It is a scene full of seeming contradictions: Women of indigenous descent are seated on the ground weaving baskets of bamboo while sipping Coca Cola from plastic bottles. Countless children play amidst cacti and goats to the sound of North American rock on the radio. Here in Cieneguilla, a rural community in the municipality of Tierra Blanca in the state of Guanajuato, the traditional and the modern collide on a daily basis. This collision threatens not only the cohesion of the community but also the survival of the spiritual and collective traditions that distinguish this place from any other.
It is here in Cieneguilla that women workers are organizing to revive commerce, and resist the economic and cultural imposition brought by globalization. With a large percentage of adult men from Cieneguilla working in the United States , the women creatively develop means to supplement family income. For generations, women have harvested, carved, and woven bamboo into baskets that are both beautiful and functional.
Doña Virginia, artisan and organizer of a basket-weaving cooperative, recalls that a mere three decades earlier it was much easier to sell the handmade baskets. These bamboo containers were commonly used in every household to carry and store vegetables, tortillas, and other domestic goods. With earnings from the baskets, women were able to significantly boost family income. Now, Doña Virginia and other weavers face difficulties in selling their crafts. As the liberalization of trade introduced the import of inexpensive plastic buckets, the local trade in baskets began to decline. Foreign-made plastic containers of every size and color are steadily replacing bamboo baskets.
Without a local market, the artisans of Cieneguilla have begun to actively seek alternate selling opportunities. Members of the cooperative, led by Doña Virginia , are working jointly with Mujeres Productoras, an organization that brings crafts made by women of various rural communities to a store here in San Miguel. Located on Calzada de la Luz #42, the Mujeres Productoras shop boasts handmade dolls, clothing, soaps, and baskets. Proceeds from the store go directly to the artisans and also towards training workshops focused on skill building.
Yolanda Millán, a primary organizer of Mujeres Productoras, coordinates artisan projects for several rural communities. With Millán’s support, the women of Cieneguilla were able to construct a second workspace and receive needed capitals and supplies.
To promote sales, the women of the cooperative are also learning to naturally dye and add new designs that transform the baskets into decorative adornments. Their goal is to expand their market to foreign tourists. Through these organizational efforts, weavers hope to soon sustain their families without seeking work from outside the home.
Doña Seinada, another member of the cooperative, explains that basket weaving is work easily done between preparing family meals or watching over goats and sheep. Bamboo artisanship is an alternative to other forms of labor that are more physically demanding and/or require that women abandon familial responsibilities. These women need to be in their own homes for childcare, subsistence cultivation, and food preparation. They cook the tortillas and set the table so that their families may maintain the communion of eating together.
The narrative of women workers in Cieneguilla is one of resistance towards globalized economies. With the increased movement of goods and labor across national borders, local subsistence economies of rural communities are constantly threatened. With few local salaried labor opportunities, young men (and women) often emigrate to the US . By working to preserve traditional crafts, the women of artisanship cooperatives can reinvest local sources of income directly into the community itself. Maintaining the women’s local presence means they can continue as organizers of traditional religious festivals, continuing the cultural richness of their communities.
Although modern media and popular culture are relentless influences, they are balanced by the focused preservation of local spiritual traditions. The subsistence of Cieneguilla’s indigenous traditions and artisanship is, in and of itself, a resistance to globalization.