UMD assitant professor, Jennifer Gomez Menjivar studies Cybertopias: Global Markets, Technology, and Mayan Identities in Guatemala
“Many people think that because Mayan communities are ancient, they don’t actively participate in the global economy,” said Jennifer Gómez Menjívar, assistant professor in UMD’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. “This is a huge misconception.” Gómez Menjívar received a Global Spotlight International research seed grant through the University of Minnesota Twin Cities allowing her to conduct fieldwork for her second book project, Cybertopias: Global Markets, Technology, and Mayan Identities in Guatemala.
Gómez Menjívar’s research focuses on Mayan women’s weaving cooperatives in Guatemala, and the way they use technology to reverse inequitable socio-economic patterns and respond to their communities’ needs. Her study will show, among other things, that many of these organizations are using the Internet to participate in the global economy and sell many of their products, including traditional textiles, clothing, purses, toys, and others. “I hope my research will bring more attention to the cultural sustainability efforts of indigenous peoples in Central America and the wider Latin American context,” she said.
“Many women's non-governmental organizations were created in the aftermath of the Guatemalan civil war,” said Gómez Menjívar. “These organizations gave jobs to women who had lost their husbands, grandfathers, fathers, brothers and sons during the conflict.” Some of the women had had to become the breadwinners for their families overnight. The weaving cooperatives that Gómez Menjívar has been researching aim to create work for fair wages for Guatemalan women.
TRAMA Textiles is an association that employs 400 women from five different Guatemalan communities. “The women are from all over Guatemala,” Gómez Menjívar said. “There are seventeen groups who set prices for their products before they are sold to TRAMA Textiles, who then sells them in their store located in their retail shops in Quetzaltenango, Antigua, and online through Etsy and other online stores.” The association also runs a weaving school to teach prospective students how to weave traditional Mayan textiles on the backstrap loom. The organization votes for administrators to make the decisions for the company. TRAMA in Spanish can mean the weft or binding thread or, in some cases it has been known to be equivalent to “food” or “sustenance.”
For many Mayan women, weaving is a metaphor for birth and creation. The Cojolya Association in Santiago de Atitlán houses a weaving Center and Museum. Gómez Menjívaris also studying how Cojolya, as well as other organizations, keep traditional patterns alive while using non-traditional materials that might appeal to customers abroad. “For example, wool is being used in textiles that would traditionally be made using cotton thread,” she said “This way the product can appeal to customers living in North America or Europe.” Wool, hand-spun maguey twine, rayon chenille and fire polished beads are just some of the new materials that are being used in traditional textiles.
Gómez Menjívar’s first book manuscript, Black in Print: Afro- Central American Identity and Cultural Formation of the Isthmus, has been invited for submission at SUNY Press. Gómez Menjívar traveled to Guatemala during the 2013 winter break and will return there in the summer of 2013. In the future, she plans to broaden her study on Mayan weaving cooperatives to Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula. During May term of 2013, she will teach a course on globalization and sustainability in Latin America.
By Katarina Menze, February 2013