Tag Archives: Women

Follow-Up: A Day Without Women in Mexico

Yesterday’s blog post provoked a lot of discussion about women’s lives in Mexico, especially those living in poverty and struggling in remote villages. Some of our discussion was here. Some of it was via my Facebook page where I also share what I write.

I want to follow-up with some observations and impressions.

Women are vulnerable wherever we live, in developed First World countries and in developing countries around the world. Isolation and machismo contribute strongly to this vulnerability, especially where men control the lives and fates of women in their households.

Femicide: deaths and disappearance of women because of our gender.

Trailing behind, wife of the Mayordomo, Tenejapa, Chiapas

This is true in Mexico, throughout Central and South America, Asia and Africa. Women work, take care of families, contribute to household income when we can, and are often abused. Social justice and human rights for women is gaining a stronghold — but it isn’t enough.

Leadership is lacking. AMLO, the President of Mexico, is said to have not taken seriously the demonstrations of outrage that were held Sunday in Mexico City. See this article in The Guardian. In the United States of America, a man we call President sets a role model for female abuse and disrespect.

What contributes to this? I’ll talk about what I know. In villages throughout Mexico, drinking beer and mezcal is part of the ritual culture. This is considered tribute for every fiesta and toasts to the occasion are on-going. Men become accustomed to drinking when they are young. They may become alcoholics. Some women do, too. I’ve seen Alcoholics Anonymous meeting places in many towns where I’ve visited.

Drinking is also part of the culture of poverty and shame. In agricultural villages, men are responsible for subsistence farming, which means they work the fields to grow corn, beans and squash to feed their families. All men do this. It is not commodified. There is no economic value to resell since everyone farms. So, they are not making an income. There is despair, depression, anger, resentment. Men turn to alcohol for succor.

Weaving and embroidery provides income for women

Women in these villages I have visited are weavers. They grow, card, spin and weave cotton or wool and create textiles to wear themselves or to sell if they have developed a market. They are the income earners. They provide for food not grown or raised, education costs for children and grandchildren, medicines. In traditional relationships, women turn their earned income over to the men, considered head of household. But we are getting smarter. At least some of us!

The New Religion — Fundamentalist Christianity is gaining a foothold in Mexico. In the state of Chiapas, the poorest, it is said over 63% have converted from Catholicism to one of the many proselytizing religious groups. I see traditional Catholic villages around the Oaxaca valley with Christian churches integrated into the community. Why?

Fundamentalist Christianity promotes no drinking, no spousal or family abuse, and no participation in the traditional patronage system based on Catholic observance, no hierarchy. Women embrace this and convince their husbands it is good for them, too.

Priests expelled from Chamula in the 60’s; Catholicism on the wane in Chiapas, Mexico

In villages where women do not have a skill that can be converted to a marketable commodity, it is more difficult.

Abuse knows no social or economic boundaries, as many of us know. The women of Mexico have demonstrated this. We have made inroads but the path is long and requires more.

Are we invisible?

One reader sent me this: Unfortunately the shift is from alcoholism (especially as Mezcal becomes the gentrified drink of choice and is pricing locals out of it) and into crystal meth addiction. There are plenty of AA locations even in small pueblos but treatment and support for meth addiction is unheard of here. Not to mention the recovery rate from meth is not promising. Meth is so widespread now that it’s even in the secundarias (middle schools). In the bulk of towns, there are no artisanal traditions and minimal education, and the women have even fewer options than those who benefit from the tourist industry. In our town, 20% of the women are illiterate; I work with mothers who can’t even print their own name. Women in their 30s, so these aren’t archaic statistics.

As I said, there is a lot to think about, to do, and for us to create the political will for change. Desperation and addiction are equal to human destruction.

Her husband drinks and she weaves.

All the more reason not to bargain when you come to visit!

In Mexico, A Day Without Women — March 9

Women are responsible for about 1/2 of the compensated economic activity in Mexico, and relied on in disproportionate numbers for the work done in the home. This represents about 15% of the GDP of the country. Yet women’s rights are largely ignored and mostly violated. Men still have the right to decide the fate of most women’s lives here, and it is reported that each day, 10 women are victims of femicidal violence.

