Today was our first rainy day, but we still managed to get to the coffee cooperative in Comitán called Tziscao. It was interesting to visit this cooperative in particular because it is a part of an ejido. Earlier in the week we went Maya Vinic, and Tziscao sells through Maya Vinic due to the licensing that Maya Vinic has allowing them to export. Unfortunately we could not make it to the Lagos de Montebello where other aspects of the cooperative are located. We learned about the cooperatives history, which included programs that taught the production process but fell through to governmental issues in the 1990’s. Rosalín explained to us that his father was one of the founding members of the cooperative and taught him the importance of collective success based on his father’s experiences with liberation theology. Rosalín personalized our experience by allowing us to try some of his coffee. William “Guillermo” Owens said, “not only was I able to try the coffee, but I also tried a toasted coffee bean straight from the production line, it was good.” We then headed back to the vans where we were off to our next destination: Amantenango del Valle!
Jess Forkosh and Kaitlyn Hudgins
Amantenango del Valle Ceremony
In the car ride out from Comitán today, we stopped in Amantenango, the place where Dr. June Nash did her research. Dr. Nash described her experiences with Amantenango in the 1960s, when the highways barely enabled passage to the cities and the roads were where the devil Popul traveled. She described the ceramic craft production in Amantenango as a part of the creativity of the Mayan cosmos itself – the gods were artisans, and therefore a sense of pride in creativity is essential to the community of Amantenango. Ultimately, breaking away from a domestically controlled market allowed entry into other products, and led to the figurine production Amantenango is famous for. The marketing techniques have changed, the highway is no longer the means of travel solely for Popul, and products are sold on the highway. Clay is mined locally, the ceramics are made in the community, and paints are prepared from natural dyes that change color in the firing. As we drove up, large blue roosters with pink, yellow, and green spotted crowns sat in pairs admiring each other’s beauty, jaguars lazed in the sun with graphic geometric spots, and pairs of turquoise, pink, and yellow birds greeted each other. We pulled into the plaza under a gray cloud, and piled out of the vans into the zocalo. Several men and women of the community sat in the church yard across the zocalo. We crossed the courtyard into the church, past St. Sebastian and several lit candles on the floor and glasses of poche (grain alcohol). The men were all sitting on the right side of the courtyard, wearing their traditional ponchos and several with red scarves on their heads indicating their high religious cargoes. The men shook maracas and an elder man played the guitar in a rhythmic repetitive song, as the women sat on the left and listened. We sat in the church listening to the traditional Mayan music while Dr. Simonelli explained they were waiting for the arrival of the black Jesus. It is a particularly special representation of Jesus as one of the people, whose image exists in four churches, the northernmost in Chimayo, New Mexico. As we filed out of the church, everyone began to get up in the courtyard to dance. We crossed the zocalo to the road, to see the entrepreneurs along the roadside and the bright pottery that had caught our eye as we drove in. Dr. Gatewood found an extraordinary reinterpretation of a traditional Amantenango jug with leopards, and several students bought mugs to bring home. Written on many of the bowls was “Recuerdo de Amantenango de la Valle,” and most certainly we all will, with its bold colors and the rare opportunity to encounter a traditional religious ceremony.
Okay. We admit it. We went to Walmart. But it was for academic reasons!
After the untimely arrival of heavy, persistent rains drenching the city of Comitán, we were forced to construct Plan E of the Chiapas marathon. The radio was somehow mysteriously crediting the wet, grey and chilly day to the mini-Tsunami due to hit the Chiapas Pacific coast, but whatever the reason, it was not a day to drive an hour into the cloud forest to visit the Tziscao Coffee Cooperative at the Lagos de Montebello. Instead, we had a lively discussion with a co-op leader at the co-op’s roasting location on the edge of Comitán, learning about its particular economic and social organization while drinking good coffee to warm up. Then, with a little extra time in our schedule, and in need of fresh bottles of water with which to nurture ailing tummies, we decided to visit the newly opened Walmart-at-the-edge-of-the Jungle.
This particular example of globalization sits in a mall, complete with Cineplex, which is literally at the edge of the jungle. Our interest was in seeing if typical Walmart product lines and prices were replicated in this setting. Would you be able to buy huge bottles of Ibuprofen, Faded Glory clothing and other Walmart regulars? And would they be priced in a way that the average Chiapanecan family could afford to buy them? This Walmart was, if you can imagine it, even bigger than your neighborhood version. In addition to normal stock, it carries fridges and stoves, mattresses and other household furnishings. And, as we learned, prices were not much different from those in the US. With a Mexican minimum wage of $4.50 per day it is hard to imagine that too many folks will shop there.
We asked the members of the Lunatik co-op what they thought of Walmart and they commented that it could put all of the small shops out of business. Like our Zapatista friends in the Jungle, they said that they went there one day to see what it was all about, but had no plans to shop there. In fact, the Walmart complex at the jungle’s edge is a little like an amusement park; a place to take the family to see the attractions if you happen to be passing by.
For us, the visit to the Walmart circus ended with a brief stop to sample the rest of the worst of globalization’s legacy: BK in Comitán.
Dr. Jeanne Simonelli
The Santo Domingo Artisan Market
Right next to the intricately designed Santo Domingo church in San Cristóbal is the Santo Domingo artisan market. Spread out in a park-like area with dozens of individual entrepreneurs, the products throughout this market look exactly the same, making it hard to differentiate one artisan’s goods from another’s. As a result, however, consumers can enjoy extremely low prices. This is the key aspect that separates cooperatives such as Jolom Mayaetik from the individual artisans in the market; the artisans in the market sell the exact same, low quality, indistinguishable goods at low prices while co-op artisans specifically try to differentiate what they sell, either by making it of higher quality or through a unique design, so that they can find their own niche and then sell their goods at higher prices. Unlike other markets I have visited in the past where I am followed and bothered by sellers until I buy or leave the market, Santo Domingo entrepreneurs never approach me, but instead, are usually sitting behind their stand, waiting for customers to come to them. As one of their many customers, I certainly enjoy this calm environment, making me easily want to return, but at the same time, it makes me wonder how sales at the Santo Domingo market compare to those who take on a more aggressive approach as I’ve observed in other markets.