Social Progress South of The Border

Traveling through Mexico with Zenwaro. Guadalajara, Jalisco
Roof-top terrace sunset in the city center of Guadalajara late spring of 2021. 


On several recent long trips through Mexico, I have begun to take heed of a few cultural and societal shifts that have occurred and continue to occur, mostly in the metropolitan areas of both states Jalisco and Guanajuato. A valid point regarding these observances is that if you have never spent significant amount of time in another country it may be difficult to appreciate both heritage and history of the foreign land. But given the opportunity to trudge a tad deeper into the cultural immersion one begins to witness and understand the nuances that occur within daily interactions. Some distinctions are so different from what we are comfortable and accustomed to in our homeland while others are a sort of subtle variation of our decorums. To be out of one's element can bring about emotions like fear, anxiety, and even anger, though for a foreigner tasked with immersing one's self into another culture it is far better to lean into our humility, curiosity, and affinity for what make's us more alike than less. 

Returning to my initial observations, a few were more superficial, literally on the skin's surface. Tattoos were more abundant and visible on this recent extended stay in early 2022 than on any other previous tours through the metro landscapes of Mexico. In the years leading up to the pandemic, it was infrequent to see people boosting this peripheral and relatively permanent body modification art form. Since the pandemic landed in Mexico City in late February 2020, mask mandates weren't imposed by the federal government, businesses, and local health municipalities. Yet the populace did not seem hesitant to embrace the suggestion of donning these protective barriers over part of their faces. While venturing through crowded public areas on regular occasions, it was evident that most people wore masks. Some businesses had signs of requirement to wear a mask before entering; indeed, others did not. The overall take away, masks appeared to be accepted by most everyone for their intended purpose and less of an appropriated tool for political statements or signals of social discourse.

Pride in The Streets.

Tlaquepaque is a municipality located in Guadalajara, situated a few kilometers from Guadalajara's city center. The city was designated "Pueblo Mágico" in 2018, and is a retail destination for the crafts of pottery, textiles, glass blowing, and handmade furniture. On our most recent journey through the bustling city of restaurants, cafes, and shops, there was a noticeable increase of Gay LGBTQ+ persons and culture actively prevalent through the streets of Tlaquepaque. More than just gay pride flags, rainbow pennants, and other banners of support, there were same-sex couples holding hands, embracing, kissing, and demonstrating other sentiments of affection. Nothing lewd or imprudent, simply couples appreciating love for each other on display and unafraid of judgment or reaction. In my experience, a foundation of Mexican culture is love for and pride of one's family and significant other it is often of the highest importance within most families. Therefore PDA "public displays of affection" are more common than I see in the US on an average basis. After dinner at the end of a long day, while strolling back home through the dimly lit cobblestone colonial avenues, it is more common than not to see besitos or "little kisses" exchanged between lovers and friends. Couples often hold hands, and family members physically yet compassionately embrace each other. The difference was clear; this area welcomed the inclusion of a group of people that was previously hidden on the fringes. 

Made in Mexico, in the artisan studio. Rodo Padilla art studio

01 The happy jefa (far left) Gabi, who runs the show with a gentle but strong arm. Her son (middle) and right-hand office manager, who ensures that the bills get sent and the money comes in! | 02 Our team (Clay and Marianne) pause for a photo break in front of one of our favorite artisans gallery in Tlaquepaque.

Las Jefas. Strong and Competent Women in Charge at Home and the Workplace.

Many of the artisan studios that Zenwaro has partnered with over the past 20 years have been led by women. More often than not, these women are mothers, which means they are also leaders by way of a set of lived experiences. Their roles in the workplace are much like the lead role they instill within their homes. Working with these strong women has been and continues to be a privilege. It also provides an unobstructed view of how they transport generational family artisanal skills into productive family businesses. Many have learned the family trade and craft from their elders, either immediately from their Apás(parents) or their abuelos(grandparents); while on occasion they also maintain the employment of said parents and grandparents. Asserting their leadership skills while being quite direct, there are no words minced, nor little misunderstanding had while working with these proud women. Women in leadership roles within the workplace in Mexico have been a consistent occurrence in our experience. Still, it appears to be more prevalent and sustained in recent years.

Pottery from Mexico and Street art of Mexico

01 Clayton and Maria immersed in a sea of terracotta pots, determining which ones need to travel to the U.S
Photo | 02 A massive mural painted by a local artist on the edge of the town of IXTLAHUACAN where our Devotion studio is located.

There are narratives in the US from which people interpret and formulate their opinions of Mexico. Often these are based upon the horrific headlines and news media stories that detail cartel violence, government corruption, and border migration as the normality. A few shallow narratives leading many to perceive Mexico is only an accumulation of "dangerous for the most common, yet beautiful only for the exclusive". The more significant percentage of vacationers who visit Mexico only know its resorts, beautiful beaches, and a small part of its rich archeological heritage. The diverse culture of Mexico lies within, and only few are interested in becoming more familiar with Mexico, its people, and their culture. From the furthest south east reaches of Quintana Roo in the Yucatan to the gulf port of Matamoros, and the northern border regions of Mexicali and Tijuana; Mexico is a country with a land mass of 758,400 mi² and a population of nearly 130 million people. It includes as much diversity, ingenuity, and complexity as we share throughout the United States. Of course, this is an understanding one cannot acquire on a quick getaway to a beautiful resort. Let your curiosity take you off the beaten path. You will be forever enhanced and may "fall in love" with the passion and beauty of Mexico its people and artistry.

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1 comment

Loved reading your narrative Clayton, it sums up my store! The Mexican culture is rich with love and portrayed through the artisan work generations deep.
My store in Salinas tells stories while you “walk/shop” your way around. I too am learning everyday about the lifestyle of Mexican traditions. Would love to see more of what you have and potentially partner with you as a retailer.
Kind Regards,
Wendi Yeater
Casona On Main

Wendi Yeater,

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