Restless roots

These two women born in the High Mountains of Veracruz know well the secret to living off the land: they never stop moving, observing, learning... and enjoying.

I try to have fun with everyone, José Gabriel Molina (photographer), 2023-02-23, From the collection of: Colectivo Rokunin
Counting, José Gabriel Molina (photographer), 2023-02-19, From the collection of: Colectivo Rokunin
Show lessRead more

The lives of Elpidia Hernández Martínez and Humberta Chávez Coloa inspired Mark Quijano to develop a pictorial tribute to women from his region. This project arose from the scholarship granted by Colectivo Rokunin in 2022, and began with the portrait of profiles linked to the biography of the artist in the rural environment of Veracruz. The works seek to honor the determination of their protagonists to support a family with tireless work, full of love and respect for the land.

Tradition that remembers (2022-08-11/2023-02-23) by Mark QuijanoColectivo Rokunin

In her native Coapichapa, an ejido in Fortín located along the Metlac River, everyone knows and appreciates Doña Elpidia. With her 83-year-old smile, she explains why: “Honestly, I'm very bearable. I try to have fun with everyone."

She loves to dance to the sound of the marimba and is invited to all parties. When there was a local soccer team, she was the soul of the porra, with her enormous rattle. She always walks "like an ant, running" from here to there, on the highway or the sidewalks of the hill. Eight decades of walking.

That's what my dad used to say (2023-02-23) by José Gabriel Molina (photographer)Colectivo Rokunin

From school to the field

"I don't give my children homework, their homework is the mouna and the hoe," Doña Elpidia recalls that her father told her teacher. When she left school, she and her brothers cleaned the milpa and bean, tobacco or spicy crops, and went to the meyal to bring buckets of water.

Elpidia's portrait (2022-06-17) by Mark QuijanoColectivo Rokunin

There was no lack of food

He acknowledges that it was hard - there was no electricity, the road was very ugly - but he insists that they never went hungry. She proudly lists the animals that his father hunted, with marksmanship trained in his youth as a revolutionary soldier: "raccoon, fox, badger, armadillo, squirrels."

Laughter (2023-02-23) by José Gabriel Molina (photographer)Colectivo Rokunin

To the wild animals were added the chickens in charge of their mother. She taught him to cook delicacies such as pipián, adobo, mole or bean tamales, which she continues to prepare with pleasure for her large family: ten children, 25 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

Doña Elpidia recounts that to raise her children she worked in the chayote, the coffee, the cane or the quarry. Today she continues to go out to firewood or take care of how the hill is. She fills the story with details of her: flowers, birds, fossils, insects. She mentions each one with love and a sparkle in her eyes.

Coffee dryer, José Gabriel Molina (photographer), 2023-02-19, From the collection of: Colectivo Rokunin
Natural drying, José Gabriel Molina (photographer), 2023-02-19, From the collection of: Colectivo Rokunin
Show lessRead more

Doña Humberta also worked in the fields since she was a girl. Her grandparents took her to the coffee plantation in Real del Monte, Zongolica, where she was born. Today this 54-year-old Nahua woman lives in the nearby town of Tezizapa. Almost a decade ago she insisted on planting coffee. Last year she managed to produce and process six tons. She forced to rest due to the aftermath of Covid, today she just lets it dry naturally. But she already plans the space on her roof for a new solar dryer: she will prune the sapodilla tree and gain light.

Coffee empowered (2023-01-07/2023-02-25) by Mark QuijanoColectivo Rokunin

He has already sent his ground coffee to Mexico City or Querétaro, but he wants to continue improving: "You have to put in the effort and you learn there," he explains. Since she did makeup in the metate with her grandparents, there have been many lessons.

Doña Humberta is part of a local group that receives training to produce high-quality coffee, through a project promoted by Colectivo Rokunin and financed by The Chain Collaborative. She really enjoys taking care of her coffee plantations and as soon as she can she escapes to the land.

Grandchildren and grandmother in the kitchen (2023-02-19) by José Gabriel Molina (photographer)Colectivo Rokunin

In addition to coffee, Mrs. Humberta takes care of her pigs, her chickens, her cornfields, beans, tepejilote, vegetables and fruit crops. She for a long time prepared meals for workers who were passing through. "From there we help each other," she explains. She raised six children and today she has 12 grandchildren.

Coffea arabica (2020-07-13) by Mark Quijano, Alejandra Mendoza (editor), and Rafael Muñoz-Márquez (editor)Colectivo Rokunin

She remembers with emotion when she decided to plant coffee and convinced her husband. "I got silly with him," she laughs. At two years old "I saw that the little plants were going very pretty." She took him to see them to show him that she could do it. He worked as a teacher and could not attend to the field.

Humberta's shrine (2023-02-19) by José Gabriel Molina (photographer)Colectivo Rokunin

Four years ago her husband died. She appreciates having her support and the ability to take care of the field without depending on him. She now has how to get ahead. Together with two workers, who are joined by three more at harvest time, she will continue to take care of her coffee and learn.

Credits: Story

Rokunin Collective 2023
Veracruz Mexico

Paintings and illustrations: Mark Quijano.
Photographs: José Gabriel Molina.
Text and design: Teresa Morte.
Production: Alejandra Mendoza.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Where are the Women?
From forgotten pioneers to iconic trailblazers, celebrate women in arts and culture
View theme
Google apps