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Axochiapan: Connecting communities and women-led movements from Mexico to Minnesota

By Polina Montes De Oca | WFM development officer |

While the Women’s Foundation focuses our impact and investment within Minnesota, our community and our mission transcend borders. Movements for gender and racial justice are global and include the work of diaspora communities in Minnesota. We actively connect with other women’s foundations in the U.S. and around the world to grow our vision and capacity for change. Alongside international and Mexican community organizers, I recently had the opportunity to learn about work happening in Mexico to build gender equity. As we connect with, learn from, and resource women’s funds across the country and the world, we build collective power for gender justice.

Our connection to Mexico goes back generations, according to a migrant mapping project that was funded by the Minneapolis Foundation and CFLeads. Mexican communities comprise the largest immigrant group in Minnesota. If you were to ask Minneapolis taqueria workers where they are from, most likely they will say the state of Morelos. Morelos is one of Mexico’s smallest states, yet it has a long history of attracting Mexican agricultural and industrial migrant workers form nearby states, where they were recruited to work in Minnesota’s agricultural and meatpacking industries since the time railways were established in the state.

In February, I joined trustee Sandy Vargas, a Women’s Foundation founder, on a 3-day visit to community-based projects and small businesses mostly run by women throughout the state of Morelos, Mexico. Throughout the three-day visit, convened by Fundación Comunidad (FC), a common theme was creating visibility and giving dignity to the invisible: the migrant farm day worker and their children, many of whom are forced into labor; people with varying physical and intellectual abilities; Indigenous communities; and women and girls combatting unprecedented rates of state and domestic violence within a culture of machismo. Projects ranged from start-ups to established businesses and nonprofits that receive FC support, including through their the Fondo de Equidad De Genera or Gender Equity Fund.

Sandy Vargas and Fundación Comunidad with Grupo del Flor

The state of Morelos and Minnesota are linked through a history of migration that goes back generations. Nearly all the women we connected with in Axochiapan have families in Minnesota and we discussed their unique challenges and opportunities. Most are undocumented and are not able to open a business of their own. One need that was shared was the burdensome cost of transporting deceased family members who pass away in Minnesota, which can cost $10,000. Many families struggle to manage the financial burdens that come with living across borders and are not familiar with supporting resources, including local organizations like the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) and Esperanza United.

The projects we visited in Axochiapan weave intersecting issues of gender, age, ethnicity, nationality and immigration. At the start of the pandemic, a collective of international and local community organizers began to build a relationship with the local community. Eventually two groups of women were formed to lead the vision for their own micro-projects. Communities across the state of Morelos were facing devastating economic repercussions of both COVID-19 and a 2017 earthquake whose epicenter was in Axochiapan. In the aftermath of the earthquake, women’s collectives were being formed to address basic community needs that the government was failing to provide. These same groups learned the power of collective care and organizing and wanted to do more.

Artesania Telixtac Virtitud y Esperanza

The first project we visited, Artesania Telixtac Virtitud y Esperanza (Telixtac Virtue and Hope Crafts), is a small group of Indigenous women rediscovering and reinventing their historical and familial craftsmanship of clay work and embroidery. The group is learning how to address machismo by working in unison and uplifting other women, especially the younger generation, by giving them a voice and embracing modernity. The craftsmanship, especially embroidery, gives flexibility for the women to be in a collective and continue their work at home. All the participants said that this space has become a safe place for the women. One participant, the only male participant, won national recognition and is teaching his children the trade. For him, this collective was just the hope he needed to reinvest in his craftmanship and avoid migrating to the United States.

We then went across town to get the know the Grupo Flor del Rio, a collective of about six women who produce consumables made from figs: jams, sweets, salsas, and cakes. The women came together to design a small business project and eventually settled on working with locally grown figs that were often tossed aside because of low market value. It pained these women to see their produce being thrown aside, so they started working with it. This group has also supported Artesania Telixtac in collective learning exchanges. They are ready to take their business to the next level and expand their market statewide and eventually, internationally. Many of the participants have family members in the Twin Cities and even though they have never visited, they know the Lake Street commercial corridor. As a collective, we envisioned how to strengthen the international ties and what would it take to one day see Grupo Flor del Rio fig jam in local Mexican markets in Minnesota.

Lisa Schalla, Project Director of Connecting Communities in the Americans, CFLeads; Fundación Comunidad board president, Erik Friend, director Isabel Hernández Vega, with Sandy Vargas and Polina Montes de Oca.

The next phase of both projects is continuing to work with FC’s global consultant group in the development of their business plan, to improve techniques of their trade and widen their market; as well as to address state-based and cultural violence faced by women, girls and youth in Axochiapan. FC will continue to work with local community organizers and will now embed a team of lawyers to appropriately address cases of sexual and domestic violence. Sexual violence against women and girls is deeply present in Axochiapan as a migrant cultural corridor, with sexist cultural norms and lack of legal repercussions. When a women or girls gets raped in the community, the response is “en algún momento, tuvo que pasar” (At some point, it had to happen).

What’s Next

In every city and rural communities in Minnesota, across the country, and in every nation in the world – women and girls are leading innovation and solutions to poverty, violence, and health disparities. The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota had the privilege to listen and learn from the courageous women of Axochiapan, many of whom are left behind as their husbands migrated to Minnesota to care for their families and communities. This visit has been an opportunity to make visible the Axochiapan community in Minnesota and the women, children, and elders left behind. They are creating community-centric programs, often putting their community’s needs and ability to flourish before their own. We can support their leadership and gender justice movements across the globe that has a direct impact on our community in Minnesota.

How We Can Help

If you would like to learn more and support the next phase of women and youth-led projects in Axochiapan, please contact me – Polina Montes De Oca at or 612-236-1834.

About Me

I am excited to mobilize people across cultures and throughout Minnesota who are passionate about and committed to racial and gender justice.

For over 10 years, I have dedicated my career journey to working alongside community in uplifting its voice, power, and community-led solutions. I recently worked at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity managing their community relations. Prior to that, I worked for Fundación Comunidad, a small community foundation serving the state of Morelos, Mexico.

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