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Mixtec Women’s Co-Op: A Reverse-Immigration Success Story


By Jane Onstott

Political pressure, declining job opportunities, and other socio-economic factors have significantly reduced the number of Mexican nationals seeking work north of the border. That said, an estimated seven to nine million undocumented Mexican immigrants still work and reside in the United States in order to pursue a better life for themselves and their children, or simply to survive. Many come from the poorest Mexican states, including Guerrero, Michoacán, Chiapas, and Oaxaca. Not surprisingly, a large percentage of these men, women, and children come from marginalized indigenous communities, famously ignored or exploited throughout Mexican history. The largest group of indigenous living in the United States is the Mixtecs, whose ancestral home is the state of Oaxaca.

PEN 2016 Series
Mixtec Women’s Co-Op: A Reverse-Immigration Success Story
Tue, Feb 16, 5pm, demonstrations and sales
Tue, Feb 16, 6pm, presentation
Bellas Artes auditorium
Hernández Macías 75
100 pesos

In 2005, several disadvantaged women from the Mixtec village of Pinotepa de Don Luis in the hot, humid Costa Chica region of Oaxaca sought the advice of immigration attorney Patrice Perillie about getting jobs as maids or nannies in the United States. Instead, the expat American lawyer steered the indigenous women towards forming Tixinda Co-op. Today more than 60 Mixtec women not only practice their 3,000-year-old tradition of spinning and weaving, but also maintain and pass on to their children their native language and customs.

The women of Tixinda spin heirloom cotton by hand before weaving detailed patterns on backstrap looms. Pre-Hispanic iconography incorporated into the fabric includes lightning bolts, eagles, scorpions, and frogs. Beautiful traditional garments are created, including the ubiquitous rebozo, or shawl. These unusual pieces are coveted by collectors from around the world, while other weaving connoisseurs snap up comfortable, boxy blouses called huipiles in addition to table runners, tablecloths, handbags, and other useful items.

The weavers’ sons and husbands are an integral part of the process. Continuing an ancient practice, now endangered by poachers, the men produce Pinotepa’s trademark purple dye. Gathering the purpura pansa mollusk on rocks battered by waves, the men milk the snails before returning them to their tidal home. Other natural dyes are obtained in less dangerous but equally time-consuming fashion from indigo, cochinilla beetles, and other animals and plants.

Both the weaving process and the reverse-immigration concept will be discussed at a San Miguel PEN lecture at 6pm on Tuesday, February 16, at the Bellas Artes theater (Hernández Macias at Canal). Advocate Patrice Perillie will introduce co-op members and tell their story, and a short film documents the plight of the endangered snail used for the traditional dyes. The women will demonstrate spinning and weaving and sell their exquisite work both before and after the lecture, so plan to arrive early. (For more leisurely shopping, visit Tixinda’s booth at the Writers’ Conference Artisan Market, Hotel Real de Minas, February 13 and 14 only.)

Your 100-peso admission supports the traditional Mixtec weavers ( as well as PEN, an international not-for-profit organization fighting for freedom of expression and literacy around the world. Tickets are for sale in La Biblioteca Tienda, and include a free glass of wine at Vivali across the street at Hernández Macías 66. Information at


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