Tag Archives: economic development

Traveling with Huellas Que Trascienden to Yochib, Oxchuc, Chiapas

There is no better reality check to understand quality of life for Chiapas indigenous people than to travel the back roads into remote villages, where people live clinging precariously to mountain slopes. They get to their houses by walking narrow dirt trails, climbing up and down slippery paths sheltered by coffee plants, banana palms and an occasional pine tree.

Through the coffee forest, 16 flights of stairs on this trip.

This is a life of poverty. It is also rich in family connectedness, work for the common good, creativity and aspiration for economic well-being. This is hard-scrabble country with out-houses, planked wood dwellings, smokey cooking fires, bony dogs, and young children underfoot. Extended families live together.

The rebozo holds a three-year-old as mom climbs out of the coffee forest

Young women, some teenagers, some barely into their twenties, carry toddlers on their backs, constantly shifting the weight, re-tying the rebozos to keep the bundle secure. Moving the bundle from back to front as child fusses. Breast is close at hand more for soothing than nourishment.

Babes in arms, waiting for lunch

This was not a shopping day.

Huellas Que Trascienden introduces six of us to the people they work with as part of their economic-business development projects in the region. Their goal is to educate Maya women and men to become self-supporting. In San Cristobal de Las Casas they operate their foundation headquarters at Maria Adelina Flores #22 (at the corner of Colon). Here, they train weavers through a project called Artisan2You,to become more savvy with business, open bank accounts, run online stores and become independent.

Join us for the 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. No rough rides!

Catalina making tortillas

Women earn the full amount of the textile sale at Artisan2You. They are individually recognized with a photo and their name on the clothing hang tags. The Huellas Que Trascienden takes no commission or mark-up. Finally, we know who made our clothes!

Leticia grilling the meat. Our visit warranted a feast.

I take the trip to meet Leticia and her family in a village where I’ve never been. Leticia wove a beautiful poncho for me, which I wear today in honor of her skill. She is twenty-seven years old with four children. She learned from her mother Catalina, a master weaver. Once she wanted to escape to the city. Now, her weaving brings recognition and self-esteem.

Me and Leticia’s poncho, with Lety (right), mom Catalina (second from right)

It’s almost two hours to Yochib in the Oxchuc district of Chiapas. After a stop in the Tenejapa market, we climb on switch-back roads, then descend into a warmer, more humid climate. The banana palms tell me we are close to the rainforest. All of us start to peel off the layers we are wearing. It’s a rough road with hairpin turns.

A prayer before lunch from Don Alonso

We pass courtyards where coffee beans are drying on plastic tarps. We pick up Pablo Santis who will translate for us from Tzeltal Maya to Spanish. I’m the only non-native Spanish speaker in the group and I’m far from fluent. I’m constantly attentive to be able to “get it.”  The indigenous language is predominant here and few speak Spanish.

An amazing Yochib, Oxchuc huipil, ten years old (detail)

Off the van, we follow the trail by foot deep into the coffee groves, down, down. I think, OMG, I’m going to need to climb out of here! I clocked 16 flights of stairs by the end of the day. The altitude, I’m told, is 2,000 meters. That’s 6,562 feet.

Scrambled eggs in tomato chicken stock

At the end of the trail we meet Alonso Gomez Lopez and his family. It’s noon. We had left at 8:00 a.m. Lunch is served around a large square table. Grilled meat. Sliced cucumber. Scrambled egg in chicken soup. Hot, sweet coffee. But first, Don Alonso pulls out his bible and recites a prayer of Thanksgiving. During the meal he strums guitar and sings. It’s then I realize that the family is evangelical Christian, not traditional Catholic. He sits but doesn’t eat with us. He says he is fed by his faith.

Black bean turnovers complement the meal

In Chiapas, less than 65% of the population are traditional Catholics.  Don Alonso is a minister in the Renewed Presbyterian Church. He asks me my religion and I tell him, adding I am happy with what I believe. I’ll see you up there, he says. I smile.