For those who do compensated work, the average daily wage is 200-250 pesos, equivalent to $10-$12 per 8-hour day.

Gender violence is rampant, and that’s why women in Mexico are on strike today. Read this Washington Post article.

You can read more here in America’s Quarterly about why March 9 is a national women’s strike day in Mexico. Meanwhile, I offer this photo tribute to the women I know and have met over the years who do so much, for often so little, for their children and their families.

Juana Montaño winding a bobbin for weaving, Teotitlan del Valle

Women are encouraged to stay home and not work to demonstrate the impact of women who disappear.

Anacleta Juarez Miranda, San Bartolome Ayautla
The future is in our children
A single mom raising her child

In villages throughout Mexico where there is poverty, limited access to education, healthcare and economic opportunity, women suffer. Recently, during our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, the women of San Juan Colorado told us how their weaving brought income. Their husbands, subsistence farmers, had no opportunities to sell the food they grow, and turned to alcoholism for succor. Family violence is common when there are no choices.

Norma Gutierrez, Carneceria Teoti
My friend Lupita. She died of breast cancer in 2018, age 47.

Some women choose not to marry. Others, who become young widows like my friends Lupita and Josephina, choose not to remarry and to raise their families independently. This is not an option for most.

Carrying burdens, Tlacolula Market
Dolores Santiago cleaning a rug, a rare equal partner with her husband Federico
Deceased potter Dolores Porras, Santa Maria Atzompa
Maruch, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, weaver

Men who have gone to the USA to work often never return, stop sending funds, leave their wives and children to make it on their own as they disappear into the vast community of the undocumented. USA public policy does an excellent job of separating families and keeping them estranged.

Amantenango, Chiapas, sculptor
Aguacatenango, Chiapas, embroiderer
Zacoalpan, Guerrero weavers

Let’s respect the work of all women — inside and outside the home — and given special attention today to women and families in Mexico who need and want better lives.

Viviana Alavez, grand master of Oaxaca folk art
Apron makers, San Miguel del Valle

San Pedro Amusgos, Oaxaca spinner, carder, weaver, embroiderer, cook, etc.

Into the Villages on the Oaxaca Coast: Women Who Weave

For me, the most emotional part of our visits to the remote Oaxaca villages along the coast of Oaxaca is to meet the women who weave and hear their stories.

Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour takes us north out of Puerto Escondido along Mexico Highway 200. This region is called the Costa Chica and extends from Puerto to Acapulco, Guerrero. Small roads, often winding, are like fingers carrying people to/from the main towns of Jamiltepec, Pinotepa Nacional and Ometepec.

We travel deep into the foothills into these weaving villages where isolation has preserved a traditional way of life.

Three generations in San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca

We meet the women who are the backbone of their families. For the most part they work in cotton. Their work is intense. They grow and pick native cotton. They clean and card it. They preserve the seeds of natural cream-colored, green and coyuchi brown cotton. They use the malacate drop-spindle to make thread. And, they weave wefts of cloth using the back-strap loom, creating designs formed by a technique called brocade or supplementary weft.

Grandson works the Internet to use credit cards

There is a growing market for natural, hand-made cloth dyed with natural plants and cochineal and the caracol purpura snail. But the market is still not big enough to create widespread prosperity. It takes years to be recognized and sometimes, not at all.

Nanache tree bark and indigo dye, hand-woven cotton

Women and families struggle. Mostly it is the women’s work that brings the income that buys medicine for aging parents or a sick relative. Mostly it is the women’s work that pays the school tuition, buys books and uniforms for children and grandchildren. Mostly it is the women’s work that brings food to the table — the tortillas, the hot chocolate, the occasional chicken for a fiesta.

Use the Registration Form to tell us you want to participate in the 2021 Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour.

Weaving natural, native cotton dyed with indigo on a back-strap loom

Men work the fields. They raise corn, beans and squash. They tend the animals. This work is not income producing because every family grows its own corn, beans and squash to feed themselves. There is no commercial market for the basics that go on the table. This work for men is subsistence farming. In the socio-economic life of a village, weaving cloth can mean a path out of poverty.

