Visitors walking into First Elementary School in Lincoln on a Wednesday night will see a group of 25 to 30 Latinas chatting and enthusiastically making jewelry or knitting. It’s not an arts and crafts club—it is way more than that. The Lincoln ladies are part of El Rincon de las Comadres, a group of Latinas working together to share tradition and folklore as well as knowledge and marketable skills.
I would happily translate the name of the group into English, but there really is no translation. The word comadre encompasses so much that it’s impossible to find an English counterpart. Yet it is so culturally and linguistically apt to this group, that I feel like I need to take the time to explain it. The word literally means “co-mother,” and is culturally how a mother would refer to the godmother of her children, since it’s the godmother’s responsibility to help raise the child. But the word is more than that. It’s also a way to refer to a friend, an equal and a neighbor. And yes, it’s even what we call someone with whom we want to gossip. Either way, it’s someone we share with, learn from and collaborate with. El Rincon the las Comadres is really the Comadres’ Corner.
But I digress. Started by Ana Rojas through the Latino Leadership Council, El Rincon de las Comadres focuses on the skills and talents of the individuals in the group and helps share them with the rest of the participants. When the group started, several expressed the desire to learn how to make jewelry. Others in the group possessed the skills, so the group started learning the craft from other group members. After jewelry, it was knitting and other crafts. Now the group is ready to showcase their newfound skills by displaying their crafts at an upcoming Methodist Church Fair in Roseville.
As the ladies started perfecting their crafting skills, they started becoming interested in using their skills to launch a new business opportunity. With that in mind, Ana, a long-time entrepreneur started offering them workshops on how to start a business, how to price wares, how to sell them and more. As other topics are identified by the group, individuals in the group with that knowledge hold workshops on the topic. All the expertise stems from the group and benefits its members.
“When new participants come in, some of them think that they don’t have anything to contribute…any skills,” says Ana. “I ask them, do you know how to knit?…oh yeah….do you know how to cook?….yeah, I can cook. Then you have something to share with the group!” Ana focuses on identifying the positive skills and knowledge in each individual and building on them rather than focusing on the negative experiences and bad breaks the person may have experienced. “There’s so much each of us can offer,” says Ana,” our experiences, ideas…We help wake up those talents and learn ‘this is what I can do to make a difference.’ It’s empowering to know our community has so much to offer.”
And the group does have a lot to offer. El Rincon de las Comadres is made up of several different demographics. There are young moms who are looking at learning skills and knowledge that they can use to better their situation. There are professionals who have immigrated from Mexico but, because of barriers like language and lack of professional certification, have not been able to establish themselves here. These include teachers and accountants who have a wealth of knowledge to share with the group. There are also elderly and widowed women, who find much needed social support in the group and can share their cultural knowledge and life experiences. Individually, each has been marginalized. But together, in this corner, they identify with each other, learn from each other, share with each other and contribute to the success of each other.
And they are sharing more than knowledge about crafts and small businesses. They are also passing on our culture to the next generation. The group recently started putting together a collection of Spanish children’s songs and poetry—the same the participants were treated to as kids. The idea is to collect those and share them with a new generation; helping those kids keep a connection with their culture and past.
And the kids are more than happy to connect with that culture. Originally, childcare was provided at the group meetings, allowing the mothers to come together, work and share. But the kids quickly wanted to become involved and forewent childcare and instead opted to participate side by side with the mothers and learn how to make crafts, cook traditional Latino meals and learn from others’ experiences.
The concept of El Rincon de las Comadres has caught on throughout Placer County. After starting the Lincoln group, Ana received requests from the community to start a group in Roseville. That group now meets weekly on Mondays at the Downtown Library and has an average of about 20 participants each week. Not to be left behind, the community in Auburn is now looking at starting a group as well.
“And we don’t forget about the compadres (co-fathers),” says Ana. “They are invited to our small business workshops as well as some of the other seminars and we’re looking and developing programs for them as well.”
We look forward to seeing this program continue to grow and reach more comadres. Who knows, maybe soon enough the comadres will be taking more than a corner. If you’re interested in learning more about El Rincon de las Comadres, click here to see their flyer.