Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
LAS CRUCES – The colorful hand-woven textiles made by women hundreds of miles away in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, transformed a nondescript office that houses Weaving for Justice.
The nonprofit organization in Las Cruces sells items made by Mayan women’s weaving cooperatives, and every third Saturday of the month the office is turned into a shop selling a range of handmade items – from traditional huipiles, or blouses, to woven pillow covers, purses and stuffed animals and dolls.
“We try to educate people about these threats to their lives, and about how purchasing these items helps women stay on their lands and not migrate,” said Christine Eber, co-founder of Weaving for Justice.
Eber, an anthropologist and author, got to know Mayan women in Chiapas as a graduate student doing field work in 1987. As she was returning to the U.S., Eber said she asked the woman she was staying with how she could repay her hospitality and was told, “Please help us sell our weavings in the U.S.”
Years later the strong bond between Eber and the woman, Flor de Margarita Perez, and the weaving cooperatives in the highlands have become Weaving for Justice, an all-volunteer organization run by a small group of women in Las Cruces.
All of the proceeds from sales, including items sold through the group’s website weaving-for-justice.org, go directly to the weaving cooperatives in Chiapas. Weaving for Justice relies on memberships and donations to cover the cost of holding sales and events, printing literature, booth fees and a small monthly electric bill. The office space is donated by Las Cruces attorney Beatriz Ferriera.
By promoting fair trade markets for weaving cooperatives that sustain their traditions and native language, the goal is to foster empowerment and economic independence for the women and their families. The organization also helps raise money for scholarships to help children attend school beyond sixth grade.
Weaving for Justice also works to educate the U.S. public about the issues faced by women in Chiapas through a newsletter and their website. Eber taught anthropology at New Mexico State University and has also written three books featuring Mayan women in Chiapas.
Some of the Mayan symbols and designs on the goods date back centuries but the items are also practical for modern-day purposes, including the small woven bag that serves as a cellphone case.
Many of the shoppers at the sale this Saturday were women who not only appreciated the beautifully made unique items but the chance to make a difference.
“We need to do things like this because we are human beings, hopefully moral human beings, so, yes, I support something like this,” Paula Kology said.
She was interested in buying a white blouse with colorful flowers in a cool fabric for the summer. At a past sale, she bought one of the small woven bags with a shoulder strap.
“It’s perfect for when I go line dancing,” 73-year-old Kology said. “I’m able to put my keys, my phone and a couple of bucks in it.”
Rebecca Ramos attended the sale with her daughter and bought several items. “This is a tortilla warmer. I like the artwork on it,” she said. Tucked inside, as an added bonus, was a recipe to make tortillas from scratch.
“I like that it’s fair trade,” said Ramos, 64.
Her daughter Selena Valdez, 34, said it was also an opportunity to connect with their roots. “It interests me because that’s part of my heritage,” she said.
The intricately woven and hand-stitched items including pillow covers caught her eye. “Really, pretty. I like it a lot, very colorful. It speaks to me,” said 34-year-old Valdez as she browsed.
The obvious admiration of the shoppers was bittersweet for Maria Gonzalez. Back in her hometown in Guatemala she said women cannot make a living wage weaving.
“If you work in textiles, you get paid very, very little, a miserable wage,” Gonzalez said.
She’s glad the hard work of women weavers is valued and promoted by Weaving for Justice in the U.S.
“For me this work is very, very special,” said Gonzalez, who is seeking asylum after fleeing with her teenage son when he faced threats and was attacked in Guatemala.
Gonzalez hopes to start weaving again as a volunteer for Weaving for Justice as she waits for her asylum case to be decided in U.S. immigration court.
“I want to help with this effort to get a fair price for these items,” Gonzalez said.