Native, pre-Hispanic wild green a coyuchi cotton on the looms

Another path out of poverty is the long road north, to El Norte, where uneducated village men can migrate with a coyote across the desert at night, cross a border without papers, and become undocumented workers. They are the farm laborers, restaurant dishwashers and cooks, gardeners, poultry slaughterers and handymen, doing the work that few others want. They stand in line on Friday afternoon, wiring remittances home, sometimes never returning.

The women continue on.

A few women go on to university in Pinotepa Nacional or Acapulco and become accountants or lawyers or teachers, but not many. Some women choose not to marry, a bond that requires them to go live with a husband’s family, taking on their livelihood and craft, contributing to the household of the in-laws. Some women see that the men are in despair, turn to alcohol for consolation when they have little earning capacity and lose their self-esteem. For this reason, many choose a life of independence.

Kristy holds a huipil made with coyuchi and caracol purpura dyed cotton

We come not to judge but to understand. We do what we can. We support their work by visiting and buying direct. We are the appreciators who admire, wear and collect what they make. We are cultural appreciators rather than cultural appropriators.

Sebastiana who left a technology job for full-time weaving, her passion

The women who make cloth learned from their mothers and grandmothers. They have been around thread all their lives. Most started weaving at age twelve. They might sit tethered to the back-strap loom for six or eight hours a day or longer. It can take three months or longer to make a fine huipil.

Maximina shows us algodon verde, wild green cotton, Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero

Do you love what you do? One of us asks a weaving cooperative member.

I weave to help feed my children and family, and cover costs for school, one woman answers.

I do love to weave, and I’m proud to continue the work of my grandmother, answers another. It provides for us, but we need places to sell.

We must support each other economically, says a cooperative spokeswoman. It’s in our solidarity that we will help each other and raise us up. It’s more than a social get-together. It is our livelihood.

Handmade dolls, Muñecas, wear handmade huipiles, Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero

Children, boys and girls, age eight to twelve, are learning to weave. This is our future. Our boys are also learning to make loom parts and grow cotton. Men can always help and we encourage their participation, she continues.

In the outdoor kitchen, at the comal, a group of women pat masa into tortillas. They turn the corn dough with thumb and forefinger, careful not to burn themselves. Their fingers are worn with years of cleaning cotton, turning tortillas, washing clothes, spinning, caring for others. Some have lost their fingerprints to hard work.

They salt the hot tortilla, picking up the salt between thumb and forefinger, drizzling the tortilla, rolling it and handing it to us as a gift of welcome. It is fresh, slightly chewy and crunchy, the taste of real food. A simple life can also be a harsh one, and I caution our visitors not to romanticize the experience of being here.

Making the randa is time-consuming and adds beauty

In our home countries, we are absorbed with technology, family isolation and the intensity of politics. Indigenous women in Mexico are absorbed with finding access to markets for their work, good health care and education for their children. What unites us is our humanity and our mutual respect.

Eye glasses are a luxury. Mike brings them to give as gifts.

For many of us who go off-the-beaten-path to visit makers, we can first be surprised, even shocked at how humbly they live. Some of the most famous artisans I know live in adobe houses or those made with concrete blocks. They may not be able to afford a finished floor or it is not a life-style value.

Homemade green corn pozole, pickled cabbage and carrots, potato flautas

We go into homes with packed dirt floors, swept clean. We go into outdoor kitchens where amazing food is prepared over a simple wood-fired stove; sometimes this is a grill over a cut off garbage can. Occasionally, the sanitary facilities are not plumbed and we must put a bucket of water into the toilet to flush it. We note these differences and appreciate the abundance in our lives.

Jesus Gomez and his weaver mother, Zacoalpan, reviving lost traditions

We also appreciate the abundance in the lives of Mexican families who live close to the land: they live among their mothers, fathers and grandparents. They are supported by a deep network of community, of friends and tradition. They eat homegrown food. They yearn for the same things we do: health, education, contentment and prosperity. They create works of art.

The children are our future

Women of Chiapas Photo Essay

International Women’s Day was Thursday, March 8, 2018.  It’s days later and I now find time to acknowledge, honor, recognize, applaud some of the women we met along the way during our two back-to-back Chiapas Textile Study Tours in February and March this year.

Women make, sell, suckle babies in Magdalenas Aldama, Chiapas

I don’t know all their names.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a Zapatista icon in Chiapas, role model for justice

Their hands, feet and faces are universal stories of women who work hard with little recompense.

