Travel Log: On the Road in Oaxaca with Karen Santos
Being invited to Oaxaca, Mexico to photograph the artisans of Casa Ojo was a dream project that inspired me creatively but most importantly, personally. Growing up in the Bay Area, I’ve both witnessed and adapted to the exponential growth of technological advances in Silicon Valley and our modern American life. As a first-generation, born American-- from Peruvian immigrant parents, I’m also in touch with my Andean Indigenous family living in rural parts of Peru who still utilize natural resources for ancestral practices and craftsmanship for survival. A deeper appreciation of my roots evolved as well as a curiosity of the survival of other Latin Indigenous communities outside of Peru. There is a shared history and commonality among the Latin Americas, and it is with this understanding and lens that I approach in documenting our heritage and people.
On our adventure in Oaxaca, we visited the homes of four different families of artisans-- fiber artists, candle makers, and potters. Every family was so welcoming and open to share with us the laborious process of their skill set, which was passed down from generation to generation; selling their artisanal products is the main source of their livelihood, a family affair-- where everyone humbly plays a part in helping support their family business. For example: the grandmother would dye the wool, her daughter would turn it into thread, her husband would loom the color threads into a blanket, and another family member would step in as the sales person. Although their craftsmanship is used as a means of survival, it is truly admirable to see all the hard work pays tribute and translates in masterful pieces that are one of a kind.
Being among the families and observing their home life, felt familiar to me. Moments like witnessing one of the Abuelitas (grandmother) cutting flowers from her garden for her altar, or a group of kid cousins running around playing, or a Tia (aunt) cooking lunch in the kitchen for everyone-- were vignettes of life that were reminiscent of my familial background. Also, being able to speak and listen in my native language of Spanish was a profound way of connecting with these families in the loving way I treat my own family. I empathize with their stories of struggles, joy, hard work and dedication to their community and each other, much like my family’s story in Peru.
I’m so grateful that Casa Ojo trusted my life experience and artistry, and provided me the opportunity to photograph the beautiful people they represent. It is so important to them to honor the history, humanity, and hard work of these indigenous communities and celebrate their craftsmanship. Perhaps through the future stories and my images Casa Ojo will share soon, you too will see the intent and soul behind this small BIPOC-owned business.