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Fair traders seek to address suffering of artisans

Maria Cuc and Felipe Gonzales prepare for holiday sale.
by Mary Stamp

Local fair traders with Guatemalan ties have been concerned about the weavers, sewers, artisans, artists, crafters and coffee growers who have suffered financially because lockdowns and closed borders during COVID reduced tourism, shipping and access to raw materials.

COVID also reduced the number of fair trade sales events where they could sell the products. They have inventory and seek to sell items now, so they can buy more from their Guatemalan partners to provide them income.

Fair traders Maria Cuc and Felipe Gonzales of Mundo Maya Enterprises, Debbie DuPey of Corazon Scarves, and Sandi and Brian Thompson-Royer of Resilient Threads will partner with Kizuri for a Guatemalan Holiday Market from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 20, at the Community Building, 35 W. Main.

They will require masks, will be distancing and using plastic shields to offer an opportunity for people to purchase artisan crafts and support Guatemalan neighbors during the pandemic.

Each told about the struggles of people who create their products.

In addition, with the vaccination rate in Guatemala being just 28 percent, many have been sick or died because multiple generations of a family live in one house, said Sandi.

They have produced less and been unable to sell what they have, so they are struggling, but have had no government assistance. During COVID, the fair traders raised funds to send, but the producers prefer to sell their products.

Each fair trader offered more details on the situation and shared background on their fair trade enterprises and partners.

Felipe and Maria of Mundo Maya Enterprises, which includes Maya Coffee and Maya Color, say many farmers, artisans and weavers have had COVID and are producing less organic coffee, hand-made folk art, weaving, music instruments, wood carvings and crafts.

Felipe started the business as Moonflower Enterprises in the 1980s in San Antonio Agua Calientes, Sacatapequez, Guatemala. He came to Spokane 20 years ago to write grants for the Kalispel Tribe and does Mundo Maya with Maria on the side.

Every summer for 12 years, they would visit family in Solala on Lake Atitlan and buy from local people. Maria, who learned to do backstrap weaving from her mother, who learned from Maria's grandmother, weaves some items herself.

They have not gone to Guatemala for four years. Felipe has some coffee left from last year. Usually he buys 60 sacks from Manos Campesinos, an organization owned by 10 coffee grower organizations in San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Solala and Chimaltenango. Maria's supply of textiles and crafts is low. She did a sale in 2020 at the Salish School, sales at Latinos en Spokane's monthly market, and a sale at Dia de los Muertos, but lost their big annual November sales at Jubilee and the Fair Trade Festival.

Their daughter Ingrid Sub Cuc helped them set up online sales.

Maria and Felipe plan to buy more inventory in December when they visit family who are vaccinated.

Ingrid, who lived in Solala until age 12, and came to Spokane for high school and studies at Whitworth University, is going with them.

She earned a master's in public health last year at the University of Washington in Seattle and started a doctoral in Native American studies focusing on Maya health systems and identity in Davis with her husband.

Being in public health, she encouraged family to be vaccinated.

"We told aunts, uncles and cousins we would visit only those who were vaccinated," she said. "I spent two months helping them understand.

Solala artisans rely on tourists.

"Because of their need to sell goods, they opened the border earlier than they should have, before protocols were in place and with few vaccinated," she said.

Three cousins are nurses in national hospitals at the forefront, she said.

There were limited vaccination efforts until recently because of skepticism from misinformation, distrust of the U.S., and little information in indigenous languages, Ingrid added.

"Catching COVID was shameful, so people did not disclose it, fearing if anyone knew a family member was sick, they would be shunned. That limited tracking cases," said Ingrid.

"Community radio is key to informing people, along with podcasts in indigenous languages so people understand how the vaccine works, and the importance of masking, washing hands and distancing," she said.

For information, call 509-768-3193 for Maya Coffee, 509-220-8956 for Maya Color or 509-844-6662 for Ingrid, or visit

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November, 2021