned out to local job centers to teach workers how to upload text, photos and videos. So far about half a dozen laborers have launched their own blogs. Others are experimenting, transferring bits of broken audio and blurry images onto the Web.
The contributions to vozmob.net are varied. In one post, a worker named Adolfo features a video clip of day laborers at a Hollywood center singing with an accordion player and guitarist as they wait for work. In another, a Long Beach laborer named Ranferi displays a photo of a cream-colored snake he found on the sidewalk and warns others to be cautious. A man named Marcos likes to upload samples of his handiwork: light fixtures he has installed, bathtubs he has tiled and water-thrifty gardens he has planted.
Politics often takes center stage, with posts featuring photos of immigrants rights marches and short, heated paragraphs blasting Arizona’s new immigration law.
A grandmother of seven, Gonzalez prefers to be called a housekeeper, never a domestic worker “because domestic is for domesticated animals.” She says she likes to hit the streets and record personal stories. When her subjects shy away from the camera – and many do – she records their hands, “the hands that do the work,” she says.
She talks to pupusa vendors, men driving tractors, gardeners and seamstresses, and she films hands dry and calloused, covered with dirt or paint, bruised black beneath the nails.