Valentina weaves so that her kids "don't end up like her"
The three of us sat on the sloped grass, beside the propagation garden – Valentina, Mishjaky, and I. I asked her the usual questions - why she weaves, when she first learned to weave, and who taught her to weave. My final question asked her about her hopes and dreams for the future. I sat there with my olive green Moustachine notebook, rapidly taking notes as Mishjaky translated between Quechua and Spanish.
And after a jovial, light-hearted conversation, the tone shifted – like an ominously all-too-quiet sky before a Cusco hailstorm. She told me that she hoped her children were able to study, to learn to read and write, to speak Spanish, so that they didn’t "end up like her." She nodded at my notebook and said that she didn't want them to feel the same humiliation she feels about not knowing how to read and write, not knowing how to speak the language.
She began crying.
She told me about her sister who, as a teenager, moved to Cusco and learned Spanish, while she stayed in Amaru and thus, did not. In her words, her sister therefore has all the opportunities, can offer her children all these skills, while she can offer them “nothing.” She continued crying.
The three of us just held the silence together.
“Does your sister know how to weave?” I asked.
Valentina paused for a moment.
“Well, no,” she responded.
“That’s a skill – an ability – that you are able to pass down to your children and grandchildren that she cannot,” I told her.
“I guess that’s true.”
“And this way, both of you collectively can teach the next generation two very different but important skills," I added. "If you had both gone to Cusco, there would be nobody left to pass down the weaving tradition.”
She nodded, pulling blades of grass out of the ground.
“Do your children know how to weave?”
All of them?
All of them.
An impossibly unfair struggle between cultural revitalization and economic development, in an era and society that devalues women's work and traditional knowledge, replacing it with ephemeral products, fast fashion, and globalized replicas.
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We can gradually unravel the limitless questions together, as we unwind the intricacies of what it looks like when theory is applied in practice. And when Valentina - and millions like her around the world - is not just a figment of a policy-maker's imagination.
Interview conducted in the Sacred Valley, Peru, in the community of Amaru in 2018, by Ashli Akins, with Quechua translation assistance of Mishjaky Paravecino Kehuarucho, in collaboration with Mosqoy and the Asociación de Tejedores Tradicionales de Laraypas Indígenas.
I first shared this story as part of my "Humanist of the Year" acceptance speech in Victoria, Canada, in March 2019.
Photograph taken by Ashli Akins in Cancha Cancha, in the Sacred Valley of Peru, in 2018, in collaboration with the Illariy Ch'aska Weaving Cooperative.