Ama de Casa is title widely used in Costa Rica to describe the role of the woman whose job is to stay at home and care for the house, the children, and oftentimes here, the grandchildren.
The word “ama” is a noun and translates to:
- Lady of the house
- Foster mother
I know…the dictionary literally put them in that order. It kinda goes downhill from lady of the house.
The Ama de Casa exists from the cities and suburbs of San Jose to the farthest reaching corners and campos of the country. Throughout regions and different sub-cultures, you will find that the Ama de Casa is a traditional role in this country with a very similar job description.
As a lady of the house here in Costa Rica, your day might look something like this:
5am: wake up and shower
5:30 – 7am: cook, serve, clean up breakfast
7:30 – 8:30am: do laundry and hang up to dry
9am: sweep and mop house
11am – 12pm: cook, serve, clean up lunch
12:30 – 1pm: sweep the house, fold laundry
1 – 2:30pm: sit outside or watch tv
2:30 – 3:30pm: serve cafecito (afternoon coffee)
3:30 – 5:30pm: sit outside or watch tv, sweep the house
5:30 – 7pm: cook, serve, clean up dinner
7 – 9pm: watch TV
I’m not lying about the sweeping. It is a very serious and real task that is to be executed many times throughout the day.
Since arriving in Costa Rica almost 8 months ago, I’ve lived with 2 different host families. The first one for the first 3 months of training in a progressive city near San Jose and my current one in the southern campo, where my site is.
Both of my host moms fulfill the role of the Ama de Casa, and spend their days caring for their homes and their families, and while they live in very different places and have had very different life experiences, their daily tasks as the Ama de Casa are strikingly similar.
But what I’ve seen in both my host mothers is their desire to do something more than just sweep. More than serve the food, more than wash the dishes, and more than hang the laundry out to dry. They want something of their own. Something they can choose to do that they can control, manage and take ownership in.
My first host mother in San Jose started her own small bakery business making and selling empanadas and cakes out of her kitchen. Every week she makes hundreds of empanadas and sells them to local markets and at least monthly she has orders for birthday and wedding cakes. Sidenote: her queques are amazing and her empanadas opened my world to Costa Rica cooking. But even though her husband works and they don’t really need the extra money, she does it because she enjoys sharing her talent (and trust me, it should be shared) and wants something that challenges herself.
Similarly, my current host mother participates in the local women’s group and every week, spends her Thursdays cooking tamales to sell at the market in the city on Saturdays. And let me tell you, tamales take all day. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it, I’m still trying to embrace it. Then, on Saturdays she works from 5am-5pm selling them at the market.
Although the majority of the women in the campo of Costa Rica don’t work outside of their Ama de Casa role, there are a handful, including my host mom, that find the value in making work for themselves and bringing home their own money at the end of the day, even when it’s not much.
Women in Costa Rica, especially middle and older aged women, face many challenges trying to find work, including a lack of higher education, job experience, cultural restraints, and let’s not forget their commitment to their role as the Ama de Casa. But those that work hard and push to find creative outlets, using the tools they have learned in their role as the homemaker, will thrive and open doors to new possibilities.
One by one, this generation, this group of women, are changing their culture and their country. They are stepping outside of what is “normal” because they want to pave their own path, because they want to make their own dollar (well it’s a colon but that doesn’t have the same ring to it), and because they want something bigger.
To them, they might not feel like they are making a big change or even realize the impact they are having on their communities but every day, these women are creating new opportunities and new lives for their daughters and granddaughters, and changing what it means to be Ama de Casa.
And I gotta say, being here for that makes me feel like I’m part of something pretty incredible.