If you’ll permit me to talk about deeper things today, I want to share some of my thoughts about the why and the what, the spiritual and ethical dimension of this place. I’ll have to confess this isn’t simply a blog about faraway travels, heritage collections, foods, flowers and beautiful pieces…in fact, seeing excessive things of inspiration leaves me jaded, empty, bored and feeling like these things are fleeting articles of delight. So its ecological, so its natural, so it’s playful, so it’s pretty. Check off all the buzzwords, yet it feels just too fleeting, too indulgent, too artificial, too flattering, too fleeting. Something deeper is missing.

And while it requires necessary discipline and footwork to create an art-directed life, you have to see how this all aligns with the collective community and what it stands for. What is the primary motivator why I am here.

One of the strongest foundations that I have seen is that Taller Leñateros is supporting well over a hundred contemporary Mayans in one of the poorest states of Mexico, under the context of a Mexican state where the indigenous are not recognized as full human beings. Sometimes, they come from very difficult, bullied, or desperate circumstances, our associates come in their early teens to be apprentices and learn artisan techniques. Some are single divorced mothers who have left violently abusive husbands or mother-in-laws, in a culture that shuns this sort of emancipation. Some families are unsupportive, and for women they can especially feel guilt or abandonment. In their production, shame is exonerated. Their everyday work gives a sense of satisfaction and an interconnected sense of community.

I think that element of grief and sorrow that accompanies many Mesoamerican people’s origins also make us all empathize with them as human beings. It is barely perceptible under their tone of voice but if I pay attention there is often an indescribable sense of loss that accompanies the quality workmanship. And to deny the hardship of human existence, the inequality and sacrifice of life, is also to deny myself a more vibrant emotional experience. Everyone who shows up and desires to learn will gain useful transferrable skills, and for their willingness to teach me, I feel so much affection and love for them.

In Taller Leñateros, there is a deeply resonating philosophy that manual labor holds the same weight (if not more) as intellectual labor. That those who harvest the flowers and mash the fibers in the surrounding hills are as valued as those designing on AutoCAD or Photoshop, or the authors of the books. It is collaborative and horizontal.

Now, I am not suggesting that this workshop is the end-all solution or the have-nots and the down-trodden, and I am not saying there aren’t the personalities, problems and opinions that plague any cooperative business. But there certainly is a sense of recognition and acknowledgment that comes with a whole body of interconnected quality from conception to product completion.

Any clear sense of a dominant group is mercilessly scorned, as we are strongly advised to learn Tzotzil and retain a spirit of togetherness and labor. When times are tough, many people keep working. Even if they aren’t paid, people still exude a generosity to teach, to offer, to sacrifice, to give. There is resiliency and optimism, in spite of crisis that happen from time to time.

Mayan women deserve the same dignity as men, and here, they are the published voices of the celebrated anthologies. People who are typically socially oppressed and discriminated against, are very encouraged to develop a personal desire to read, write and express themselves; they receive full and visible credit for the works they’ve authored. They speak up at meetings and are very respected…not only by us…but by foreigners, authors, intellectuals, and compared to the vast numbers who are illiterate, some of the associates do attend university and are aiming for their master’s degree. That makes people feel good


Sampling among hundreds of articles and citations scanned.

What has really mattered more to our people here is not that there’s another printed news feature, another buzz, another interview… but that one of our own like Julio studies economics and is working on his graduate degree and teaching others how to master the printing press and photographic techniques. Several are the first generation going to university. Nothing has penetrated my sense of accomplishment more than this.

I am so humbled.

Underneath the aesthetic and elegance, meeting artisans and the Mayan people, is this tremendous good. How humiliating that sometimes in the so-called “First World” we lose this sight of this noble dignity.

“Invest yourself in everything you do. There’s fun in being serious.”

Tzotzil Words of the Day: lio’te, lio’ne” good morning |”likea’tome” good afternoon | “lunesh’to” see you Monday | “po’sh” a festival that happens June 15

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