The Renewed Presbyterian Church, Yochib, Oxchuc, Chiapas

Our lunch feast around the community dining table.

Mauricio Raigosa, the founder of Huellas Que Trascienden, is from Monterrey and makes his home in Sancris. He is a chemical engineer with an M.B.A. from a French university. He started the project because he wants to leave a footprint for change, so people can transcend their lives, have access to opportunities, and receive a fair wage.

Hilaria weaving one length of cloth for a poncho.

It takes 30 hours to weave a poncho. Most women receive six pesos an hour for their work. With Huellas, they receive 30 pesos per hour. Mauricio says he wants customers to say:  I love your product. I love the quality. I love the price. The retail price is about 30% less than competitors in downtown San Cristobal.

Detail of hand embroidery on Hilaria’s skirt

The women create their own designs. There are no outside designer influences here. They scan the marketplace and see what’s out there, adjust their styles according to what they see. These are the business practices Huellas Que Trascienden is teaching. Mauricio, age, 38, says he is more of a mentor/coach and not the guy in charge.

Tortilla stack at our second meal at the home of Hilaria

They are not a textile cooperative or organization. Women receive direct payment for what is sold.

Hilaria’s mom who has circulation problems and can’t walk

Huellas is working with Amantenango pottery makers, honey producers, coffee growers/roasters, and experimenting with making tea from the fruit of the coffee bean. They are entrepreneurs interested in capacity building and product commercialization. Support them, if you can.

Discarded coffee fruit; can it become antioxidant tea?

Thanks to staff member Tali Karszenbaum for her thoughtfulness, customer service, inspiration, and great work with Huellas Que Trascienden.







Women Weavers’ Cooperative Vida Nueva, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Part Two

This post continues the narrative about women weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. See Part One for my introduction.

Honoring Mother’s Day: For all women who gave and received life!


Vida Nueva (“New Life”) Cooperative at the International Folk Art Market

Twenty years ago, Vida Nueva cooperative was founded by six single women from the same extended family group, three of whom where sisters. Some of the women had husbands who never returned to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, after migrating out for work. Some had not married. Some were widows. They needed to support their families and weaving had the biggest potential economic reward for their labor.

But, weaving was not women’s work.

Pomegranate dyed wool

Pomegranate dyed wool

The traditional role for women was (and still is, for the most part) to stay at home, keep house, tend the children, cook and raise small animals like chicken, sheep, pigs and goats.

Twenty years ago, weaving and then selling/marketing the product was not a usual role for women, plus it was unheard of to go to the city to develop customers. Most women of the time went barefoot, wore indigenous dress and did not go beyond the family compound expect to daily market. Entering the city was foreign, uncomfortable, intimidating.

Cleaning the finished rug

Cleaning the finished rug

Since the height of the Bracero program, when men migrated to the U.S. as temporary farm workers, and women learned to weave out of economic necessity, the number of women who now weave is substantial.  Today, most women work alongside husband, father or brother, to weave in a family centric enterprise. A few also participate in selling and receive recognition for their contributions.

It took a while for Vida Nueva to get started, but they had the help of a non-governmental agency, Grupo del Apoyo a la Educacion de la Mejor (now defunct). Through donations and business development guidance, Vida Nueva began producing rugs for sale in 2001. Their first clients, arranged by the NGO, were adult Spanish language students who were visiting Oaxaca from the United States.

Take a One-Day Natural Dye Weaving & Textile Study Tour

The cooperative meets regularly, makes decisions together, created a mission statement, a vision, goals and objectives for the organization that includes a marketing plan, and have built distribution markets over time. They also put money aside each year to invest in an annual community project that can benefit everyone in Teotitlan del Valle.

Using the stone metate to crush indigo to powder for dye

Using the stone metate to crush indigo to powder for dye

Not all the rugs woven by Vida Nueva are made with natural dyes. Most are woven with synthetic colors because most buyers don’t want to pay the price for a naturally dyed rug and prefer bright, electric colors. But, the cooperative will do custom orders for naturally dyed rugs and from time-to-time, may have some on-hand.

