Orientation to San Cristóbal and Chiapas

After a safe and sound arrival late last night, the students were ready for their first full day here in Chiapas.  This morning we had breakfast at TierrAdentro, a meeting place and restaurant that the group will be frequenting as they have a beautiful space and have graciously given us access to a presentation room.  The first task of the day was the orientation to the city – we walked towards the church of Guadalupe, which sits atop a hill.  Though more physical effort was needed than usual to walk up the steps due to the thin air, the walk was worth it as the church provided a solid background for Dr. Simonelli’s introduction to the history of the mixture of Catholicism and Maya religions in the region.

During the early afternoon hours, students had assignments to visit several of the different markets to comparison shop.  Some wandered to the cooperative stores, in which prices are fixed, while others explored the non-tourist city market and the tourist indigenous arts and crafts market.  Following this assignment, we all gathered in our designated “classroom” at our hotel to meet with a woman named Micaela Ruiz Ruiz, who is the president of a cooperative named Artesanas Unidas de Larrainzar.  During this visit, the group was able to learn the story of how this cooperative was started, how it functions, and how the woven products are made.  See the photo gallery for views of the huipiles, portalapices, bolsas, and numerous other marketable items.

To complete our introduction to Chiapas and the types of businesses that occur here, the students were joined by Dr. June Nash for a presentation before dinner.  Author of Crafts in the World Market and several other books, Dr. Nash first began her fieldwork in Amatenango in the late 1950s.  Much has changed since then.  Topics introduced and discussed included how craftsmanship and creativity is engrained into the Maya culture, what transformations have taken place specifically in the Amatenango pottery production over the past several decades, gender roles and business in Chiapas, the effects of globalization, and even the subtle difference between commodification and commoditization.  With brains full, everyone in the group was excited for a meal and relaxation in the evening.

Below is an account of the day by Sarah Crosier:

“Day one in Chiapas is coming to a close, and it’s been a long, but very rewarding day. Going through the airport last night was a breeze, and they have built a new, very nice road from Tuxtla to San Cristobal and it was very easy. I had two dulce de leche lollipops because they were delicious not because of motion sickness. After a little orientation from Dr. Simonelli, we went to nuestras camas for a much needed night’s sleep after 12 hours of travelling. We began early this morning (after having the mantra “keep your mouth closed…keep your mouth closed” playing in my head through the entirety of my shower) with breakfast at our “hot spot” TierrAdentro, which is a restaurant surrounded by Zapatista co-op tiendas (stores). It was a very authentic Mexican breakfast; I had juevos y tocino (eggs and bacon) with blue corn tortillas and refried beans along with the obligatory cup of delicious coffee. We then headed out to begin the day.

We started by walking the rest of the way up Real de Guadalupe, a main street of Chiapas. We headed up the street towards the church we could see at the top of the hill. After climbing the 80 (although advertised at 100) stairs up to the church, we got a little history from Dr. Simonelli….

When the Spanish came in 1513ish, they asked where they should build their city, and the Maya said, “in the Jovel”. Jovel means swamp of snakes, but nonetheless, that’s where the Spanish built their city, so the Spanish city, ie. San Cristobal, is divided into four sections.  The intersecting roads are the andador (walking street, which is the tourism center) and Real de Guadalupe, and in each of the corners of the city is a church, Templo Guadalupe, Santo Domingo, Templo San Cristobal, and San Francisco Church.  Each district has its own identity, festival, church, and pattern of huipil. The churches are Mayan Catholicism. Apparently for the Mayans, the religious transition was smooth, because indigenous Mayan religions incorporate a cross, which represents the four corners of the earth (additionally, Mayan crosses are also always teal, representing the combination of blue sky and green earth) and they also incorporated incense and valued sacrifice and blood rituals, so Jesus as a sacrifice who shed his blood for us made sense to them.

We then were sent out into the city, in groups, to do “price comparison shopping”. Essentially, we were all sent to the “arts and crafts market” in front of Santo Domingo church as a beginning standard, and then each group had a different market that they visited to make their comparison. One group visited the “city market” which is north of the arts and crafts district in front of Santo Domingo. The city market is where the citizens of San Cristobal go to buy fruits and vegetables. The “Bee” market is in the southern part of the city, and it is mainly sweets, hence the attraction of bees and why Dr. S calls it the “Bee Market”. Down Real de Guadalupe are many different, smaller, individually owned tiendas which have artisan products for sale (which includes TierrAdentro and Nemi Zapata). In the arts and crafts market, most prices dropped by 15 to 20 pesos as you began to walk away. Essentially, “the arts and crafts market was intriguing because we were able to barter with the local vendors to try to get a real sense of the justo precio” – Kaitlyn Hudgins. After collecting some preliminary data and an understanding of the city and our layout and whereabouts, we headed back to the hotel to meet with Michaela Ruiz Ruiz, the president of a women’s co-op.”

– Sarah Crosier

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Final Program Prep

Dr. Simonelli and I have spent the past two days here in San Cristobal doing final preparations for the program.  We are now on Plan C – due to el dia de las mujeres (Women’s Day) many events are occurring in the city and surrounding communities, which means that a few trips have been rescheduled.  Tomorrow we will buy the most important supplies – water and coffee – to place in the hotel as we await the arrival of the students in the evening.  The sun has been shining; warm mornings with blue (yox) sky and thin air!  The zocalo is hopping and all lit up in the evenings.  See you at the airport!

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Saturday, February 26

This past Saturday, the group gathered completely for the first time to engage in a full day of learning, bonding, and trip preparation.  Throughout the day, we discussed readings concerning the ideologies of capitalism, socialism, and fair trade, bonded through the human knot, visited the Maya exhibit in the Anthropology Museum, and spoke with Duncan Earle via Skype to learn about the Maya calendar (the world is not going to self destruct in 2012).  Below are quotes from a few students with their expectations for the class.

“I would say I am most excited to learn more about the Mayan culture and their history. Ancient civilizations have always been something that has interested me and having this direct contact with the area in which they lived and their living decedents will be great. I am also excited to visit Chiapas and learn more about how the economy of this area works. I have never visited a Latin American country and I feel this opportunity to really compare and contrast the differences in the economy with our own will be worthwhile.”

-Aaron Bullock

“I am very anxious to explore ideas of how culture affects business practices.”

-Will Owens
“During the fall of freshman year, I developed an interested in Chiapas through my FYS class. This will be my third class about the region, and I am excited to finally see what I have been learning about in anthropology, business and Spanish courses come to life and experience it firsthand! ”

– Jessica Forkosh

“Spending a week among the people of Chiapas will be an exciting and profound experience.  Interacting with many cultures always broadens my horizons and allows me to view situations from different viewpoints.  It is easy to assume that the American perspective is the only one though often it needs improvement from outside influences.  Visiting the people of Chiapas will help show us the changes that need to be made to the Free Trade system that rules the world so that small producers can actively and fairly interact in the world market.”

– Ella Douglas

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