For several months now, Higher Grounds has had the honor of hosting our partner farmer Jose Perez Vazquez of the Maya Vinic cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico--the very co-op that inspired us to start Higher Grounds--for an extended visit. Jose’s extended visa allows him to learn about the U.S. specialty coffee market, including barista and communications training, and share his perspectives with those who have enjoyed coffee from his region for years. This interview is part of a series highlighting Jose’s knowledge and perspectives as a coffee farmer as well as his experiences during this roaster/grower exchange.
In recognition and celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day (October 10), we asked Jose about his hopes and dreams for the future.
HG: How has your visit with us helped you reach your goals?
Jose: Today I’m overcoming my challenges and fulfilling my dreams. This hasn’t been easy to do. It requires a lot of courage and a lot of passion.
HG: What has been the most difficult part of working towards a better future?
Jose: The hardest thing I’ve had to do was to try to change the conditions of my life of poverty, working to help my family get ahead. We’ve had to be honest and consistent in our work, standing firm. These are our principles for changing and improving our lives.
Poverty has been the biggest challenge I’ve had to face in my life, but with time and dedication, I’ve been able to overcome it. I’m now able to grow some coffee and I have land to keep growing. I have a house that allows us to survive. The situation in my home has changed for the better. In the past I’ve faced a lot of sadness, but now I’m able to smile.
Living in poverty and on the margins of society, we suffer and we sometimes lose hope and faith. As the scripture says, seek, and ye shall find, the door will be opened to you. My life has followed these words.
Blessings do not come from miracles, but rather from the sweat and the fatigue of a family determined to work the land with their own hands. Because no one else will help you meet your needs. Searching within ourselves we find the way. This is my experience, and it guides me today.
HG: How is your life different now than it was when you first started growing coffee?
Jose: After many long years full of fortunes and misfortunes, we learn from our mistakes and we learn how to improve our work and the lives of our families, and how to enjoy the fruits of our own labor. At first I had no land and no house, and I didn’t have many coffee plants like I do now. Today the conditions of life have changed for the better for me and my family. I have a large family with ten children, and now I can give them more of what they deserve. Today we’ve been able to buy more land to work, and we have a house to live in. We’ve just bought a small truck to help transport the coffee harvest and to help people get to the hospital in cases of emergency. This is part of my work to serve my community.
HG: How does your individual work benefit your whole community?
Jose: With our new resources, I’ve been able to give work to some of my neighbors, who help us to farm the new land and to build our new house. I’ve been able to help the women of our community sell their crafts here in the United States, and I’ve been able to serve as a bridge of support for my organization Las Abejas, and my coop Maya Vinic, helping, for example, to support a girl in my community who suffers from cerebral palsy.
HG: How has your time here in Michigan impacted your family and community back home in Chiapas?
Jose: All the honoraria that Higher Grounds and its partner organization On the Ground have paid us for our participation in conferences at universities, churches and NGO’s has been a great help in our economic and family development. It’s also been very rewarding to share experiences between the country and the city, between the producer and the consumer. I’ve been able to meet our customers in person and to speak with them directly. This is very exciting for us, and it helps us to continue to overcome obstacles to realize our dreams.
HG: What are your plans for the future?
Jose: There’s still a lot left to be done, because my dreams go beyond what we’ve already been able to achieve. I’d like to be able to help my community even more, and to be able to keep changing people’s lives for the better. I’ve seen the situation they live in and I’ve lived through it myself. I’ve heard my people lament that they don’t have a roof over their heads, that they lack access to water, food, healthcare and education.
I would like to keep working with On the Ground and Higher Grounds to advance their current water project, which is a priority for Maya Vinic’s families of producers. Water also helps us to improve the quality of our coffee, so that we can offer good service and quality to our customers. Drinking a cup of organic coffee grown and produced by a low-income family means giving life to our community.