“After years of waiting on a Brooklyn street corner trying to land jobs cleaning houses, Teresa Bucio decided there had to be a better way to earn a living. Like dozens of Latina immigrants, Ms. Bucio, 33, used to stand at the corner of Division and Marcy Avenues in Williamsburg every morning, hoping to be hired. The intersection — a bare cement triangle overlooking a sunken stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — is an unusual all-women day labor site where residents of the heavily Hasidic neighborhood find people to clean their homes. Ligia Guallpa, an advocate for day laborers who has assisted women at the site for years, estimated that some 200 women congregated there over any given week, and many of them are illegal immigrants.
But work is by no means guaranteed. Before the Sabbath or Jewish holidays, the demand for cleaners increases; on other days, many women never leave the corner. So some of them decided they would take matters into their own hands and start a business. “If they pick you up for two or three hours, that’s good,” said Ms. Bucio, who moved to the United States from Michoacán, Mexico, with her sister in 1997. “And if not, in any case, you go like you arrived, with empty hands.”
Last November, the Bucio sisters founded the Apple Eco-Friendly Cleaning cooperative with a handful of women whom they met at the Williamsburg hiring site. The group advertises on recycled paper and makes its own cleaning products, forgoing harsh chemicals for ingredients like lemon juice, glycerin, borax and fruit oils. The women taught themselves to make the cleansers and refined their recipes through a combination of Internet research and trial and error. “When we say we’re from a company with a business card, they treat you differently from the time you arrive,” Yesenia Bucio, 32, Teresa Bucio’s sister, said. “I feel very good, very happy and I have very high self-esteem.””
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