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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Fall 2017

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Loucky, James

Second Advisor

Stevenson, Joan C.

Third Advisor

Vélez, Verónica N. (Verónica Nelly)

Fourth Advisor

Fisher, Josh


Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are the first line of care in eldercare institutions. They spend more time with residents than any other staff member, performing the most intimate tasks, and serving as a locus of support and information for both residents and their families. Belied by their low wages and low status within the industry, their work nonetheless entails considerable skill and interpretation of clients’ needs. In Washington State, positive ratings of eldercare facilities have been associated with the presence of immigrant caregivers, indicating this may come from the motivations and skills they bring to their work. This thesis examines such motivations and skills through an intensive case study with five Mexicana CNAs working in assisted living facilities in Bellingham, Washington.

Using grounded theory and Latinx Critical Theory, I examine how the cultural values and immigrant experiences of these CNAs affect the way they view and do their work. Commonalities found in their narratives and work routines reveal a shared notion of what can be regarded as a “qualified life.” For these Mexicanas, a qualified life centers around family and doing meaningful, recognized work. Their ability to find profound meaning in doing eldercare therefore serves to further their own qualified lives while bringing dignity and affection to people they see as discarded by American society. Beyond simply caring for the body, these CNAs create the conditions for dignity in eldercare facilities by preserving the memories and identities of the elders in their care, and extending kinship to residents and their families. In doing so they are enacting roles that have been altered or denied in their own lives due to being separated from their families by the U.S./Mexico border.

The empathy these Mexicanas are able to feel for a largely white (more privileged) aging population is generated in spite, and because, of the historical and continuing oppression they have experienced in the U.S., which has put them in a unique position to recognize vulnerability, marginalization, loneliness, and displacement. Finding meaning through work deemed undesirable by mainstream society and enacting their own values in the face of structural limitations makes them vibrant actors of third space ethics. In effect, by creating the conditions for others to live and die with dignity, they create a daily resistance against the standard profit model of institutional care, and in the process, further the pursuit of their own qualified lives.





Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Nurses' aides--Washington (State)--Bellingham--Ethics; Mexican Americans--Washington (State)--Bellingham--Social life and customs; Social values--Washington (State)--Bellingham; Nursing homes--Washington (State)--Bellingham--Employees; Older people--Nursing home care--Washington (State)--Bellingham; Older people--Washington (State)--Bellingham--Social conditions

Geographic Coverage

Bellingham (Wash.)




masters theses




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