Today there are 12 cooperative members, two of whom are married. Their clientele has developed by word of mouth over the years, and they also have been invited to participate in shows/sales in the U.S.A. including the International Folk Art Market and the Feria at Lake Chapala, Mexico Arts Show. 

Vida Nueva Women’s Cooperative Contact Information

Pastora Gutierrez
Centenario 1
Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca

Telephone: 951 524-4250

Some Useful Resources


Book Review: Weaving, Culture and Economic Development in Miramar, Oaxaca, Mexico

Book: Weaving Yarn, Weaving Culture, Weaving Lives: A Circle of Women in Miramar, Oaxaca, Mexico; published by Almadia, 2010; photography by Tom Feher, text by Judith Lockhart-Radtke; ISBN: 978-607-411-059-3

Book Review by Norma Hawthorne

Stunning photographs and intimate personal interviews of indigenous Mixtec women weavers accentuate what it means to keep culture, community, and weaving traditions alive in this remote mountain village of Oaxaca, Mexico.

One of my favorite photographs in this book is a close-up of the calloused, gritty soles of a woman’s feet elegantly peeking out from under the hem of a fanciful floral skirt as she sits on her knees.  While I only see her feet and hemline, I know she is at work weaving on a back strap loom.  It is a sensitive depiction of both the obstacles and the hopefulness of an ancient culture struggling to survive and thrive.

The glorious full-color photography is by Tom Feher and the written narrative is by Judith Lockhart-Radtke.  The book is a culmination of almost a decade of work between the volunteer group, The Circle of Women in Boston, MA, and what developed into a self-sustaining cooperative of women weavers in the Alta Mixteca, far from Oaxaca City.   The book was published to coincide with an exhibition for the weavers at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca in 2010.  It documents and is a beautiful testimony  to a cultural interchange that encouraged learning and literacy, economic independence, and access to better health care.

Eleven Mixtec Women Share Their Life Stories in Their Own Words

The charm of this book is in its ethnographic storytelling.  Each of the eleven Miramar women who are members of the cooperative are interviewed and share their personal experiences about being a Mixtec woman, a weaver, a wife or mother or daughter.  Some are eloquent in describing the experience of their empowerment by learning to read and write. Others poignantly describe the pain of separation and isolation from husbands, sons, and brothers who are, by necessity, working in El Norte and sending money back where there is no work.

Through these visual and written stories we see and hear the struggles of poverty, deprivation, and limited access to health care.   We are also clearly reminded of the universality of womanhood: when women support each other through mutuality and connection they have much greater opportunity to thrive, especially in traditional patriarchal cultures where women have always been physically, economically and emotionally dependent.  The photographs are powerful, simple, and elegant. They are complete stories in and of themselves.

Text is in both English and Spanish

The layout of this book — left side of the page in English, right side in Spanish — creates a bridge to understanding.  The forwards by Ana Paula Fuentes Quintana, the director of the Textile Museum, and famed Mixteca singer-songwriter Lila Downs, add considerable heft to the story.  The book is definitely for those with an interest in women’s studies, grassroots organizing, intercultural exchange and the role of the outsider, economic development and sustainability, weaving, textile art and design, and anyone interested in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Effecting change and making a difference in another culture

Judith Lockhart-Radtke, a clinical social worker and writer, gives us an honest and clear account of the risks, rewards, disappointments, and joy for volunteers from other countries who want to make a difference and effect change. Ultimately, she reminds us, the generation of ideas and their implementation must originate from within to take root and have lasting impact.

The addendum, written in 2010, provides a concise summary of the village economy, the community’s approach to income earning and distribution, the ongoing challenges of maintaining a Boston-Oaxaca collaboration and a move to self-sufficiency, and the impediments to bringing these handmade textiles to foreign markets.

For Information and Book Orders – Contact: Judith Lockhart-Radtke, President of The Circle of Women, Boston, MA; judithlockhartradtke@gmail.com