Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012: Brings New Loans

By Julia Turnbull

On Saturday, three borrowers received their first group of tourists in Teotitlán del Valle. Juana, Rosalia, and Josefa learned about En Vía from relatives who have successfully built up their businesses with interest-free microloans. Each has already received one loan and completed the small business management course that En Vía offers to all borrowers. These women took the business-training module before receiving their first loan, and each woman shared with us that the course has helped her make the most of her loan and has given her new strategies for growing her business.


Juana, who is focusing on making wool bags with leather handles, zippers, and cotton linings, told us that she has been able to buy more yarn and increase her inventory. While her husband’s family has a weaving shop where larger rugs are displayed, the loan that Juana has received is allowing her to build an independent business. In addition to bags, she also has brightly colored rugs featuring unique and intricate designs. Given how busy Juana is taking care of her toddler and managing her household, her ability to increase her inventory is impressive. With her mother-in-law, who is also in her borrowing group, Juana is part of a cooperative. The four women are able to share market space in Oaxaca, as well as split the amount of time they spend managing their market space.

Rosalia, a seamstress and Juana’s mother-in-law, used her first loan to buy cloth and thread. She has her own industrial sewing machine, which she uses to make custom skirts, blouses, and dresses, as well as articles to sell in the village market. Before she received her loan, Rosalia made clothes with the cloth clients brought to her. When she did not have enough funds to purchase cloth and buttons, she had to wait for someone to bring cloth to her home and place an order. Now, she can continue to make special order items and also sew items to sell, boosting her income. 


Josefa’s business is selling fresh chicken meat in the daily market. Each Sunday she travels to the regional Tlacolula market to purchase between 20 and 30 live chickens, depending on how many she thinks she can sell each week. She sells pollos criollos, which are native and naturally grown chickens, pollos de la granja, which are raised on farms, and turkeys. Josefa told us that with her first loan, she has purchased feed for her poultry and has also been able to increase her weekly inventory. She has an excellent understanding of her customers’ preferences, the local market, and how to raise her livestock. Josefa expressed her appreciation for the opportunity En Vía has given her to expand her business. Her goal is to become a reliable supplier of fresh chickens and turkeys in Teotitlán’s daily market. 


Juana, Rosalia, and Josefa are looking forward to new opportunities in 2012!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Los Reyes Magos and the Queens of Teotitlán

By Kim Groves    

From the bible stories, I knew them as The Three Wise Kings. They brought incense, gold, and myrrh as gifts for baby Jesus. Here in Mexico they are known as Los Reyes Magos. Children create their wish lists and wait until January 6 to Los Reyes Magos to bring them their gifts. 

It has become tradition for Fundación En Vía to have a gathering of the entire group of women in Teotitlán on or close to the day of Los Reyes Magos. It is a time, after the busy season of the posadas, Christmas and New Years for us all to get together to celebrate the successes of the year, and express our hopes for the new one.

Enedina, whose house we found ourselves in, is a natural hostess. She makes it seem so easy to suddenly have over 100 women in her patio. I guess the thing is that everybody helps out. In a heartbeat there are dozens of cups on trays. There are piles of food on tables. And everyone has a tostada in both hands and lively conversation on their lips. 


Standing amongst this efficient flurry of activity I looked around the room fondly. There were faces I knew well, and others that were new. Some women like Enedina, who have been with the program since its beginning and others like Yamel Josefa that are just receiving their first loans. I stopped to chat at length with Guadalupe about some new bag designs she was working on. I knelt down next to Soledad and Floricita and carefully studied their technique as they whisked the hot chocolate to perfection. Yanet had saved me a seat next to her and her little cousin. As I didn’t have anything in my hand except my camera Teresa was worried that I wasn’t eating enough and rushed to get me something. Through mouthfuls of sweet pastry I enquired about Petra’s triplet daughters, who were at home doing schoolwork. From the other side of the room Maria was eyeing off the dress I was wearing, the dress she had made for me, and I was pleased that she seemed satisfied with how it looked on me.


With cheerful fanfare it came time to cut the rosca. We literally had three of the great ropes of sweet bread that are traditional on the day of Los Reyes. According to the story, shortly after his birth, Jesus was in danger of being found and murdered by King Herod’s soldiers who were determined to kill all new born children in order to nullify the prophecy of the coming King. It is said that on one occasion, Jesus, in the arms of his mother Mary, hid himself from view of the soldiers using a miracle. To symbolize this event, within this bread, this rosca, a little plastic baby the size of a fingertip is hidden.

