The Quiet but Full Life of an Immigrant Housekeeper

As the sun rises over the Brooklyn Bridge and the sounds of The City That Never Sleeps resonate through the crisp winter air, not far in neighboring Throgs Neck in the Bronx, Laila Banu’s day comes to life. Echoing the stories of Ellis Island decades ago, Banu exemplifies the tenacity and might of immigrants to America and specifically, to New York City.

The American Dream of Laila Banu begins in 1990 on a plane en route to the Big Apple as she emigrated from Bangladesh in search of a better life. Her husband had citizenship in the United States and a steady enough job to sustain a family of four. This, however, would not last long.

“My [first] marriage was not a ‘love-marriage’ [and] pretty soon we started having problems. So I left,” said Banu.

Banu is one of over three million immigrants living in New York City working behind the scenes, allowing for New York City to maintain its stratospheric level of service.

Wishing to avoid the court system for child support and without any family in the city, Banu had to find work to support her to children, aged three and seven at the time. As the oldest of her siblings back in Bangladesh, Banu was not accustomed to having to work. Often, her daily chores and responsibilities were taken care of for her.

“I never had to wash my clothes or make my bed back home, I was sort of the princess of the family,” Banu said.

So, it comes as quite the surprise Banu found work as a housekeeper in a well-known New York City hotel, cleaning fourteen rooms a day, five days a week. In the 19 years, Banu has worked for the hotel so far, she was able to successfully care for herself and her two children, and in 2001 remarried, on her own terms, to a man she truly loves.

Despite her perseverance as an immigrant single mother, her own mother did not share Banu’s confidence. “One time my mom visited me in this country and she wanted to see what I do. When I brought her to the hotel, she cried of disappointment,” Banu explained.

Fortunately for Banu and her children, her determination paid off. “My daughter is now pursuing her master’s degree to train as a speech therapist and I have a house with my loving husband,” she exclaimed.

Feeling as though she fulfilled the American Dream, Banu says she is happy with her life overall in New York, but the job can certainly present its positive and negative experiences. “Nobody bothers you if you are not doing anything wrong,” Banu explained. But despite the solitude of her work, not all is always peace and quiet.

“Sweet Sixteens are really bad; but, the worst is the couples who want you to come and look at them. I’ll knock on the door and they won’t say anything but once the door opens, it is not the sight you wish to see.”

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