As soon as I set foot in this village, I knew that I had entered to the heart of a Mexican truth: women feed the Earth and their life is made of clay. Clay ovens for clay pans and pots, everything is touched and transformed by hands which are also the color of clay. As they told me when I asked whether they owned some land: “Our land is inside our fingernails”. The Vatican gave these women 17,000 pesos to help for their living and they decided to do something constructive with their money as they lived in ramshackle dwellings, to build proper new houses. They altogether started building walls and roofs out of clay. This brought scorn and derision from the men and elders; now that they have built twenty houses of excellent quality, they are looked upon with great admiration.
San Miguel Amatitlan is a small Indian village in the southern state of Oaxaca where the drinking water does not last any longer than four months a year. The soil is dry, hard and bare; they are neither beans nor cornfields in sight: water must be carried from many miles in order to drink, eat, wash and make those indestructible clay bricks. All the strong men have left the village and have gone far away to the other side of the northern border, where they will try to earn a few dollars picking fruit in the USA. When they come back to the village, they are most probably infected by AIDS.
Due to this appalling social and economic situation, some young women have decided to cross the northern border, swimming to the other side of the river either with their babies in their arms or leaving them behind. The young men who are still living in the village are deep alcoholics. Since the Catholic religion plays such an important role in their daily life, the use of contraceptives are obviously unheard of, and the families are overcrowded, it is an almost impossible task to feed and educate so many children.
The history of these women is a lesson of life for all of us. In order to support themselves and the rest of the family, they sew footballs and receive 70 cents apiece for this work: they can make two balls per day if they sew from sunrise to sunset. Old people also make palm hats and are paid $2,50 for each. They have to make four hats to buy a litter of milk. Yet, these very same hands never stopped creating the finest dresses for their daughters or ironing a man’s shirt, never forgot how to give a caress to a young child or console a grief.
They have always found the time to put flowers in the church, these women believe in Mother Earth because it is inside their fingernails.
Marcela Taboada is a Mexican photographer based in Oaxaca (southern México).
Her work has been published in newspapers, magazines and books from Mexico and abroad. She has been a professor of photography at universities, high-schools and cultural institutions. Her work has been exhibited at museums and galleries and belongs to collections such as The Hasselblad Center, Copenhagen Fotografisk Center, Sonoma Museum of Art, The Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, The Wittilff Collection, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Oaxaca, The Manuel Alvarez Bravo Photographic Center, among others. She has received awards, distinctions and scholarships such as Mexican Photojournalist Bienale,Hasselblad Foundation scholarship, National Geographic All Roads Photographers, Cultural Exchange México-Indonesia, Planet Magazine Price, Nikon juror of the International Photo Contest in Tokio, Hector Garcia Award, among others.
She currently belongs to the National System of Art Creators in Mexico.