I can’t believe I have already been in Mexico for three weeks! Only one week left 😦
This past week was our community consulting project. We were split into two teams to work with two different artisans. Kyle and I were paired with a local welder, Don Enrique. Being that I don’t know much about welding, I was glad to have Kyle, who knows something about everything.
Like I said above, Don Enrique is a welder by trade and spent most of his career working on industrial projects all over Mexico. He is originally from the state of Michoacán (which has a lot of violence) and after years of following his work and searching for a safe place to move his family, has settled in Bucerías. I don’t know about you, but when I envision welding, I think about a trade that requires you to get down and dirty, bust your backside, and work tirelessly on projects pertaining to construction, maintenance, plumbing, or industrial sites. Don Enrique’s welding is much different.
Don Enrique has utilized his 40+ years of welding experience to create a business around artistic welding. He has taken a trade that isn’t normally viewed as beautiful and made it so. He ventured down this path after meeting a woman how encouraged him to incorporate traditional Mexican tiles in his pieces. Know Don Enrique’s product line includes home goods, furniture, and art.
When beginning this project, Kyle and I had a TON of ideas before our first meeting with Don Enrique. Instead of sharing these right off the bat, we decided to take a backseat and first find out what HIS goals were and what HE wanted us to help him achieve. This allowed us to listen to his expertise about his trade and listen to what he actually wanted. Many people go into a situation and think they know best on how to help, but this isn’t reality. You CAN’T help someone when you don’t know what they need or understand their culture and way of life.
Approaching the project in this way was the best thing we could have done. Don Enrique’s goal for us was to help him create a long-lasting impression on peoples lives through his work, come up with new creative product ideas, and help him bring a level of formality to his business, with his dream being to have his work shared around the globe (No pressure right?). Kyle and I were speechless. How were two college students from Illinois going to help this incredible man?
We knew that we had four days to work on this project before our final presentation to Don Enrique, so we got right to work. We met with him each day to pitch prototype ideas, run formal designs past him, get his feedback, and of course, continue learning about him on a personal level. Day by day, he inspired me more. He has overcome and faced so many hardships in his life, but he continues to work harder everyday to provide his children the opportunities they deserve. I was determined to help Don Enrique to the best of my ability.
Friday finally came and it was time for Kyle and I to present our finished work and for Don Enrique to show us his prototypes of our product ideas. I was so nervous! I wanted desperately to help him reach his goals. Our final meeting was here. Don Enrique walked through the door of our office with the biggest smile on his face. At most meetings, we spent some time catching up before getting down to business, but not this time. Don Enrique was SOOO excited about the new products he wanted to show us right away and…….Kyle and I froze.
Don Enrique had taken the pictures of our ideas and brought them to life! We were so proud of him and he was so proud of how they turned out. We didn’t give him measurements, blue prints, or anything. Just pictures. And he turned them into art.
The rest of the meeting continued and we showed him all of the things we created for him; formal business cards that explain his story to attach to his products, table tents to inform customers about the labor behind the products, an inspiration board of even more product ideas, a complete pricing strategy with promotional options, and the option to continue using Kyle and I as a soundboard as new ideas arise and when he needs additional help reaching new goals. As we walked him through our work his smile grew until he began to tear up.
We then expressed how inspirational and humbling it had been to work with him and how strong of an individual he was. He was so excited about the work we had done and was incredibly happy with our deliverables, but what he said after our presentation was over is what will stay with me. “Thank you for all of your amazing work, it is truly appreciated. You have helped me believe in myself and my art again”(then it was my turn to hold back the happy tears).
Reflecting on this experience got me thinking about power. privilege, culture, and diversity. Don Enrique’s biggest priority is his family and staying true to his culture. How many of us can say those two things are our top priorities? How incredible is it that someone who has had every chance to give up and have a negative outlook on life, lives in such a positive, happy way? You don’t need power or privilege in order to do great things. All you need is kindness in your heart and humility.
Many people will read this and go about their day. Continuing to stereotype and separate themselves from diversity. If this experience, my experience, can change one persons perspective or destroy an existing stereotype, it will all be worth it ❤