A social service project high on a mountain top about forty-five minutes from Guanajuato city, is changing lives. Up the hill past Valenciana and Mayolica Santa Rosa, lies the pueblo of Mineral de la Luz. About 750 people live there today, from a peak of many thousands a hundred years ago when mining was at its peak. (Still, Mexico is the number one silver producer in the world.) Many who make Mineral de la Luz their home are young men employed by the Endeavor Silver Corporation, a Canadian mining company that has took over the rights in 2011 for extracting silver from the rich veins that lie deep within the earth.
Some say Mineral de la Luz is a ghost town, but with active silver mining, gorgeous views, historic adobe buildings, nearby ex-hacienda Jesus Maria (a restored elegant boutique hotel), and a population determined to improve themselves and their village, most know otherwise. Adriana Cortes-Jimenez, executive director of Fundacion Communitaria del Bajio, is one of those people. Adriana is a tireless advocate, passionately committed to helping local families find resources to improve education and start small businesses. Adriana believes there can be a partnership between tourism and economic development. She has many ideas. So do the men and women of the village.
On this weeklong trip together I rode shotgun in Adriana’s VW van, zig-zagging the backroads, high desert plateau, mountains and valleys of Guanajuato state. We went from Irapuato to Guanajuato City and back again then to Valenciana, Sangre de Cristo and Mineral de la Luz, on to Trancas and Dolores Hidalgo, and finally to Mineral de Pozos, stopping to visit individuals and families in each location who are slowly building their dreams. Many of Adriana’s 50+ projects have been in development for three to seven years, mostly because resources are scarce. In Mineral de la Luz, she has helped with the restoration of over 35 houses. This gives people a lot of pride and hope.
During our time together we talked a lot about what visitors would be interested in seeing and doing, and what can be accomplished more quickly to stem the tide of out-migration. So many have left in search of jobs and livelihood — a process that destroys families and communities.
I’ll be sending Adriana my ideas in a report later this month to add to the great plans she already has in mind.
In Mineral de la Luz, we had a home-cooked lunch of delicious, fresh quesadillas. I watched our host prepare lunch and learned a new technique for chopping onions without crying! The women of the family want to open a restaurant.
Their daughter, Alma Liliana Leon Araujo, is a talented 19-year old potter who brought together other teenagers like herself.
They formed a small cooperative studio and built two simple kilns — one gas-fired, one wood-fired. Together, they dig the clay from local sources. They have no way to gauge the temperature — there is no electricity. Their pre-Columbian design pots are shaped by hand and then stone polished. They are resourceful and talented and deserve to be encouraged.
This week, Adriana is making a visit to Asheville, North Carolina to see the arts trail through the Blue Ridge Mountains, once remote, but now connected through an economic development and tourism partnership. She will also establish a 501(C)3 non-profit that can help support her endeavors in the U.S.