This is story about Victoria’s first meeting with the Indigenous family who now makes the custom stone pounder for the Sauerkraut Kit. It takes place in the traditional weekly Tianguis Market in the bi-cultural mountain town of San Miguel de Allende which lies within the high mountain plateau in the heart of Mexico. Click Here To Read The Story
Cooperatives: Mexican women helping themselves
Original story by Antonio De Jesús Aguado published in the Atención weekly newspaper in San Miguel de Allende, Gto. in the central highlands in Mexico on Nov 3, 2011
Ejido de Tirado and rural communities such as Clavellinas and Cruz del Palmar have been identified as extreme poverty zones in the municipality by the federal Social Development Department, but that designation has not been an obstacle groups of women who have gathered in order to design clothes for sanmiguelenses. They operate semi-professional sewing workshops and have improved their economic situation through self-employment.
Origins of the workshops
The cooperativas are legally constituted businesses, made up of at least five people, who have the same rights and fiscal obligations as other businesses. Until 2010 several groups of women in Clavellinas and Cruz del Palmar were operating rustic sewing workshops with home sewing machines and without training of any kind. In Ejido de Tirado, Silvia Fuentes had three industrial sewing machines, which helped her manufacture artisanal clothing made of raw cotton, but she did not have the necessary business experience or knowledge to raise the quality of her work.
With the aim of helping these women work in an organized way and instill in them a business vision, in early 2011 through the local Economic Development Department of the municipal government the necessary training was given to three groups of women who created companies with a different vision. The women attended design, dressmaking and tailoring workshops and also were trained in business administration, accounting and budgeting and took motivational courses.
From nothing to a business
Silvia Fuentes is 53 years old and has worked 28 of those years as a seamstress at several sewing-related businesses in San Miguel. When the business she last worked at went bankrupt and did not have money to pay her, she asked for sewing machines as payment (she got four). For eight years she has worked designing clothing of coarse cotton, although due to a lack of professional training her pieces were rather rustic, improperly sized or asymmetrical—but nonetheless beautiful. She sold her designs in Querétaro, San Luis Potosí and San Miguel de Allende. “I do not know if I was making or losing money; I think sometimes that my economic situation was worse,” said Silvia, who started training her daughter Adriana Flores in dressmaking and tailoring eight years ago to have a little help.
Flores is the president of the cooperative in Ejido de Tirado and said that before it was legally designated getting work was difficult because they did not have the necessary experience or the equipment, an official name, an address or legal proof of payments. “We were not accepted by the customers, who thought that if they gave us money in advance we would not come back with the finished clothes.”
Nowadays Flores speaks on behalf of all the members of Innovaciones Textiles Flores and reports that their economic outlook is completely changed. “Currently we are more capable; we can help to pay the utility bills in our homes and do not have to depend only on our husbands. We all have husbands, but our incomes were insufficient,” commented Flores, who is happy with the results of their enterprise, which helps them feel stronger and alleviates some of their monetary fears.
Making clothes for sanmiguelenses
Alfredo López, director of the Department of Economic Development, said that the Monarcas Emprendedoras de Clavellinas have had orders frequently and few days ago they delivered an order for 600 sports garments to a primary school in La Cuadrilla. López also commented that periodically they visit the workshops in order to see how the cooperatives are operating. “Once we arrived unannounced at Clavellinas and the members of the cooperative were dividing up the profits from their last order. I asked them about the criteria they used for dividing up the income, and they said they each earned the minimum salary, and with the rest of the money they were forming a fund. At that time they already had set aside 20,000 pesos ($1600USD). They were planning to meet their supplier in Querétaro and ask him to sell to them at wholesale prices.”
Flores said that Innovaciones Textiles Flores’s designs are all over the city. During the Locos parade in June 2011 they manufactured around 100 clown costumes for a group of locos, pants for different primary schools in the municipality, several bridal gowns and some T-shirts for the pilgrims going to San Juan de los Lagos this year.
Irma Rosado, head of the local government’s Connection with NGOs Department, said that Diseños Palmar have designed and manufactured the uniforms for the guides and personnel of the Chapels of the Indios Tour and currently they are working with people from La Cuadrilla who produce tablecloths embroidered by hand.
According to the local government’s general administrator, Héctor Sáenz de Viteri, the three cooperatives have designed and manufactured hundreds of clothes that currently are being used as uniforms by employees of the local administration.
Working together in order to grow
Rosado said that the local government is working with the cooperatives with the aim of providing them with improved administrative skills and supporting them so that they can get more customers. Rosado added that currently the nonprofit organization Asociación de Emprendedoras is helping the cooperatives by giving them micro-loans so they can finance their orders.
