In 1985, Juanita, María Petra, Joaquina, Cristina, Teresa, Florencia, Dolores and Rufina took a big risk. They followed the advice of a student from the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM), who told the indigenous women that their embroidery could turn profitable beyond their home community of Cuetzalan.
The enterprising idea led a group of 100 indigenous women to think beyond embroidery and launch a tourist business in the northern region of the state of Puebla, Mexico.
Hotel Taselotzin was born as an entrepreneurial team effort. The women founders were artisans who, three decades ago were housewives who occasionally sold their crafts.
“We broke with the custom that the woman had to be alone in the house, go to the countryside to get the food, carry the firewood, do all the chores, shell the corn, attend to the sick, care for the grandparents, but not make decisions,” tells Rufina Villa, a leader of the community.
“It was a big change”, continues Rufina, “both the community and the family saw it negatively, initially. Step by step we started to educate our children in a different way. We taught all children to wash their own clothes, to sweep the house, which previously were only the chores for the girls.”
“Now, I would not say we live in mansions. We still live in humble homes but we are protected from the cold, and from the rains. We worked for these changes and they make us feel good.”
Since the foundation of their collective, Masehual Siumej Mosenyolchicauani, the indigenous women built upon a dream to create jobs, connect with local universities, give talks, and teach others that indigenous communities can transcend educational limitations, the risk of violence and isolation.
With the growth of the collective, the women have uncovered opportunities, such as learning to read and write, traveling to new places, supporting their children, hiring extended family and protecting their cultural heritage without having to leave their communities to survive.
The women live 3 hours from the capital of Puebla and come from 6 different indigenous communities.
“Part of the services we provide include healing, like our ancestors used to heal. We recovered the knowledge of our grandmothers. Now we are herbalists, and we offer massage and the temazcal in the traditional ways our ancestors healed indigenous people, “says Rufina. “Herbalism had died out but we see many advantages to healing through plants. They have no chemicals and this helps our bodies not to suffer from toxic reactions.”
Currently, the Cuetzalan group has 100 members, of which 55 are hotel project shareholders, receiving annual profits that benefit their communities and families.
They are passionate about their hotel however, they are facing outside struggles. Mining projects nearing the community could intrude upon the natural environment, contaminate the waters and dry up the forests. They are in a fight to protect their dream.
Taselotzin, means, place of tender seedlings. In their treasured place, the women offer tourists a multiplicity of services including: lodging in 10 rooms and two hostels with capacity for 22 people, a multipurpose room, a kitchen offering regional dishes, curative services known as, temascal, traditional and relaxing massage, and herbal medicines, including plants that alleviate diabetes. The women demonstrate traditional craft making and also sell their products, including basketry, napkins, tablecloths, and blouses all embroidered by hand. Wireless internet is available, but TVs are not.
The hotel, run by the Nahua indigenous women benefits over 100 community members. They form part of a regional eco-turism network that collaborate with professional guides who treat guests to local caves, walks along the waterfalls, visits to archaeological sites, horseback riding and lush botanical gardens.
The members of Taselotzin baptized it more than 20 years ago as a hotel “with an indigenous heart,” or in Nahuatl, “retoñito” or “little plant.” The women say that each room, each space is embedded in the pacha mama, the mystical earth mother. The spirit of the pacha mama is said to sip into the rooms, blessing the mountains and Cuetzalan, one of Mexico’s magical towns.
The hotel germinated with the intention to provide work, preserve culture and halt migrations.
“In a council meeting we considered this dream. What we wanted was to have our own resources, and not depend on any institution,” explains Rufina Edith Villa, the Nahuatl leader who administers the place. “This place is rooted in nature and our hotel is like a plant, if we do not take care of it, it can wither. It is up to us.” says Rufina.