Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
During my six months in Chiapas, I worked for the weaving cooperative Mujeres Sembrando la Vida (MSV), a partner organization to Natik. Natik works with grassroots organizations in Mexico and Guatemala with a focus on economic development and education. MSV is a cooperative of sixty women weaving from the municipality of Zinacantán1 founded by Doña Magdalena and currently run by her two daughters Yoli and Xunka. Zinacantán is a Tzotzil Mayan village in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. Chiapas has the highest population of indigenous people and is also the poorest state in Mexico with a poverty rate of 75.7 percent.2 There are seven different Mayan languages spoken throughout the state, though in the highlands, the most common spoken language is Tzotzil. Because of the high poverty rates, Chiapas is facing a migration crisis of mainly single men moving to larger cities or the United States.3 The increase of men’s migration has lead more women to take on other economic activities, such as craft cooperatives. These economic projects are often supported by government programs4 or organizations in the resistance movement, which includes the famous Zapatistas.5 In both cases women become the shock absorbers to new economic realities. Today, this artisan craft industry has become a central part of the economy for indigenous municipalities. Textiles are made for consumption within the community as well as for a tourist market. The duel markets for textiles created a need for greater classification, splitting this artistic practice into different classes of production.
In order to think about textiles as art, I conducted six months of fieldwork within Chiapas. During my time there, I did six interviews with weavers across five different municipalities. I also had the opportunity to interview a Mexican design student, who has shifted her work to be in collaboration with textiles artists from Chiapas and Oaxaca. My participant observation is based on my work with the weaving MSV cooperative. I spent time in weavers’ homes working on photo and video projects as well as listening to various meetings. Because I was living in San Cristobal de las Casas, I also learned about the city from a tourist’s perspective. I spent time in the artisan market and volunteered at Centro Textiles del Mundo Maya (CTMM). My participant observation included learning how to weave on the backstrap loom in the styles of San Juan Cancuc and Zinacantán. Unraveling the idea of authenticity is an act of breaking from perceptions of indigenous peoples as living relics of the past, and weaving again this story to explain indigenous lives as part of the contemporary world.