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Tom Law

An indigenous Mayan textile worker in Patzún, Guatemala, dressed in traditional clothing.

Despite enormous losses from decades of colonialism and violence, weaving is one of the enduring Mayan cultural traditions still practiced to this day in Central America. Textiles hold deep spiritual significance for Mayan peoples and each community has their own unique designs passed down through intergenerational teaching. The fabrics and methods of textile production in Mayan communities are not only critical sources of generational and traditional knowledge, but also help build and maintain the identity and history of Mayan peoples. Because of systemic discrimination and violence against them, Mayan traditional textiles have taken on special significance and represent the spirit of resistance against repression.

Mayan textile workers have accused both foreign and local companies of stealing their designs and mass-producing cheap “Mayan-inspired” textiles, without giving credit or compensation to indigineous communities. Mayan textile workers say mass production drives down the value of their handmade textiles, which is a critical part of their economy and an important source of employment, particularly for women. To protect their industry and cultural heritage, Mayan weavers from across Guatemala have spent years campaigning to reform Guatamalan intellectual property laws to protect their textile industry as cultural property.