Mexican women take charge in small village--
Scan a list of Mexican icons and you won’t see the names of many women. But in this macho-dominated country, the tiny village of Tecalpulco has converted itself into a quasi-matriarchy with the women of Artcamp leading the charge.
Artcamp is an organization of rural female artisans in Mexico (artesanas campesinos) who design, produce and sell Mexican crafts. Hidden in the mountainous regions of Guerrero, Central Mexico, the communities of Tecalpulco and Taxco El Viejo, near the silver mining town of Taxco, have continued these traditions for generation after generation. The group itself has been running for 20 years.
“It was not a very united community. Campesinos are not united people,” Hilaria Lopez, coordinator of Artcamp distribution commented. "We wanted to create a stronger community, to help the economy, to share designs and materials.”
Supporting the community has become particularly important in recent years. For every family there are approximately two or three men who have left to find work in the United States, according to Artcamp production leader Reina Godeck. In the wake of the exodus, the women have rolled up their sleeves and picked up the slack.
“At first they laughed at us,” said Artcamp member Maria Alaniz. “In the 1970s, it was only men who worked in artesania. The women helped out or packed boxes but now it’s almost all done by women.”
Artcamp principally makes Mexican jewelry. The women purchase stone flints which they then cut and arrange in colorful patterns on pendants, hair clips, bracelets, earrings and rings. The insides of Coke cans are also used for tiny silver detailing. One earring, which the cooperative sells for 15 pesos, can take up to an hour and half to produce. “It’s difficult to say how much time each piece takes because each piece is different,” Lopez says. “It’s made with our spirit, with our hands. You don’t think about time.”
For mothers left alone with small children, Artcamp is one of the few ways they can maintain their broods. They can work from home, if they fall ill there is much more lenience and they have creative control of their designs.
“There is a lot of solidarity within the group, a lot of respect for one another,” added Alaniz.
All profits are shared equally and money is also put toward community projects, such as the purchase of hospital equipment.
In the face of the influx of Far Eastern-made products, Artcamp is also an important way of preserving traditional Mexican crafts, noted Godeck.
“If in the future there is no one who wants to or knows how to (make the crafts), there is the danger that Mexican artesania will disappear. This way, the children who watch their mothers will hopefully want to learn.”
Another goal of the cooperative is to increase work opportunities for the men of the village. Due to the lack of jobs, many men who don’t head north end up working in dangerous conditions in the local coal mines.
Said Alaniz: “It’s more about creating work so they don’t have to leave. Here they’re doctors or artists and they wind up in the States cleaning floors or working in McDonald’s. We want to say, ‘come back here and work in what you enjoy, in what you’re want you’re meant to.’”
Lopez admitted that for many men who have already left there is little chance they will return. “They make the mistake of marrying an American woman to get papers. It’s very difficult to return. Imagine if they have a wife and four children.”
For now, the women of Artcamp continue their pursuit of making high quality, handmade traditional jewelry and other crafts while supporting their villages. They hope to participate in more art fairs around the country and to generate more interest in their products. For more information about Artcamp and to support female artisans in Mexico see http://artcamp.com.mx.