Indigenous tourism in Mexico: a story of women’s empowerment
Cuetzalan del Progreso, located in the state of Puebla, Mexico, is a town steeped in indigenous legacy. Due to its climatic and geographic characteristics, many refer to it as a sanctuary of biodiversity and the area is indeed known for its dense vegetation, mountain ranges and multiple waterfalls. The indigenous inhabitants of Cuetzalan maintain their traditional culture and way of life, making this a unique place where time seems to stand still. Over 80% of the town’s inhabitants are of Náhuatl origin and live under customs of ancestral community management. These customs are based on conservation and respect towards nature, and as such, have helped prevent the arrival of mining businesses into the area.
Women-led, indigenous tourism cooperative
Walking Cuetzalan ancient cobblestone streets, we arrive at a very special hotel where Doña Rufina welcomes us. More than 33 years ago, Doña Rufina was one of the founders of the indigenous women’s cooperative Masehual Siuamej Mosen Yolchicuauani, meaning “Indigenous women who support each other”. This organisation was created with the objective of empowering women within the community, whilst at the same time safeguarding their indigenous identity. The group was initially set up to help the women sell their crafts at fair prices and to improve their quality of life more generally by creating jobs to limit the number of community members needing to emigrate.
Traditionally in rural Mexico, as in many countries, the head of a family often emigrates to a big city or further afield to other countries, to provide for his family. When this happens, the women take responsibility for the whole family. They take care of the children and all housework, as well as work in the fields to put food on the table.
Doña Rufina and her colleagues wanted to challenge this status quo whilst also staying true to their roots, and to this end they began a movement of community feminism. Through the cooperative, they worked through problems common amongst their members. In fact, the organisation turned into a type of school where members learnt how to read and write, to speak Spanish and to improve the quality of their handicrafts. They also learnt about their rights as women, including education on domestic violence.
In 1995, coinciding with the increase in tourism in Cuetzalan, the group took a big step forward and pioneered the construction of one of the first hotels in the municipality. This is how Taselotzin, “our little sprout”, was born. Taselotzin is managed entirely by women and currently 100 women from 6 communities are part of the initiative and benefit from its activity.
Preserving indigenous culture and heritage
As a visitor, you have the guarantee that each dollar you spend at Taselotzin is invested directly into the cooperative in support of the women and their families. The profits are distributed among the members, depending on their participation, during the annual meetings. The crafts are sold under a fair-trade policy and these profits are invested into a fund established to encourage continual product development. In addition, the hotel has its own microcredit system, which is accessible to all members in case of need.
Beyond being a means for the cooperative to generate its own income and help keep communities intact, Taselotzin was formed with other important aims. It is also a way to protect indigenous heritage and to look after the environment. Indigenous culture places great importance in the belief in “Mother Earth”, unfortunately something nowadays lacking in most societies. At Taselotzin, all waste is separated and organic waste used as compost for the gardens. The women also work hard to conserve green spaces, for peace and tranquillity and but also for better air quality.
Not only does Taselotzin boast beautiful rooms that show off the cultural identity of the founders, it also offers a traditional restaurant, a variety of excursions with local guides (Temascal, artisan workshops, hiking excursions) and a large selection of crafts and herb products made by the members themselves. It is a great example of indigenous tourism in Mexico and they are working with women’s groups from other regions to share their experiences. They’re also part of the network of indigenous tourism of Mexico (RITA), and encourage the exchange of local products and crafts with other similar organisations.
Doña Rufina and her colleagues are the proud guardians of their indigenous heritage, and the story of their successful movement is undoubtedly worth spreading. It is a story they will be very pleased to share with you during your stay in Taselotzin.
This post was a contribution by Angela, one of our Mexico local travel experts. To learn more about the activities and adventures available in Puebla, you can visit our Mexico Holidays page and send a travel enquiry. Did you like this content? Then you can subscribe to our quarterly newsletter to make sure you never miss blog posts like this one in the future!