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 5,638 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 autonomous from the Mexican government, paying no state or federal taxes. This is possible due to all 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 over 68% of the population producing textiles and crafts. While residents once had to travel in order to sell their work, the influx of tourism to Oaxaca has introduced the possibility of products being sold from various homes and storefronts by the estimated 150 local families that create stunning one-of-a kind tapetes (rugs) and other pieces with intricate looms.
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.
Words and photos ©Ehren Seeland