Mayor Luz María Núñez Flores commented, “The association of women that help women have adopted the cooperativa of Clavellinas; they brought some designs from the United States and gave them to the seamstresses so they can manufacture the dresses, and the association will be in charge of the sales.” Rosado added that this organization is trying to build a small kindergarden next to the workshop so the children of the working mothers can study.
Sáenz de Viteri said that they have been in touch with business owners in the city who have expressed great interest in the products offered by the cooperatives because of their quality. “They would be interested in buying the products of the working women, such as tablecloths, napkins and even uniforms for their employees,” he said.
The benefits of buying from a cooperative
“Among the members of the three cooperativas there is an excellent intercommunication, and we support each other when the orders are too large for one cooperativa to fill. As mothers, we know that prices in the market increase every day; however, we offer lower prices and excellent quality. People who have purchased clothes from us are recommending us, and they say that the prices are very reasonable. We also have the strength for working and the attitude,” said Flores.
The cooperatives were launched in mid-2011. The federal government invested 692,000 pesos ($56,000USD) from the Ramo 33 fund 3 for those in extreme poverty, which includes training, equipment, legal expenses and restoration of the workshops. Twenty-five industrial sewing machines were also supplied. The cooperatives regularly employ 31 women, and when there is a large number of orders this number increases to 50 workers.
For supporting the co-operativas or to buy its products, call Irma Rosado; 052-415-152-96 17.
Rosalio Yañez, Indigenous Stone Carver
This is story about Victoria’s first meeting with the Indigenous family who now makes the custom stone pounder for the Sauerkraut Kit. It takes place in the traditional weekly Tianguis Market in the bi-cultural mountain town of San Miguel de Allende which lies within the high mountain plateau in the heart of Mexico.
The gleaming smile is the first thing you notice about Rosalio. His short stature, broad facial structure and straight teeth reach out and greet you. He is clearly indigenous, though here in Mexico, they are all called Indians. He makes molcajetes, (pronounced mole-ka-het-tayes) which is from the ancient Nahuatl peoples. The Aztecs and the Mayan also made and used them, so I am not sure of his heritage, but he looks just like his mother, who I thought was his wife, so young and spry she moved.
Every Tuesday, his family comes from a small village to the huge traditional market where people in the surrounding area gather to sell anything and everything. His family makes and sells all sizes of the ancient molcajetes (a basic stone mortar and pestle) along with food they have grown. They gather the special stone near their village and have been making mocajetes for generations. Molcajetes are used to crush and grind spices and prepare salsas, and guacamole. They likely evolved from a more primitive metate corn grinding slab.
I was thrilled as I have been looking for someone to make a custom pestle just right for sauerkraut making. My friend Josh located him a few weeks earlier and we visited him together to see if he would like to make the special pestles for the Sauerkraut Kit project. Rosalio listens carefully. For my project, I am interested in just the tejolote, the stone pestle. I explain carefully all the necessary changes needed to make it just right for a sauerkraut tool: flat on the bottom, taller and smoother for easy griping while crushing and grinding the foods. Rosalio agrees to make 40 of them which will be complete in 3 weeks.
We ask him if we could come visit him in his village sometime to learn more about the process of finding and making the tool. A big grin greets us. Clearly he was pleased we wanted to learn more about his village and his life’s work. A few weeks later we make the trip.
The drive was not too long and the country side is a mix of Nopal cacti and brown dry hills on one side and a green lush valley on the other. We carefully follow his directions, no street signs here, and easily find his mother’s home. Happily she greets us and welcomes us into her compound. Rosalio’s friendly smile greets us and shortly we wander up the cobblestone streets to the wide expanse of the dry rocky hillside.
He carries his handmade tool and begins picking up stones and explaining what makes them good and usable or bad, cracked and too small. We spend an hour looking at the special stone’s gathering sites and hear about the years of work this village has done making these tools and keeping the tradition alive. The more difficult molcajetes require skill and patience to carve out animal shapes like the pig face on the side of the bowl. These must be large and the stone just right for it not to break, but even then they sometimes crack.
Proudly, Rosalio introduces us to his neighbors as we make our way back down to his house. He is clearly pleased to have us visiting. We express our gratitude and say goodbyes to his mother and take our leave. They have been kind and patient with our many questions and rudimentary Spanish as they speak no English. We tell Rosalio we will see him soon at the market. His beaming smile lingers in my mind as we drive back to San Miguel de Allende.