Abstract

Suburban maintenance gardening is one service sector that has grown in the United States, and in many parts of the country it has become a gendered occupational niche for Mexican immigrant men. What is the social organization of this occupation and to what extent are Mexican immigrant gardeners following in the footsteps of Japanese gardeners, achieving socioeconomic mobility through gardening? Based on interviews conducted with 47 Mexican immigrant maintenance gardeners in Los Angeles, this article examines the occupational structure of this informal sector job, the social context in which it has developed, the mix of informal and formal economic transactions involved, and the strategic challenges that gardeners negotiate. The data show that there is occupational differentiation and mobility within the gardening occupation, and that mobility in the job remains dependent on combining both ethnic entrepreneurship and subjugated service work. Gendered social and human capital, together with financial and legal capital are necessary for occupational mobility. Jardineria, or suburban maintenance gardening, is analogous to the longstanding labor incorporation of female immigrant domestic workers into affluent households, but it is also indicative of a new trend: the proliferation of hybrid forms of entrepreneurship and service work and the incorporation of masculine "dirty work" service jobs into affluent households.

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