Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mexican Women Make Art and History

As we celebrate Women's History Month 2011, change is happening all over the world. From Egyptian women demonstrating their desire for democracy, to girls attending school for the first time in Afghanistan, to young women now outnumbering men in American universities.
Recently I have personally encountered a profound change also going on in indigenous communities in our neighbor to the south-- Mexico. I hope to share with you the stories and struggles of these indigenous women, as they continue to create beautiful traditional art, working towards a better future for their children.
Here are a few snippets from interviews with three women in Michoacán for my video, "En las manos de las mujeres":
"I had the desire to continue my education after
secondary school (8th grade) but my parents wouldn't let me. They said, 'Your brothers will study, but you're a don't need to study because you won't do anything with it.' My three brothers didn't care about getting an education so they didn't study further... and I, the one who wanted to study...they didn't allow me to."-- Herlinda Morales.
Herlinda grew up in Santa Fe de la Laguna, a Purépecha Indian village on the edge of Lake Patzcuaro-- a place where girls and women usually need to ask the man of the house for permission to go out for any reason-- including to attend classes. Herlinda ignored the gossips and critics to participate in workshops for women artisans, where she learned how to get a better price for her pottery, and about the dangers of using leaded glazes on her clay candelabras. These were lessons that changed her life and caused her eleven years ago to convert her clay workshop to being lead-free, so that her family home and her community's environment would no longer be contaminated from the clay process. Herlinda says it is difficult to make change, but she is working so that her daughter will have a better life than the women who came before her. Here's an excerpt of an interview we did with Herlinda Morales.

Zenaida Rafael Julian (left) quit school in the 3rd grade when her father took off; her mother had to go to work and Zenaida was needed at home to cook and care for her siblings. At age 13, Zenaida's mother began to teach her daughter to make the painted clay figures the village of Ocumicho is known for. When her mother died, Zenaida at age 23 became the sole support of her four younger siblings. She now has 3 children of her own, and refuses to marry. "I prefer to stay single, that way no one can tell me I can't go to a festival or exhibit my art. Here, husbands scold their wives and don't let them leave... because they're jealous I think." This independent lifestyle has caused a lot of gossip in the village, but there is also a great deal of admiration and envy of Zenaida, as she has won dozens of local, state, and national prizes for her work, and today at age 39, is considered to be the finest artist in Ocumicho.

Teofila Servin Barriga (above) left her home on the Santa Cruz rancho near Tzintzuntzan and worked as a servant so that she could attend school in Patzcuaro. She said when she was a child looking up at the airplanes flying overhead, she never dreamed that one day she would be flying in one of those planes to the United States-- on her way to exhibit her embroideries at the prestigious Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. "One of the many things I've learned as an artisan is to value myself... I was afraid sometimes to leave my home-- it was a challenge. But this is the best school one could have in's how we learn. Whatever the obstacle, if we make an effort, we women can make our dreams come true."

Folk art and crafts by these and other artisans of Michoacán is available for sale at: