Weaving the Way to Equality

Pastora Asuncion Gutierrez Reyes showed off traditional rugs woven by women of her indigenous Southern Mexico community Monday night at the Many Nations Longhouse.
The story she brought, however, was of the inspiration behind the weavings.
In 1994, a group of women got together to organize change in the community, Gutierrez said through translator Lynn Stephen, a University professor of anthropology. Imagine what happened when people saw women trying to make a difference. We started to have disrespectful comments directed toward us.

Gutierrez, director of the women’s weaving cooperative in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, spoke to the group about the important role women have had in the community since the cooperative was founded in 1996.
The cooperative, Vida Nueva (New Life), slowly earned respect in the community by performing local governing duties, furthering education for young women and bringing things such as dental services, microphones and a computer to town, Gutierrez said.
Twenty years ago, there were no women at the town meetings, she said. Today, at the town meetings, I sit among the men, who now look at me as an individual who has the right to speak up.
A huge success for the cooperative, Gutierrez said, was when her younger sister, a middle school student at the time, was invited to participate in a United Nations forum in New York about problems and challenges of indigenous communities around the world.
The rapid advancement of women in the community is the topic of Stephen’s book, Zapotec Women. Stephen met Gutierrez, who is on the cover of the book, when she was living in Teotitlan as a graduate student in 1985. Gutierrez was only 8 or 9 years old at the time.
The reason Gutierrez is in the United States, however, is to exhibit the traditionally woven rugs of the cooperative. The work is currently on display at the Mission Mill Museum in Salem, thanks to the relationship Gutierrez has with Corvallis resident Juanita Rodriguez, who met the women of the cooperative in 2001.
The women of Vida Nueva use only natural dyes for their wool rugs, which they prepare from various plants, fruits and nuts, as well as the insect cochineal, which the women cultivate themselves in their garden. The designs and colors of the rugs are a mix of traditional Zapotec patterns and symbols, and the women’s advancing artistic styles, Gutierrez said.
I think that women are more creative than men because they express things like their families and faiths in their work, she said.
Rodriguez helps the women of the Vida Nueva sell their work directly to customers, without having to go through a middleman. Six weeks after her visit to Oaxaca, Rodriguez received a letter from Gutierrez that listed the goals of the cooperative and concerns that there would not be enough tourism in her area because of September 11.
I told her, if the tourists don’t come to you, why don’t you come to the tourists, Rodriguez said. The women are now held up, as they should be, and honoured with great admiration.
The main organiser of the event was Committee in Solidarity with the Central American People.
For information about the rugs, contact Rodriguez at juanitar@proaxis.com.

Weaving the way to equalityOregon Daily Emerald

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