Monday, November 4, 2013

Chinese Pirates Endangering Folk Art

Over 11,000 artisans in the Mexican state of Michoacán have abandoned  their work due to a decline in sales, and it's not just because of the lack of tourism. It's because of Chinese crafts pirates. Yes, that's right, Chinese entrepreneurs have decided there's money to be made in creating knock-offs of traditional folk art from around the world.  Artisans of Mexico's guitar making village Paracho, can't compete with cheap Chinese products being sold in Mexico and sales of Mexican made guitars have dropped an estimated 60%.  The workshop price of fine handmade traditional Paracho guitars averages 1,500 pesos or $120 US. Chinese made guitars in Mexico on the other hand, will cost the equivalent of 15 dollars.  The sales of Chinese factory produced imitations have resulted in 200 guitar workshops closing their doors in the past three years, causing an economic crisis with many artisans and their families leaving for the U.S. to find work. 
Copper artisan, Roberto Castro Hernandez.

In addition to musical instruments, traditional Mexican folk art is now been copied by Chinese pirates and imported into Mexico, endangering the economic and cultural survival of 173 indigenous communities. It is estimated that 90% of those in Michoacán's indigenous communities who now receive government food assistance are families of artisans.

Mexico By Hand has observed over the years that the decline in tourism due to headlines about drug wars has impacted the economic situation of the artisans of Michoacán, and it has deepened our commitment to continue with our work. Ten years ago we saw with our own eyes foreigners armed with cameras and measuring tape, attempting to copy the beautiful hammered copper pieces of Santa Clara del Cobre.  We were alarmed then and knew that it was just a matter of time before we would see factory made imitations showing up in Walmarts around the world.  The Mexican government  has been lax and must protect its workers and communities, and stop the Chinese imports at the port of entry. And Mexican consumers need to ask questions and then refuse to buy products made in China.  The plastic Virgen of Guadalupe and Catrina figures one sees at flea markets here in the U.S. represent a cultural rip-off that Latinos  should be ashamed to buy. 

Mexican-American vendor in Northern California
Apolonia Martinez of Ocumicho

Alvaro de la Cruz of Capula

With all the emphasis these days about buying sustainable and local products, we need to add BUY AUTHENTIC to the list. Thousands of people's lives depend on us saying NO. And when you shop for gifts this holiday season, I ask that you look for items made by hand.  Not only will you be able to enjoy a piece of unique traditional art, but will be doing your part to help ensure the economic and cultural survival of indigenous Mexican communities. 

It will make a difference. Really.

To purchase handmade, authentic crafts and folk art by artisans of Michoacán, please visit our website at or call (510) 526-6395.