Weavers share cooperative story

Allie Kolechta

Women in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas have begun to make a living for themselves by weaving clothes and creating a way to break through social barriers, said a weaver from a women’s cooperative Thursday.

The Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies hosted weavers Micaela Hernández Meza and Celerina Ruiz Núñez to discuss their cooperative, Jolom Maya’etik. With more than 300 Mayan weavers creating clothes, cloths and other goods, Maya’etik is based in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas. The site was also one of four cities targeted by the Zapatista National Liberation Army during its 1994 uprising.

The cooperative provides a place for the women to break gender barriers and support themselves, and they work with other women to teach them how to weave, Núñez said.

“It’s especially important with the women that aren’t in the co-op,” she said. “The women in the co-op have already created a lot of change, and the men don’t involve themselves as much in the business of the women. It’s important to work with them to help break some barriers and provide them with new opportunities.”

Meza and Núñez speak traditional Mayan languages but learned Spanish and some English from classes at the cooperative.

Learning English is important because it provides opportunities for the women to expand their horizons and work with people outside of their local area, Meza said.

Charles Hale, director of the Lozano Long Institute, has made an effort to bring in more indigenous speakers, said Gail Sanders, an administrative assistant at the institute. The program was more likely in the past to bring in people from Mexican universities to speak than those who fell under a different socioeconomic status, she said.

“We want people to see the range of diversity that Mexico holds and expand their concept of Mexico, because it’s this big amazing country,” she said.

The women help illustrate the benefits of shared knowledge and a cooperative lifestyle, said international relations and global studies junior Billy Yates, a member of United Students Against Sweatshops who works with Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera.

“I live in a cooperative house, and I was interested to see how their labor conditions compare to typical factories,” he said in an e-mail. “The women share knowledge in everything from medicinal plants to finance skills to help better their lives and help them succeed.”