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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They are not a textile cooperative or organization. Women receive direct payment for what is sold.
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.
Thanks to staff member Tali Karszenbaum for her thoughtfulness, customer service, inspiration, and great work with Huellas Que Trascienden.