Words and photographs by Ehren Seeland
Rolling mountain terrain presides over tan fields of parched grass as we wind our way east from Oaxaca de Juárez, past Santa María del Tule, Tlacolula de Matamoros, and eventually pulling to a stop in San Miguel del Valle. This community sits under the watchful eye of La Mujer Dormida – a mountain range that boasts the appearance of a silhouette of a woman sleeping on her back.
San Miguel del Valle is one of the newest additions to the current roster of Oaxacan communities that Fundación En Vía partners with in order to provide interest-free microloans via a structured responsible tourism program. The initial introduction to this community first sprouted when a local woman bought bread from a Fundación En Vía borrower in Villa Díaz Ordaz. The rest, as they say, is history. Connections with loan and educational program participants in San Miguel del Valle continue to grow and evolve since the inaugural visits to this region in March 2014.
The community supports industries based in construction and hired agricultural labor, weaving, seamstresses, along with a growing ecotourism industry that is run by the local population of roughly 1,500 people. The two main languages that are spoken are Spanish and Zapotec, though a different dialect than that of Teotitlán del Valle. Much like other local pueblos, this community is semi-autonomous from the Mexican federal government. Given this, they operate under the political system of usos y costumbres where community members serve in a variety of roles, from street cleaners to the local board of politicians.
One of the most unique visual cues of San Miguel del Valle are the traditional outfits that are worn by the local woman, including richly-hued dresses with puffy sleeves, pleated skirts and lace-trimmed collars. A particular style of plaid apron is worn over these dresses, which local women adopting the dress early in life (around the age of one). These aprons are adorned with elaborate embroidered flowers and birds and most women in the community generally own between 20 – 30 aprons.
Fuschia and emerald skirts swish past us as the day unfolds, with greetings called out from various pockets of the streets. After visiting the homes of six local borrowers, our group emerges from a sunny courtyard. Our eyes turn toward the sky as a layer of clouds settle over the valley, rendering lavender-hued blooms into living watercolor paintings.
With this, our responsible tourism group climbs back into our van. As the van engine shakes off an afternoon siesta, we start to head west for a scenic 50-minute drive back to the city of Oaxaca – La Mujer Dormida still sleeping soundly as she disappears into the distance.