NY ‘Poblanos’ Build Transnational Dreams

Members of the Pueblan community aspire to create a better quality of life for themselves by starting businesses such as palm frond weaving. (Photo provided to El Diario)

Pueblans of indigenous origin living in New York and neighboring states are not waiting for the government or the authorities to solve the problems in their communities here and in Mexico. Family projects, cooperatives and entrepreneurial ventures are part of a network whose main objectives are family reunification and improving the lives of its members.

Some 80 Pueblan-born individuals form the Network of Transnational Peoples/Mexican-American Federation without Borders (Red de Pueblos Transnacionales/Federación México-Americana Sin Fronteras) initiative, who are organized and, in turn, extend the benefits to nearly 1,000 others. According to Marco Castillo, who has facilitated the work carried out by these projects in both countries since 2001, there are between 680,000 and 1 million Pueblans in New York.

“The network has the capacity to help maintain family unity and, in that sense, it is similar to the sanctuary movement. However, we are not a sanctuary, as we do not offer protection to people who are being persecuted,” said Castillo.

The network’s map of New York shows that the Pueblan immigrant community and their organizations are distributed as follows: The community from Teopantlán is in the Bronx and South Bronx; Necoxtla, in Corona, Queens; [the organization] Orgullo Acateco, from [the city of] Acatlán de Osorio, is in Brooklyn and Queens; and Ñani Migrante, from [the town of] San Jerónimo Xayacatlán, a project led by La Colmena, is on Staten Island. Other integrated organizations include Hermanas y Hermanos Abriendo Camino, from the town of San Francisco in the state of Tlaxcala, who are in Brooklyn and Coney Island, and Yuvinani, from Guerrero, in Washington Heights.

Some members of Soame Citlalime [from Tlaxcala], an organization based in New Haven, Connecticut, live in Brooklyn.

The organization Mujeres Tejiendo Corazones-Tzepantikiti (Women Knitting Hearts), from Teopantlán, Puebla, has recovered the palm frond weaving tradition. Eight of them have been able to come to the United States temporarily to reunite with their husbands and children. (Photo provided to El Diario)

For local organizations working with family and sustainability cooperatives in their towns of origin, a great opportunity to promote family reunification and open markets for artisanal products comes at the NewYorkTlán Festival, whose fifth edition will be held this year on Staten Island.

“The groups have a strong community life based on the religious calendar and on family and social activities. The NewYorkTlán Festival asserts our indigenous roots and offers many opportunities for family reunification,” said Castillo.

One of the network’s newest members is Yogui Ariza, born in Santa Ana Necoxtla, in the town of Epatlán, which has a population of around 1,000. In New York, she coordinates the Hermanas Soñadoras de Necoxtla (Dreamer Sisters of Necoxtla) initiative, whose mission is to keep her family’s ancestral knowledge of the craft of pottery alive.

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“The entire family makes this kind of work, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews, and that is how it has been passed on for generations,” said Ariza. “The founder was my father, Salomón Ariza, who spent years looking for the perfect type of clay. Today, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren do it. Ausencia Ariza represents the group in Mexico and, here in New York, it is only made by women, which is why the group is named Dreamer Sisters of Necoxtla.”

The group has been active for less than a year and its artisanal production and livestock breeding business is in its early stages, but Yogui is expecting to be able to open a formal workshop soon to empower the community. “I would like it all to stay in the family and to keep alive the work of our grandparents so they can teach their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren their art and our history,” she said.

The artists of the Dreamer Sisters of Necoxtla cooperative create clay handicrafts using ancestral techniques. (Photo courtesy of Yogui Ariza via El Diario)

Esteban Estévez, who lives in the Bronx, is the coordinator for an organization called Enlace Teopantlán, in reference to the town where he was born. He says that when compatriots come together to celebrate their patron saint’s holiday on July 25, they pack a 600-seat hall with people from the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. Estévez added that some 30 people are directly involved in organizing the community events.

For the last nine years, the group has worked to promote family reunification by recovering the art of palm frond weaving. This craft is entirely performed by senior women, who are organized as the Mujeres Tejiendo Corazones-Tzepantikiti group, or Women Knitting Hearts. In the Náhuatl language, “tzepantikiti” means “working together.”

“There are currently 12 ladies weaving palm fronds, and eight of them have received a visa to travel to the United States to meet with their relatives,” said Esteban.

Meanwhile, the U.S. branch of the network seeks to find a market for the products made by the palm-weaving ladies and for the chocolate mole made by a young women’s cooperative called Zeltzin.

Myrna Lazcano, for her part, joined the network after she was deported back to Mexico. Originally from San Hipólito Xochiltenango, in Tepeaca, Puebla, she had been forced to seek better opportunities for her family upon her father’s death, and moved to New York, where she got married and had two daughters.

In 2013, she brought them back to Mexico because she wanted them to grow up with her mother’s family. However, they suffered threats, and Lazcano sent them back to the United States but was unable to get a visa for herself. While trying to cross the border, she was arrested, sent to a detention center and then back to Mexico.

Three years later, she was able to return to the U.S. as part of the Caravan for Peace, Life and Justice and turned herself in. The authorities allowed her to enter the country and continue her political asylum process from New York.

In addition to fighting for her case, Lazcano wants to collaborate in the effort to improve the quality of life of these communities in Puebla to prevent their members from having to migrate and see their families disintegrate.

Rosa Vargas and Marino Ariza are the master potters teaching at the family cooperative in Necoxtla, in the town of Epatlán, Puebla. (Photo courtesy of Yogui Ariza via El Diario)

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