I don’t care to admit just how many pieces of this bread I ate in the week of Los Reyes Magos. During that night it was Carlos, our executive director, who ended up with the hidden doll in his piece, and so, according to popular custom, it will be his turn to make the tamales and atole come February 2nd, when the Candelaria is celebrated (more on this tradition in a coming blog!). 


With the attention of the room Carlos spoke about all the great efforts made by each an all of the women, and indicated that there was even more room for growth and improvement in the coming months. He encouraged the women to keep supporting each other, to keep inviting and including others in the community, and to take advantage of the new educational programs in 2012. He expressed a feeling that all of us who work in the organization feel at these events—seeing the number of participants and hearing their stories—that we have grown to become something that we never imagined we could be when the idea was conceived just years ago.

I am thrilled to report to you, our dear friends and supporters, that I was not able to fit the whole group into one photo. I tried everything. I moved furniture, I directed the space. I stood about 10 meters back from where the women had gathered and were smiling at me indulgently. I climbed up on chair and held my camera in the air, and in doing so I entertained the crowd by banging my head on a hanging bird ornament!


There was more laughter at the end of the event when we strung up the piñatas outside in the street. The children dove for the sweets, and shrieked as they smashed heavily to the ground (or maybe it was just me who shrieked).

It was dark by this time; we were sweeping the floor and putting away the chairs. Some women lingered to chat; many excused themselves to return to their families. As they waved and called back to us, I was left with the sweetest feeling; of being well fed, nourished, and part of something important. I don’t know much about the Three Kings and their incense, gold and myrrh, but that evening, the room was full of women who to me are Queens, and their gifts for the New Year are the most precious ones of dignity, solidarity and hope.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Voices of the Migrant Experience

By Lindsey Shilleh


(Photo: David Bacon, Truthout)

Scrolling through my daily news updates, I came across an article on migration and the efforts of The Bi-national Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB), a member-run community organization, established in 1991, that brings together indigenous people, communities and organizations based here in Oaxaca, with those in California. As an organization drawing members from both sides of the border, FIOB aims to tell a fuller story. Looking beyond the isolated experience of individual migrant, FIOB includes migrants living in the US and those still living in their respective hometowns.

This unique set-up is what struck me, and drew me in- how often do we hear the other side of the story, of those still at home, let alone in a forum together? To really understand what it means to migrate, we need to look at the experience holistically.

This structure provides a voice, say a forum, to those who traditionally, are not heard from, and links their stories with the stories of those who have migrated. With 18% of Oaxaca’s population migrating to the United States or northern Mexico, the absence of a key family or community member is nothing new. As of 2008, roughly 500,000 indigenous Oaxacans were living in the United States, and 300,000 had migrated within Mexico[1]. What were the factors that led them to make that choice? Was it a choice?

It is that choice that defines so many futures. Without it, your future becomes one that is fixed and pre-determined by economic factors and their subsequent social patterns. But for so many, the right to not migrate just isn’t an option. By incorporating both populations, it seems that FIOB is fighting for that choice.

Can FIOB help us begin to change the conversation around migration in North America? They have a chance to highlight the patterns of oppression be they social, economic or psychological taking place on both sides of the border. For example, the more esoteric pressure, to migrate, to leave your family and culture behind because opportunities exist elsewhere and it is the right thing to do, contrasted with the literal, more tangible oppression of indigenous communities and economies that are forced into migration and then come to rely on remittances, financial contributions sent home by Mexicans living abroad. Some studies suggest that remittances in Mexico are responsible for a range of 27% to 40% of the capital invested in microenterprises throughout urban Mexico. Others say 80% of the money received is used for basic household expenses-food, clothing, and health care. [2]

Mexico’s close economic ties to the U.S., doesn’t help- remittances, for example, have taken a hit in the past few years, as the global financial crisis and the slowdown in the U.S. economy took hold. Or take projects such as the “Meso-America Project” or NAFTA. “The Meso-America Project” has paved the way for large corporations’ plundering of land and natural resources. The installation of wind farms in La Ventosa has impacted hundreds of indigenous and farming communities on the coast of Oaxaca. Here, land traditionally used for corn or crop production is now being used to serve the needs of companies without the consent of those who own the land.  At the same time NAFTA, which floods rural communities with cheap agricultural products, serves more as a mechanism for displacement than an economic one. Farmers are displaced, and migration then increases, because producing your own crops is no longer a viable, nor sustainable option.