Shop keeper, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas

Their garments tell the stories of culture, history, creativity and subjugation by Spanish conquerors who imposed clothing style as indigenous identifier.

Maria and her niece, Aguacatenango, Chiapas

Most are women who weave or embroider.

Maruch is her Tzotzil name, Maria is her Christian name, San Juan Chamula district

Some are women who craft pottery — cooking vessels and decorative jaguars, many of them life-size.

This is Esperanza sculpting a clay jaguar, Amantenango del Valle, Chiapas

A few are famous. Most are not.

Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art Juana Gomez Ramirez, Amantenango del Valle

They are mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, nieces.

Rosa, center, and her nieces, Magdalenas Aldama

Some, like Rosa and her husband Cristobal, participated in the 1994 Zapatista uprising to stand for indigenous rights. The movement paved the way for a stronger voice for women.

Producing handmade paper, Los Leñateros, San Cristobal de Las Casas

They carry babies on their backs, harnessed by robozos.

Market day, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas

They use rebozos shifted to the front of their bodies so infants can suckle. They use rebozos to carry market vegetables and fruit to the cooking fires.

Lourdes, research coordinator, Museo Textil Mundo Maya

Few are professionals like Lourdes who translates Spanish to English for us, educated in sophisticated cities far away.

Maria Meza, weaving cooperative director, Tenejapa, Chiapas

Others head cooperatives, organizing the business of textile making and selling to sustain families.

A metaphor for indigenous women worldwide, essential and faceless

Some are faceless. We see their progeny.

Manuela Trevini Bellini with PomPom Shawl at her shop Punto Y Trama,

A few are expats from Italy, France, Canada, the United States or Japan, who migrate to the promise land.

Women’s hands make organic tortillas from native corn

We see hands making tortillas, tending the cooking fire, soothing a child’s cry, serving a husband dinner.

Pioneer Swiss photographer, Gertrude Duby Blom, at Na Bolom

Most of all, we know that women’s work begins early and ends late, is continuous, often self-less and usually in the service of others.

Andrea Diaz Hernandez weaves this for eight months, San Andres Larrainzar

Take a moment to consider what women around the world give as we regard those whose photos we see here.

In Yochib, Oxchuc, impaired mobility, health care access hours away

Take a moment to give thanks to all the women in the world. We are more similar than we are different.

Meet the Women of Chiapas: 2019 Textile Study Tour

What will become of the next generation of women?






Women’s Creative Writing and Gentle Yoga Retreat, June 22-29, 2018, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Lifting Your Creative Voice Writing and Yoga Retreat

  • When: Arrive Friday, June 22  and Depart Friday, June 29
  • Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

This is our 8th year for the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing Retreat.  We welcome new, inexperienced writers and those who are more seasoned and want to go to the next level.  Some have published and many dream about it. We may write memoir, poetry, essays, creative non-fiction and fiction. The workshop-conference is a haven for exploration and encouragement. Writers of all genres and ages are invited.

Who Attends? Women with something to say.

  • You keep journals, notes, drafts of unpublished material.
  • You write on the backs of envelopes and scrap paper.
  • You dream of writing and never have. Maybe you dabble.
  • Ideas percolate, and you want to capture and develop them.
  • You want to merge the written word with photos, drawing or collage.
  • Perhaps you have written and/or published a while ago, let the writer’s life lapse, and you want renewal and encouragement.
  • You are a writer, and may want guidance and support to continue an unfinished piece or publish it.

Teotitlan del Valle church built atop Zapotec temple

Friday, June 22 to Friday, June 29, 2018 

  • $895 per person shared room with shared bath. Note: we have a limited number of shared rooms with private shared bath available. First come, first served. Otherwise, your bath will be across the courtyard and shared by several.
  • $1,195 per person single room with private bath

You arrive by Friday evening, June 22 and leave Friday morning, June 29, 2018. The comprehensive workshop fee includes 7 nights lodging, all breakfasts, all writing instruction and workshop sessions, a personal coaching/feedback session with the instructor, daily afternoon gentle yoga sessions, and a grand finale celebration reading and dinner. You might want to arrive a day early to settle in to avoid a late night arrival or missed connection.