La Mujer Obrera helps women find power through their roots


Angel Ulloa

Café Mayapan, located at 2000 Texas Ave is the home of La Mujer Obrera, a non-profit organization run by women.

Jose Soto , Entertainment Editor

The borderland has been continuously served by a local non-profit organization for the last 34 years. La Mujer Obrera has empowered women by finding solutions through means of education and training and by addressing and improving the issues faced by the Mexican female demographic in El Paso and surrounding areas.

La Mujer Obrera was founded in 1981 by female activists who were working at maquiladoras. The Mexican laborers sought out a way to congregate and organize activities and events. Since then, they have been empowering women by providing literary education and training skills to prepare them for the work force. They also focus on nutrition and health. The organization teaches women to feel proud of their Mexican heritage and their indigenous roots.

When the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented in 1994, many female workers lost their jobs. According to Cemelli De Aztlan, a member of the board of La Mujer Obrera and a lecturer at UTEP,about 35,000 local workers lost their job. La Mujer Obrera then became a communal space for the female workers and a way  to create social awareness and outreach while teaching themselves the importance of knowing their heritage.

“Through NAFTA, some social programs were implemented to help protect the rights of the workers,” De Aztlan said. “The programs, however, did not meet our needs. We needed a different approach to secure the rights as female laborers. That’s how the organization started, pretty much as social space to gather and organize as a community.”

The organization has several social enterprises that act as support for the local female community. Café Mayapan is one of them. The café and market place, located at 2000 Texas Ave., functions as an open-market for artisan crafts and provides authentic, healthy meal options. This, De Aztlan said, is essential when dealing with an underserved community that can, at times, not be sufficiently nourished.

“We serve real indigenous cuisine as well as healthier options,” De Aztlan said. “The prices are economical. This is important because we need fueled minds in order for them to operate adequately. Most importantly, it’s reflective of our heritage and roots.”

Café Mayapan also has a community garden where they grow their own sustainable food and the Rayito Del Sol Daycare, which De Aztlan says is one of the most affordable daycares in town.

“It’s about $80 to $90 a week, which is extremely cheap,” De Aztlan said. “The children are taught about harvesting the earth, they learn both English and Spanish, they’re taught about their heritage. It’s a great source of education for the children.”

De Aztlan is one of the women who has benefitted from La Mujer Obrera. As a troubled youth, she turned to the organization for guidance.

“Mujer Obrera re-oriented me to have pride in who I am,” De Aztlan said. “I found that I wasn’t just a rebel without a cause. Growing up indigenous, we aren’t taught or shown our identity. There are few people who get to develop the systematic ways of the country and we, as indigenous people, aren’t invited to that table. We aren’t part of the educational system. Mujer Obrera helped me understand and ground my plight. It was the seed of my self-esteem, encouragement and empowerment.”

Both La Mujer Obrera and Café Mayapan depend on whatever grants they can receive, but mostly operate by fundraising. De Aztlan said the organization still needs support from the community.

“Part of being a non-profit organization is being in constant struggle,” De Aztlan said. “We always have to find methods of sustaining ourselves,” she said. “Which is important because the community needs us.”

Right now the organization is trying to save the Chamizal District from gentrification, and stopping TxDot from building a highway through the area.

“We have to continue to support women here in this community and keep reminding them of the value of their heritage and remind them to be proud of it as well,” De Aztlan said.

Jose Soto may be reached at [email protected]