Day 6 was another great day for the group. We spent the day in the community of Cajola. The day began with a lecture from Eli, a community organizer and college student who discussed the struggles the community had in sustaining its indigenous roots and way of life. I was greatly impressed by the passion and knowledge he shared with group and the multiple ways he planned to give back to the community; he said it is difficult to have community members return after leaving. Eli stated he is working on a children’s book to teach indigenous traditions to community youth, provides social commentary on community issues via radio talk shows among other things.
We then went to the Women’s Weaving Cooperative and learned how the Maya Mam women have coordinated. One was a chicken farm that they stated after much trial and error has become a self sustaining business venture. Another was the weaving cooperative. As part of the trip, we were shown demonstrations of the weaving the women tediously work on to create beautiful final products that include handbags, scarves, headbands and other items.
Although, I was impressed to see the women were participating in the production and decision making process in both ventures, I left with mixed feelings about my experience in Cajola. First, I was grateful in that Cajola residents were able to make personal and economic strides that have not been afforded to other communities we have learned, although as several community members mentioned they still have significant economics and social concerns.
As several women, mentioned they are primarily trying to cover costs of the material they use. However, during the evening reflection time, one of the group leaders stated that the women are becoming more educated on factoring in the time of production and other intangible factors in addition to the material cost of production. This particularly resonated with me when one woman mentioned the price of their products are greatly inflated once they leave the community and especially when they reach the United States; money that is not reaching the Cajola community. Although it seems as efforts are being made to run an equitable cooperative there still seems to be a huge disconnect between the efforts and benefits seen by the community.
The picture below is of a flute I purchased from a street vendor. During one of the demonstrations, one woman stated some of the items take up to a month to produce. While watching her work to make a few lines of a pattern on her item, I kept thinking of how many hours and physical labor a flute I purchased for 40 quetzales (roughly $6 USD) took to make. I couldn’t help but implicate myself in the process of reinforcing these social structures with the multiple purchases I have made throughout the trip. The price I have paid for the items compared to the time, energy and resources used to produce such beautiful artifacts, which in all honestly will likely adorn my office of apartment and collect dust, reinforces the economic disparities that have created the conditions we are learning about during our trip.