field work news psydeh team

Protecting Mexican Indigenous Designs

Mexican Indigenous designs and textiles are important cultural emblems, leadership expression and development tools, and an income generator. Take, for example, the contemporary Tenango design known internationally for its unique beauty, but also as a symbol of women’s empowerment.

The Tenango Design

On April 8, PSYDEH’s new field corp trainer, Argentinian Nani Seizbert, participated in the Tenango Expo 2021 to celebrate “Día del Tenango” (Tenango Day) in Tenango de Doria in rural Hidalgo, Mexico. This initiative, officially launched in July 2020, arose with the purpose of making the most famous of local handicraft designs visible in order to obtain global recognition as part of Mexico’s national heritage.

This year’s celebration was attended by local, regional, state, and international officials, as well as a large public audience. The event included music, speeches, an elegant fashion show, and a large number of stalls offering Tenangos, traditional food, coffee, and other local products.

The first Tenango embroidery was created by Doña Josefina Tavera in the early sixties in the Otomí community of San Nicolás, Tenango de Doria, Hidalgo, pressed by the need to feed her daughters during a country-wide economic crisis. “My father, seeing that my mother only gave birth to women and no boys, abandoned us,” explains Josefina, one of six daughters, proud successor of her mother, and a magnificent embroiderer.

Almost six decades after the first stitches, thousands of women and men are dedicated to designing and making Tenango embroidery. Tenango Day celebrates these exquisite works that embellish and enhance garments, accessories, and pieces for interior decoration -pictures, tablecloths, curtains, which are authentic works of art.

Protecting Cultural Patrimony

Along with Tenango Day, the current Mexican government is more aggressively supporting local artisan communities in various ways, including with much-needed ethics-focused protections. The government’s Ministry of Culture increases efforts to identify and bring light to instances in which Mexican designs are pirated, used for commercial purposes without permission to do so, or without engaging individuals in the communities the designs come from. The Hidalgo state government’s “Oficina del Fomento Artesanal” (Office of Handicraft Promotion) has taken steps to protect the Tenango design, specifically, by designating Tenango de Doria as the official home of the Tenango design, and creating a “marca colectiva” (collective mark) around the design to bring authenticity to Tenangos made by Mexican artisans. Here, the government takes the position that the Tenango design, an embroidery, can only be created by those living in the region from which it comes, and in its original embroidery form. While violations of this norm are not illegal, discussions continue around how best to ensure that the artisans who make the design receive the lion’s share of the benefits of its use.

More generally, when it is estimated that 10 million people are involved in the production of artisanal goods in Mexico, and 70% of these individuals make less than $2 USD / day, more protection for these artisans and their work is critical. We know that the Mexican government’s actions are a step in the right direction and that all designs deserve to be protected. And we know that civil society has a role in helping artisans solve their own problems, including forging intelligent collaborations that promote their work, the design, while gaining their right economic benefit from its use and sale.

PSYDEH, Community-led Development, and Designs

As a defender of Indigenous rights and voices and Mexican cultural patrimony, PSYDEH does its small part in combating the cultural appropriation of traditional designs and preserving Mexico’s cultural treasures, while helping artisans to maximize the economic benefits from their designs. Such, we believe, is a key element to our ground-up community-led development model.

Our experience tells us that there is a desire to showcase Indigenous designs in items such as clothing or decor. We find that while there also is a vested interest in engaging Indigenous communities in the process, many outfits lack the knowledge on how to do so in an ethical and transparent manner. We know that there is a way to do so, and, with experience and collaborators in tow, PSYDEH is in the process of developing our own market-facing consulting service to support companies and nonprofits to navigate business ethics and steer clear of cultural or brand appropriation. We plan to begin offering this service in mid-summer 2021. Check out our corporate partnership page for more details.

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