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Only Here Podcast: The Cleaning Lady Wants You To Know Her Name

Artist Claudia Cano stands in front of one of her mixed-media works in this p...

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Above: Artist Claudia Cano stands in front of one of her mixed-media works in this photo taken in January, 2019.

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Only here can you find a San Diego artist who dresses up as a “cleaning lady” to force a conversation about immigrant women.

Aired: June 26, 2019 | Transcript

Claudia Cano wants to start a conversation.

She’s a performance artist who created an alter ego, a cleaning lady named "Rosa Hernandez."

Photo by Nacho Cano

Artist Claudia Cano performs as her alter ego "Rosa Hernandez" on March 26, 2019.

Rosa fits all the stereotypes — she’s a Latina immigrant, speaks only Spanish and wears a light pink maid’s uniform with a white apron. She’s rarely seen without a broom or a rag.

But instead of cleaning homes or offices, Rosa cleans public parks, art galleries and libraries.

Photo by Nacho Cano

Artist Claudia Cano performs as "Rosa Hernandez" at a gallery opening in this photo taken in 2016.

She’s literally swept a pier in Oceanside, mopped an art gallery in Los Angeles and cleaned a picnic area at a park near the border fence.

Cano invented Rosa after she had a hard time transitioning from her life in Mexico to life in the U.S. She eventually found her way to San Diego as a contemporary artist with a graduate degree in fine arts. But she thinks too many Latina immigrants like her are too often ending up as childcare providers or housekeepers.

Rosa is Cano's way of tackling that thorny topic that can raise issues of classism and racism. She said often when people see a woman in a maid uniform cleaning a public space it sparks curiosity and can lead to conversations.

Cano hopes Rosa makes people stop and think about their relationship with the women they pay to clean up after them. She wants people to consider these women’s lives and personal struggles, even if just for a minute.

In a new episode of "Only Here," KPBS' podcast about the place where San Diego and Tijuana meet, Cano talks about her effort to bring attention to the lives of the thousands of immigrant women cleaning homes here in the U.S. Plus, the artist shares her own story about how her made-up identity helped her find her real-life identity along the way.

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