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September 17, 2021

The Pure Earth Mexico team and friends at the launch of Barrio Con Barro. Intern Yanet Garcia is second from right.

Recently, I had the opportunity to represent my home, New York, in a place that has long held great meaning to my upbringing–Mexico. I traveled to La Roma (the city made famous in the Oscar-winning movie of the same name) for the launch of Barrio Con Barro. 

Pure Earth Mexico’s Barrio con Barro campaign aims to spread awareness and access to lead-free pottery across the country. The event brought together potters, chefs, politicians, and other community leaders to celebrate the connection between Mexico’s food and pottery tradition. I had the pleasure of getting to know a few of the potters Pure Earth works with in different parts of the Mexican republic. They told me about the long connection they’ve had working with clay and what it meant to them to be able to maintain it in a healthy way for their families and people who want to engage in sustainability. 

The event kicked off with a panel where we discussed Pure Earth Mexico’s Barro Aprobado program. We watched a video that illustrated the strong connection between clay pottery, its deep roots in nature and how all these things are interconnected with our actions. It gave me a new appreciation for how the world of the potter touches our lives in ways we may not see.

At the end, we finished the panel with a tradition–volunteers stepped into the center to meditate on the things that they wanted to get rid of, extending outside of the lead issue plaguing communities. Each individual threw a clay piece in a basket to symbolize the beginning after an end. I got the chills just hearing the passion and determination in everyone’s voice. 

I realized that sometimes the simplest of tools can create such a beautiful and essential piece in people’s lives. Not to mention the religious significance clay pottery works have also held and how they are still used today in order to create special traditional dishes. 

At the event,  guests got the opportunity to get their hands a little dirty at a pottery workshop. I immediately walked up to Doña Rosario as she was getting her station ready. I started to ask her about the process and before I knew it she started to demonstrate to me how to make a clay bowl with only three tools–I was blown away. Her effortless technique made it clear it was something she had enjoyed doing for years. When I looked up from my camera lens, there was a growing group of people observing her while I continued to shoot pictures of her in action. 

Artisanal potter Doña Rosario demonstrating her technique. This talented potter, who is part of the Pure Earth Barro Aprobado program, was awarded 1st place in a national ceramic prize competition.

Prior to my internship, I hadn’t known about lead pollutants in traditional pottery glaze and the impacts it has on neurological development, especially among children. Pure Earth’s work spreading awareness and actively addressing the toxic blood lead levels of Mexico’s children completely resonated, as some of my earliest memories are with traditional pottery in my household. I spoke with my family members about the problem of toxic lead glazes in many pieces of traditional pottery and urged them to make sure they knew where and who they were buying their pottery from. It’s clear that artisanal Mexican pottery is a tradition we want to save, but we also want to make sure there is access to safe lead-free pottery. 

Pure Earth Mexico is working on training potters to go lead free, upgrading more kilns and making headway on researching better ways to sustainably glaze pottery without lead. Projects like the Circle of Women and Barrio con Barro, all show support to future generations of traditional potters while maintaining roots from the past. 

Working in the hospitality industry, I learned about unique processes and passions behind many establishments. It has made me more curious and inclined to get a full grip on the true meaning driving a passion, like those of a restaurateur, a chef, or an artisan like Doña Rosario. More than ever, I have seen that there are ways chefs, potters, consumers and others can collaborate. We just need to educate people on topics like this, ask more questions, and look for innovative and sustainable ways to move forward creatively while remaining true.

Graciela Montaño is holding the lead-free pottery plaque given to restaurants that are part of the Barro Aprobado Program.

It has been rewarding and exciting to help Pure Earth create more exposure on the issue and the disparity. Being part of a cause that is actively working with artisans has been unreal, especially now that I was able to meet them in person and build a more personal connection during my time in Mexico..

Attending the Barrio con Barro launch event and seeing a pivotal moment come to life, I was able to feel the air of joy in seeing a community come together and giving a voice to those who need it. I realized more than ever that human connection, communication, and understanding, builds a strong and fruitful bridge toward something worthwhile.

Born in New York City, being a first-generation American woman, and raised on the tip of Long Island, naturally made me gravitate toward things and places that resonate with me, as I was one of the few latinos in the early 2000’s attending my elementary school. As years have gone by, I learned that my passion and understanding of Mexican culture is because it was, and continues to be, a defining part of my story. Between the ages of two and four I was raised in Mexico by my grandparents. After overcoming culture shock in America, it took me two long years to realize the advantages and disadvantages of being raised between the fast rhythm of New York, and that of a  sleepy town in the mountains of Puebla, Mexico. It made me see the clear disparity–that a place so beautiful also faces such brutal realities. It made me want to fight for what’s right. 

As a first-generation American and the first able to pursue college in my family,  I ultimately want to set a tone and hopefully be a reference and source for hope. I aspire to embody someone who isn’t setting limits and is willing to defy the odds. I am excited to keep pursuing endeavors that align with my values that allow me to be myself and be creative. Pure Earth’s work has opened my eyes to what we can all do. I am confident this is just the beginning. 

The Barrio Con Barro event brought together potters, chefs, and community leaders to celebrate the connection between Mexico’s food and pottery tradition.

This post is from Pure Earth intern Yanet Garcia.

Learn more:

Photo Essay Mexico: Lead Exposure From Traditional Pottery

Circle of Women: Creating Safe Spaces For Innovation And Health With Traditional Potters In Mexico

Lead Poisoning Affects Over 1 Million Children in Mexico; Pottery is Main Cause

Lead Poisoning in Newborns: The Story Of Baby X in Mexico

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