Photo: Manny Jorquera
While the news has been dominated by the COVID-19 Pandemic, the resurgence of Femicides in Juarez and violence throughout Mexico, one group has been working to help Indigenous women face the everyday challenges and build a career.
Since its creation three years ago, Ni En More has given an opportunity of professional advancement to many Indigenous women – mostly Rarámuri – in Juarez and a chance to get out of violent households.
“We [Ni En More] created a program in which women are trained in sewing techniques. Later, they produce garments – huipiles – among other clothing pieces,” shared Janette Terrazas, co-founder of Ni En More.
Ni En More is both a social innovation nonprofit and a clothing brand. It was established by three women from different origins, one of them Janette Terrazas, the co-founder, is a visual artist and a cultural activist for ten years now.
Terrazas has dedicated her career addressing issues in the borderland, including gender violence. She is joined by Veronica Corchado, an organizer and social activist for human rights in Ciudad Juárez.
For more than 25 years Corchado, has been defending the rights of women in Ciudad Juarez. And the third member of the group is Lise Bjørne Linnert, a visual artist in Norway who – for ten years – has been developing projects focused on femicides in Mexico.
One of Linnert’s most popular projects is ‘Desconocida Unknown Ukjent,’ an ongoing international mass collaboration, embroidering nametags to protest the continuing murders of women in Juárez.
The founders’ background has served as a foundation for Ni En More to merge art with political activism. The name itself reflects the origins and diversity of this project, Ni En Spanish, and Norwegian for “Not one more” [women dead].
Terrazas described the effort of combining three languages for this project, saying “it serves to intertwine efforts on an intercultural and transnational level.”
The project benefits Raramuri women, and victims of domestic violence Juarez to find a way to develop a career, provide women with a set of skills to possibly start up their own businesses.
The reason why the founders have targeted Raramuri women in addition to women victims of domestic violence is that, as Terrazas described, Raramuri women have been historically discriminated by “mestizos.”
“Raramuri women have been discriminated against because of their origin, because of their skin color, because they live in vulnerable
conditions. Their [Raramuri communities] have been victims of deprivation of land years after years….this project allows us to do is to create bonds of trust“
Also fresh on the minds of the founders is the murder of 26-year activist and artist Isabel Cabanillas, whose case is still unsolved. The murder and subsequent protests have brought renewed attention to their innovative project.
As an established non-profit in three countries- Norway, the United States, and Mexico – Ni en More founders have had the opportunity to apply to different grants across the three countries.
These grants, Terrazas points out, have helped the organization to keep growing and brought the possibility of expansion.
“Last year we received a grant from the Mexican government, [and] we were able to open the second studio in the Raramuri community,” Terrazas shared.
“They already have their own studio, and they no longer just generate clothes for Ni en More. They generate other items that benefit their communities.”
By navigating through different federal aid forms and processes, the founders have found a way to finance new studios, allowing them to educate and provide hands-on experience to women from vulnerable communities.
“We are in the process of obtaining another grant from the Consulate [General of the United States in Mexico] to open a third studio. And it’s going to be led by one of these women.”
“Once they have taught the women how to prepare the organic and natural materials to dye the fabric and sew, they produce the garments”
For the United States, Ni en More ships out garments to stores like Communitie, a boutique with locations in Marfa, Texas and Amagansett, New York. They also operate as an online retailer, where people can order unique pieces.
“All the money generated from the sale of these products returns to the project to sustain the salaries of these women, support them, and support their communities.”
Terrazas also mentioned that, as an organization, they recognize the unsafe conditions and exploitation some workers have been exposed to, especially in the fast fashion industry. “We offer flexible schedules to these women, six-hours a day so they can spend time with their kids.”
While the project continues to help and inspire the women, even they cannot escape the troubled times caused by COVID-19.
With the border closures, then boutiques closing and merchandise being sent back when the lockdown orders took effect, Terrazas’ concern has been if she and her team will make it through 2020.
“We have been surviving this last couple of months…we have survived from the sales of the garments…that’s not enough since we are 15 people, and we still need pay rents, utilities and so forth”
Ni En More’s current campaign is still accepting donations, and Terrazas invited the community to sponsor one of the women’s salaries so they can work full time as they keep learning.
Terrazas encouraged anyone who is interested in learning about their sustainable practices and donating to visit their website.
As for the activists in the borderland communities and their continued fights for communities at risk, Terrazas compared their struggle to that of the tenacious plants of the region.
“The border is a society that can overcome adversity, just like the flowers that are born in the desert.”