Zapotec Women Cooperative; Brushing Wool





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Published on Apr 3, 2009

According to Pastora Guitierrez, one of the founding members of the Cooperative, the group was formed in 1997 by a small group of local women. They were the first group of women in their village to organize themselves in any way and in the beginning, they were not welcomed. Their community and their families didnt want the women to organize such independence was seen as a privilege belonging to men, not something in which proper Mexican women should be engaging. The women found ways around such restrictive rules, such as waking earlier to take care of their domestic duties before slipping off to the Cooperative, and finding support among their fellow women when they ran into resistance at home.

But the original goal of these women was not to smash societal norms or crush gender stereotypes. The main purpose of their organization was more selfless than that. Teotitlan del Valle is a poor area marked by uneven roads and hungry looking dogs, and the women of the community wanted to do something to bring more money into their village. The best way to do this, they decided, was to learn a marketable skill, preferably a traditional art, something that their own ancestors had once done, something unique to their culture. The women of Teotitlan del Valle decided that they would learn to weave and sell their own rugs.

This plan proved to be a bit more complicated then they first thought. The women soon discovered that they would need to travel to the city of Oaxaca for talks, workshops and to file the paperwork necessary to register their cooperative with the state. Going to Oaxaca was a frightening challenge most of the women had never left the safety of their village before, many of them could not read or write, and again, their families tried to discourage them from making the journey. Despite their fears, the women would not be deterred.

Pastora describes this first trip to the city of Oaxaca as a dangerous and new experience there was noise, people, cars, shyness and uncertainty to contend with. The women found that it was hard to get the attention of the government officials they needed to talk to because they couldnt read or write, they had to see all the proper officials in person, and this required long waits. But it was worth it, because after the voyage and some more organizing, the women managed to create a Board of Representatives for their now official and legal Cooperative. Today, the Board consists of 3 women (a director, a treasurer, and a secretary) and there are currently 14 additional women who are members of the Cooperative.

Nine years ago the Cooperative decided to branch out and do more community related projects. Today, the Cooperative meets on the 1st Saturday of every month to work. Each year, there is a popular clothes making workshop that is well attended. All the women who are members of the Cooperative donate some amount of money at each Saturday meeting and at the end of the year, this money is counted up and they use it to plan a big project or workshop in the coming year. Community projects have made the municipal government more welcoming and even supportive of the Cooperative. In 2008, the community project was providing food to elderly women who didnt have families. Another year, they created garbage cans with messages about the environment and placed them all around the village. Although it was hard to persevere in light of these challenges and criticisms, the Cooperative bucked up, found allies, got advice and strength, and succeeded.

These accomplishments are all in addition to the original goal of the Cooperative, which was also achieved the weaving and selling of rugs. The women have learned how to make rugs from beginning to end, starting with brushing and spinning wool into yarn, creating dyes from local, natural ingredients, designing the look of the rugs, and finally weaving their creations on large looms. Their rugs have been widely praised and exhibited around Mexico as well as throughout the rest of the world. Teotitlan del Valle, once a small mountain town in the middle of Mexico, is now a destination for people who visit Oaxaca. Everyone wants to hear the story of the Cooperative and learn about the struggles of the women who made it so far. No one who visits leaves uninspired.

In this video, members of the Cooperative demonstrate the process of brushing out wool before it is spun into yarn.

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