Children in Chiapas

Children in Chiapas

WEEKEND: Mexican dinner to benefit Mujeres de Maiz foundation

SEQUIM — The seventh year has been especially fruitful for the Mujeres de Maiz Opportunity Foundation, a nonprofit group connecting Sequim with the Mayan women of Mexico.

And in the spirit of El Día de los Muertos, that quintessentially Mexican celebration, Mujeres is inviting Sequim and the surrounding community to a party this Saturday night.

There will, of course, be abundant food: a vegetarian Mexican dinner cooked by Molly Rivard and her fellow Mujeres de Maiz supporters at the Sequim Prairie Grange, 290 Macleay Road.

The evening’s festivities, to start at 5:30 p.m., will include a special compilation of Mexican background music, a short video from the Mayan communities of Chiapas state and auction bidding on gifts from near and far.

“If you’re going to the [Port Angeles] Symphony” at 7:30 p.m. at the Port Angeles High School auditorium, Mujeres co-founder Judith Pasco noted, “you can still come and have dinner” and make it to the concert on time.

Tickets will be available only at the door for a suggested donation of $20, with proceeds going toward Mujeres’ programs for girls and young women in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost and poorest state.

“We’ve got such gorgeous stuff at the auction. Every year, I think it can’t get any better, and then it does,” said Pasco.

Unique holiday gifts

The event is a holiday shopper’s heaven, she said, adding that the dozens of items come from around North America.

There are weavings, clothing, Christmas ornaments and ceramics from southern Mexico.

And, Pasco marveled, two new snowboards have been donated by Mervin Manufacturing in Carlsborg.

Pasco and the Mujeres de Maiz board of directors gathered these gifts for the yearly El Día de los Muertos dinner, which is also a time when Mujeres’ mission is explained.

Pasco and her small group of Washingtonians named their organization in honor of the Mexican women Pasco had gotten to know during her travels in rural Chiapas.

Women of the corn

The women, who speak both Spanish and the indigenous Mayan language, call themselves Mujeres de Maiz en Resistencia — women of corn, in resistance.

The words evoke their lives.

Corn is the staple food of Mexico; the women seek to strengthen their local communities. And they resist the oppression, personal and political, that plagues their country.

In 2006, the Mujeres de Maiz Opportunity Foundation set out to raise money for one scholarship for Yolanda Hernandez Gomez, then a teenager who hoped to study English in college.

And through the annual El Día de los Muertos dinner and many other fundraisers, the foundation has raised more than Pasco ever dreamed.

Nineteen girls and young women are now attending secondary school and college thanks to Mujeres scholarships.

Mujeres recently received a top rating from GreatNonprofits (www.Greatnonprofits.org) and is included, for the fourth consecutive year, in the Alternative Gifts International catalog (www.AlternativeGifts.org).

Mujeres also provides support for Saturday enrichment programs for elementary school-age children in rural Chiapas. And last August, 16 girls and women received much-needed eyeglasses thanks to Mujeres.

Gomez, who’s known as Yoli, is about to graduate from college in San Cristóbal, Chiapas, this winter.

She’ll give a short testimonial in the video to be shown after the Mujeres’ dinner Saturday evening — in English, the subject in which she will soon have her degree.

Yoli hopes to return to her home town of Zinacantán to teach English, Pasco said.

Yoli’s older sister, Juana, also was awarded a scholarship from Mujeres and is finishing a degree in computer science.

She’s already teaching computer classes to children in her home village.

The Mujeres foundation seeks to support women and girls as they pursue any level of education, Pasco added.

And as they expand their skills with computers, English and business management, she said, the women return to their own communities to share that knowledge.

Where to find more

Mujeres publishes a newsletter, maintains a website and offers presentations on its work to local organizations. Pasco and the foundation can be reached via www.MujeresdeMaizOF.org, by emailing mujeres@olypen.com or by phoning 360-683-8979.

But the best way to learn about Mujeres and the women of Chiapas, Pasco said, is to come enjoy the Mexican food, music and handicrafts Saturday.

There will be tortilla soup with guacamole, salsa, cheese and chips; salad with lime and cilantro dressing and the pièce de résistance, homemade Mexican wedding cookies.

Pasco’s gratitude to those who participate in the event, be they cooks, auction donors or dinner guests, has grown steadily over the years.

“My favorite thing about the dinner is being able to greet and talk to our supporters,” she added, “and thank them in person.”

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Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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