Part of my “work” as the founder and director of Manos Zapotecas is to make fairly frequent trips to Oaxaca, to provide overall guidance to the production team. It is the part of my job that I most enjoy, in part because I get to hang out in the village of Teotitlan del Valle, with the artisans who have become such great friends, and also because I get to see my host family.
When I started coming to Oaxaca over four years ago, I had the amazing luck to be placed with this remarkable family who lived near the language school where I studied. It consists of three generations of women — Soledad (grandmother), Marisol (mother), and Karla (child). The 3 of them live in a house owned by Soledad’s brother, and for the past 10 years they have taken in language school students and other boarders as space permits, in order to make ends meet.
Making ends meet is a great challenge for them, as it is for all but the very rich in Mexico. While expenses aren’t enormous, there is a lot of food that must be prepared for the boarders and family, and the cost of Karla’s private school. Public school isn’t a great option in Mexico for anyone who can remotely afford private, because the public school teachers are on strike about 1/4 of the school year, and often receive their jobs through a family inheritance instead of merit. And so Marisol has ended works literally all day at Karla’s school just to pay the tuition, and then also at night at the university for a small amount of additional money. Soledad’s job is to cook and clean for the boarders, but what the boarders pay is low and inconsistent. There’s never extra money for vacations, or even to repair the car which barely runs.
Still, this is one of the closest and happiest families I know. They adopt each of their boarders as theirs with constant words of endearment and love “mi reyna” (my queen). They go out of their way to help their boarders and each other with little things like perfectly packed lunches to take to school. In the evening, gathered around the kitchen table where all things family take place, there is generally uproarious laughter, and constant chatter — boarders like me always welcome and included to the best of our Spanish ability. Because of these three wonderful women, I will never feel alone when I’m in Oaxaca. They are definitely my very own family.