The Women of Cuetzalan, Mexico: Photos from Market Day

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In most of the world, the everyday women who make life happen—who cook the food, sell the wares, care for the children, run businesses, harvest crops—are ignored, especially once they are no longer young. While men are achieving power and renown, building legacies and businesses (however local they may be), and even taking younger lovers or wives, women tend to be overlooked as they age. This happens in developed and developing countries, in cities and on the farm, but it is more obvious in places where both women and men have less opportunity (this includes both the urban poor in the United States and rural folk the world over).

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The irony is, of course, that as we age, we learn how to live; how to fight for ourselves and what we believe in, how to compromise, when to lay down arms in surrender and when to dig in. Older women are a vast and untapped resource, a wasted well of knowledge and knowingness. When I took these images in the waning days of October, 2012 in the tiny mountain town of Cuetzalan, Mexico (about 4 1/2 hours northeast of Mexico City in the state of Puebla), it was an unplanned excursion into portraiture.

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It was market day in the town’s square, the sun was high and bright in an almost-cloudless blue sky, and after procuring a beautifully-embroidered traditional Mexican blouse (the woman who sewed it is wearing the glasses, below), two herb-stuffed sopas with green and red salsa, a large glass of fresh orange juice, and some treats, I relaxed in the cafe that fronted the square. After wandering through the market, using my ok-but-not-great Spanish to make exchanges with the locals, it was with appreciation for a mental respite that I sat sipping a cappuccino and watching the market.

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A group of older women sat directly in front of my table, and indeed one fairly cantankerous lady used one of the chairs in the al fresco spot to rest her bags. They ignored me, and I just watched their body language with eachother; as I observed them, I realized that in their way, they were sort of flying under the radar of the rest of the people in the market. About half of the sellers were these older women, but in a way, they were part of the landscape, not paid much mind by anyone walking near them.

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But their faces! How could I keep myself from attempting to catch their beautiful, totally natural faces? I have made it my goal to achieve at least enough fluency in Spanish to enable me to also get their stories down next time. What is behind those visages? I’m sure they have so much to tell. And nobody asking them about how they got there. Next time, I will.

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All photos by Starre Vartan.

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