The Deming Headlight, newspaper of Deming, New Mexico, focused on our work in a series of three articles by Marjorie Lilly. We encourage you to visit the articles on the Headlight’s webpage. For your convenience, we post them here with gratitude to the Headlight.
Business could be booming in Palomas by Marjorie Lilly
The seven women in Palomas who originally worked for Palomas Oilcloth Designs in 2008 are still working there. It was one of the first projects nurtured into existence by the non-profit organization Border Partners, directed by Polly and Peter Edmunds of Deming.
The women make bags, aprons, and tablecloths out of oilcloth printed with traditional Mexican designs of bright colored flowers and fruits.
They sell them at the Pink Store in Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico, at Mountain View Market in Las Cruces, La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, as well as in Tucson, AZ, Duluth, MN and even Australia. They have a website […] where orders can be made, and also on the Etsy website.
The women have paid off their loan to Border Partners and have their own bank account. But they still work with Polly Edmunds to some extent. “She sometimes receives orders and gives them to us,” says Ludy Loya. “She brings our things to stores.”
Palomas Oilcloth Designs started up in 2008, when the violence began soaring in Palomas, a Mexican border town located 35 miles south of Deming. Six years later, the business is still intact, long after the violence has subsided.
The goal of the Edmunds’ non-profit organization has been to promote “education, health and recreation, sustainable technologies and economic growth,” as stated on their website.
The Edmunds are from Minnesota and found the motivation to start their project when they went to Cuernavaca, Mexico after their last child had finished high school.
They visited a town in the mountains “where people lived in houses made from palm fronds and corn stalks,” says Polly. “They had no real source of clean water. We were forever changed from that day forward.”
When Palomas Oilcloth Designs was just starting out, says Juliana Lazca, “Polly brought an apron so we could get an idea of the design. At the beginning we made only aprons.”
They designed the aprons, and then designed almost all the bags.
“If we designed more bags now, it would take too much time,” said Loya, the coordinator for the group. [Border Partners’ note: They will accept custom orders]
“Thank God Polly came to Palomas at that time,” Lazca said.
Polly helped them learn necessary skills like accounting, marketing and purchasing supplies. Ivonne Romero at the Pink Store orders the rolls of oilcloth they want from Mexico City. “We don’t spend a lot of time with Polly any more,” Loya said.
The designs are sunny and appealing.
There are cherries, apples, watermelons, pineapples, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers with a “retro” look, as the same designs have been used on tablecloths in Mexico for decades. They come in red, dark green, yellow, aqua, hot pink, lime green and more.
They used to work together at the building used by Border Partners. “It was kind of a social club,” said Loya.
But the space is now being used as a soup kitchen for the government program called Crusade Against Hunger, so the women just store their oilcloth there and go there to cut off what they need.
They all work mostly separately now, and on their own schedules. One works in her living room, another in the kitchen.
“The only rule is that everybody works the same and for the same hours,” said Loya. “Everybody gets the same amount of money.” They get an average of $50 a week, more in the summer months than in winter, from ten hours of labor. This is what many people in town earn in a week. They earn about $5 an hour, which is a competitive rate in a town like Palomas.
Palomas has been in an unemployment crisis since about 2006, when the U.S. tightened the borders. This shut down a lot of businesses that served illegal border crossers. A factory shut down when the economic recession hit, and the drug violence has scared away medical tourists.
So most of the women are supplementing their family income in a town where there’s a lot of hunger and unemployment. By some estimates half the population is out of work.
Juliana didn’t have a job before, but now she and her husband, who drives a taxi, are building a new house for themselves with the help of her earnings.
Socorro Ortega made “much less” before. She made pastries and sold them from house to house, often not earning enough for her and her daughter to eat. But now she can take vacations and fix her house.
Working only 10 hours a week leaves time for other jobs.
Loya has a beauty salon. Socorrito works as a health promotora for Border Partners.
Berenice works at her mother’s ice cream business.
The biggest order they’ve ever had, says Loya, is when they were commissioned to make 1,500 bags for an international church conference. They worked on the bags from October last year to March this year. They do special orders sometimes too. Requests can be e-mailed to email@example.com.
Loya puts out a request for donations of sewing machines for the group. “Sewing oilcloth is very hard,” she says. “Socorrito was telling me she’s having things [on her sewing machine] break very easily. And we don’t have anybody here who can fix them.”
She describes the kind of sewing machine they need — “the older the better. Old machines are very strong.”
When asked why she continues working for Palomas Oilcloth Designs, Ortega says, “For the money, and because I like it.” In regard to whether they will work there forever, “We hope to God we will,” she says.
Berenice Garrido adds, smiling, “Hasta que el cuerpo aguante” (As long as my body lasts), and they laugh.
A little help goes a long way in Palomas, and the women in the group are still smiling with gratitude.
For donations to Border Partners e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org