With so many cards stacked against you, working to make migration a choice, rather than one made out of necessity is tough. And at a recent two-day conference celebrating the FIOB’s 20 years of establishment, the conversation centered around this question. How can this become a realistic option rather than one forced by poverty and desperation? Back home, many FIOB members have begun to focus their efforts around alterative economic development such as preserving corn indigenous to Oaxaca, fighting deforestation and beginning to concentrate on organic crop production and fight against genetic modification. It’s also working to set up social service organizations along the Isthmus to protect refugees and migrants. Across the border, efforts are aimed at influencing immigration reform, and fighting against proposed guest-worker programs and stop the exploitation of migrants. 

The influence of FIOB remains to be seen. Nonetheless, this question of how to make migration voluntary strikes a chord with what I have observed here in Oaxaca. Living here in Oaxaca and working in communities outside the city, the impact of migration is perceptible. Migration is woven into the social fabric of so many communities and cities, a singular thread that is perhaps not brilliant in color, or visible in size, but runs deep throughout. And with this comes a reverb effect that lingers in the collective consciousness of communities and the country alike.

No easy fight, FIOB is striving to build a forum to hear a wider range of voices, creating an open space where those who experience this movement across the border, sometimes back and forth, can debate what should be done. Migrating is not a solitary experience, and I hope FIOB can explore it in its totality. With many members that have returned to their communities from U.S, there is the potential to paint an in-depth picture, of the daily social, psychological and economic impact of thier experience, as well as the long-term consequences.

As we at En Vîa have heard speaking with our borrowers and the community, there is so much more to the migrant experience than the perilous journey across the border. The experience changes the shape of a community, of the family and of course, of the individual. To change the conversation, this needs to be brought to the forefront. Learning about the FIOB, I’ve realized the importance in understanding this cycle of dependency that migration perpetuates. There is a dramatic impact of leaving your own world behind and the palpable after-effects, that ripple their way outward; from the individual to the family, from the community to the town or city, and ultimately, to the national level. Asking the tougher questions, FIOB members are helping to widen the discussion on a bi-national front. 

[1] Bacon, David. “The Right to Stay Home”. http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=66a8eccf43428bfe3542bfc7ddfb19ff. (New American Media, 2008). 


[2] U.S.- Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues and Implications. (Congressional Research Service, 2009.)


Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Glimpse Inside En Vía's Internet Class

By Julia Turnbull

If you had never used the Internet before, much less a computer, what question would you type into the Google search bar?

This is the question we posed to five women in Teotitlán who came yesterday afternoon to begin learning how to use computers and the Internet. Shy at first, the women appeared with notebooks and a keen interest in learning how to navigate the web. While we intended to begin the lesson with computer basics, such as keyboard symbols and learning how to save files, the women wanted to know about the good stuff: e-mail and the Internet. 

The women are fast learners, and very efficient with their time. They quickly got the hang of the mouse, shortcuts, and listening to music.

When first asked what they wanted to search the web for, many searched for topics that are familiar and close to home, such as recipes, rugs, and even chickens and sewing. They watched themselves and their neighbors on En Vía’s Youtube videos. Others explored Google maps and were thrilled to learn that they can use street-view to see the homes of relatives in California.

Dominga, a weaver, turned on a computer for the first time yesterday afternoon. By the end of the 90-minute session, she had established her own e-mail account and explored eBay. She is determined to find new markets for her rugs and learn how to make the most of the Internet to connect herself to the world beyond Oaxaca. Each woman left with a smile on her face and assured us that she would be back for another lesson next Thursday. The women, many of whom have never left the Oaxaca Valley, will now able to keep in touch with friends and relatives, with En Vía’s volunteers, and tourists from all over the world. 

Each time I drop in on one of En Vía’s classes, I am impressed by how much the women want to learn and how quickly they begin to apply their new skills, whether they are taking the English, business, or technology classes.