Words and photographs by Ehren Seeland
A rhythmic combination of tubas and drums drift from the roof of Preciosa Sangre de Cristo – practice for the upcoming Semana Santa celebrations. This church sits in the heart of Teotitlán del Valle, a Zapotec community located at the foot of the Sierra Juarez mountains in the central valley of Oaxaca. Tones of red, yellow and blue highlight the whitewashed building face – a tribute to the legend of the feathered serpent that lives beneath the church that only occasionally emerges to snack on unsuspecting victims. For those who face this plight, all is not lost, for escape from ingestion can be won by plucking a feather from the head of the serpent (yellow for riches, blue for poverty and red for death).
Teotitlán del Valle boasts a population of over 5,600 people, with roughly 1/10 of the population being under the age of six. Both Spanish and Zapotec are spoken by the majority of the community, and the municipality is semi-autonomous from the Mexican government. This is possible due to public services being covered by local residents – from firefighting to street maintenance. The community work, known as tequior, is obligatory for residents, who must also perform administrative duties for community councils (cargos). These positions are unpaid and can last anywhere from three months to a few years
Agriculture is a main industry of this pueblo, however it is textile production that is the primary source of income for local residents, with roughly 68% of the population producing textiles and crafts. It is said that behind every door in Teotitlán del Valle there is a loom. While some families build businesses around making cheese or tortillas, weaving is passed down through the generations and is common knowledge among most local family members.
This community is just one of six that Fundación En Vía currently works with in order to provide interest-free microloans to women that support the growth and creation of income-generating businesses that promote the well-being of families and the strengthening of community. The loans are 100% funded by the responsible tourism visits that Fundación En Vía organizes through staff and dedicated volunteers. During these tours, visitors can make real connections with locals, learn about the guiding principles around microfinance and with the submission of their tour fee, become shareholders in all areas of the foundation that promote a healthier and more empowered future for the communities in this region.
As our group visit to Teotitlán del Valle winds to a close, our van moves through narrow streets – a swirl of red, yellow, blue and tuba melodies moving us along the 30-minute drive back to the city of Oaxaca de Juárez.