One aim of this blog is to highlight not only the products of Mexico’s artisans, but the community, culture and conditions in which they are created. Without this knowledge, just simply seeing the products in a store or market, it is not possible to fully appreciate what you are buying. Indeed, it is not really possible to know if what you are buying is a true Mexican handcraft, rather than an imitation mass-produced in Mexico or abroad.
For many communities, the making of a traditional handcraft is one of very few ways to earn money. This can be for various reasons, from the lack of economic opportunities in the area, the desire to maintain a traditional way of life, or restrictions on what members of a group are permitted to do (e.g. traditional women staying at home).
The Amuzgo are an isolated ethnicity located on the Guerrero/Oaxaca border, in a region called la Costa Chica. They are one of Mexico’s smaller indigenous groups, but have managed to keep their language and many of their customs. Most are located in an around the town of Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, but even smaller communities can be found. One of these is the tiny community of Zacualpan, just outside the regional commercial city of Ometepec. Despite its proximity, life here is very distinct from that of the nearby mestizos.
Carnaval in the town
It is best to let resident Jesús Ignacio Benito Gómez himself describe life there.
In my community, Zacualpan, we from when we begin to learn to speak, our parents teach us to speak as our mother tongue Amuzgo. When we go to primary school, which in the community is a bilingual primary where our teachers teach use to use Spanish as well as to write out mother tongue.
In the same community, from an early age, we work in the fields and learn to sow corn, beans, sesame seed and cotton to use to make clothing and to sell. The city of Ometepec is our market where to go to sell our crafts even though there isn’t much success here nor is our ancestral work particularly valued.
Work is very scarce in our community and the pay is very low. Often it is not enough to pay all of our expenses such as education, food and health.
Most of us are extremely poor.
Our family grows and harvests cotton. Afterwards we clean and spin it manually into thread using (a spindle called) a malacate.
Personally, as an Amuzgo, I want to get ahead and get a degree. I am knocking on doors to help commercialize the work I do with my mother to pay for my studies and transport.
The family business is called Artesanía Códice Amuzga. It consists of five members of a family ranging in age from 2 to 44 years. The work in the family goes back more generations than Jesus knows, working with locally grown cottons designated at green, brown and white. The cotton thread is dyed with natural dyes and the finished products made individually on backstrap looms, taking anywhere from 3 to 12 months of work. These products are traditional from ceremonial huipils, robes, blouses, but can also include items like napkins and other household items.
They do not have a fixed market stall. They sell where they can, trying to get buyers who give a fair price, whether that is in the Ometepec area or other regions in Mexico. In general, however, they do better selling directly to the consumer than to intermediaries.
Benito’s education allows him to be more open to the use of the Internet than many isolated artisans. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Whatsapp 741-104-48-28
Featured image – Matriarch Porfiria Gómez of Artesanias Códice Amuzgo by Rafael Rodriguez.