Friday, May 9, 2008

Women in Coffee

At heart I'm a farmer. I've taken an interest in coffee farming, since it's such an important commodity in the economy of this province. And as might be expected, there's plenty of colorful history behind the farms.

This picture shows four generations of women in the Ruiz family who have worked the Ruiz farms and have been involved in the business from the beginning. At the top is the great-grandmother, Claudia Jaramillo de González, who was the wife of the first mayor of Boquete. To her lower left is her daughter, Rosa Lía González J. de Ruiz. On her lower right, the mother of the current Ruiz generation, Elisa Aurora Araúz de Ruiz. And finally, baby Lía Ivette Ruiz de Pech, "US coffee distributor". Having met Lía and one of her children (who was having a great time being a barista, making cappucinos), and knowing her energy, this picture just tickles me.

By the way, all pictures here are copyrighted by Dr. María Ruiz and are used here by her permission.

Great-grandmother Claudia was a successful commercial flower grower. Her daughter, Grandmother Rosa, married into the Ruiz family, and not only continued to be a very aggressive, succesful flower grower but also was deeply involved in coffee production as well.

Doña Rosa was quite an entrepreneur. María Ruiz tells any number of stories about her grandmother that are both affectionate and also give an insight into Doña Rosa's imagination and creativity, nearly unique for her times. It was Doña Rosa, for example, who bought the first Kodak camera in Chiriquí; she took many of the photos of the farm and family.

Doña Rosa was so successful and had such an impact here in Chiriquí that she received national recognition for her work by the Panamanian government. This is a copy of a photograph from a newspaper article about her, clearly taken earlier than the photo at top. I don't have exact dates on many of the photos I'll show, because María Ruiz herself is not sure of them.

Doesn't that photo just radiate intensity?

In Latin America, overwhelmingly it's the women who hold the families together and contribute to their success. Doña Rosa is just one example, but a truly remarkable one. We're talking 60-70 years ago, if not more, and in this rural area. Don't judge Chiriquí by what you see now. Some of the paved roads aren't even 15 years old. And like most Latin American countries the "interior" meant very little to the people in power in the capital. I read once that even today, the "interior", as far as the residents of Panama City are concerned, starts about 15 miles outside the city limits. Of course today no one dares to ignore Chiriquí, given its importance to the economy, but there are several derogatory nicknames that are still used for the people of the province. We take instantaneous communication for granted, but 70 years ago? Here? So she must have been quite a dynamo to have the powers-that-were in Panama City actually raise their heads and take notice. And of a woman at that.

So--hats off to an outstanding woman in any country.

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