Canada and El Salvador are separated by just three countries — the United States, Mexico and Guatemala.
But in many ways, they are worlds apart, say an Agassiz couple who are attempting to draw the two nations closer together, through a system of mutually beneficial commerce — not to mention a bit of fashion and fun.
On Saturday, April 12, Keith and Maria McPherson will host a fashion show in Langley, which they hope will have a profound effect on people living in impoverished Central American nations.
The Mayan Cultural Fashion Evening, presented by the McPhersons’ organization, Maya Corn Connection, will include an exhibit of traditional clothing, designed and sewn in El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as a demonstration of traditional dance from the Mayan region of the Americas, wine and hors d’oeuvres.
The purpose of the event is to help support rural artisans in those two countries — many of whom are single mothers, struggling to feed and clothe their own children, explained Maria.
The couple mounted a similar show in Agassiz last year, filling a small 80-seat Anglican Church and raising funds to send back to Maria’s native El Salvador.
“It was very well received. It’s what encouraged us to go to Langley,” said Keith, who is charge of marketing for Maya Corn Connection.
The one bit of criticism the couple received following their Agassiz show was that they only promoted the work of artists who live in Central America — not local artists and artisans.
It was feedback they took to heart.
This time, they will incorporate the work of a local jewelry maker — Funky Cool Patina’s Patricia Burnett.
Burnett’s work, which can be viewed at the Langley Arts Council gallery on Fraser Highway, is often inspired by music, with many items containing pieces of actual musical instruments or song sheets.
“We loved her work. We thought, ‘Let’s go with Patricia and see where it takes us,’” said Keith.
“It’s a beautiful thing because there is an exchange of culture and art,” said Maria. “All of the pieces have meaning for the designers and for tradition.”
The Azul Nonualco line of clothing, which will be on display April 12, is created by a family-owned co-operative.
It is recognizable by the indigo dye that is used to colour the 100 per cent cotton fabric, imported from Brazil or Guatemala.
The blue dye, from which the company takes part of its name, has natural antibacterial and deodorizing properties, and it has been used for 1,000 years, said Keith.
“They make beautiful patterns in the dye,” he said.
One of the company’s iconic designs is a butterfly, meant to signify transformation, beauty and freedom.
A second line — Iquiti — is the product of a Mayan priestess who incorporates traditional design elements, such as the the sacred corn, into the earth- and skin-tone fabrics she favours.
The fashion show will also feature “waist-woven” shawls and scarves. The weavers fix a loom around their waists and create woven patterns through the movement of their bodies, said Keith.
Maya Corn Connection buys the clothing directly from the seamstresses or their co-op, at local (El Salvador) market prices and pays to have it shipped to Canada.
Here, they sell it at Canadian prices, then subtract the costs of purchasing, shipping and taxes and send the women 40 per cent of the difference.
For every $20 spent here on a piece of clothing, $11 goes to person who made it. The result is that the women earn two to three times what they would get for the clothing if they sold it at a local market, said Keith.
In Canada, the amount of money involved is hardly worth considering, but in rural El Salvador and Guatemala, it makes all the difference, said Maria, Maya Corn Connection’s executive director.
“We want to support these single moms. They’re responsible for their kids — for food, for dressing them.”
Through Maya Corn Connection, she said, the women of El Salvador and Guatemala are given a voice.
“We give dignity to these women, because we value their work, we provide jobs for them and we help keep families together,” said Maria.
Keeping families intact, in the rural communities where the women can raise their children in relative safety.
In order to find a market for their clothes in Central America, the women would have to move into the cities, which can be a dangerous environment for children, said Maria.
Instead, they’re able to stay in their rural communities and support the local economy.
“We’re helping in a very practical way.”
Maria speaks from experience. She was a single mother when she came to Canada with her son in 2008.
Since she’s been here, Maria said, she has learned that women have rights equal to men and feels that she is no longer invisible.
“There are only three countries between us, but (El Salvador) is a totally different life,” she said.
“To be a woman there is not easy.”
Mayan Cultural Fashion Evening takes place at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church on Saturday, April 12, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Tickets are $30. They may be purchased in advance only (not at the door) and are available from the church office, 20955 Old Yale Rd. Call 604-534-6514.
They can also be reserved through the Maya Corn Connection, either on their Facebook page, by email email@example.com or phone 604-819-7982.