An organization based in Sunset Park is working directly with indigenous female artisans in rural Guatemala to provide masks free of charge to organizations in COVID-19 epicenters, such as Black Lives Matter in Brooklyn, local hospitals, migrant farmworkers in California, and at-risk communities in Mexico and Guatemala.
Mercado Global, a Brooklyn-based accessory brand and non-profit that empowers rural Latin American women to become entrepreneurs, produced more than 65,000 masks with most of them being donated to organizations in need.
Ruth Alvarez-DeGolia, founder and executive director of Mercado Global, talked to this paper about the organization and its initiative.
“We help indigenous women, most who haven’t had a chance to go to school and have little income,” she said. “As the pandemic started to hit New York City in early March, we quickly started shifting production to making masks and it’s been really amazing.”
Their design team is based in Industry City, and the rest of the organization is based in Guatemala.
“For our artists and staff, working from home safely producing thousands of masks and sending them to New York City where all the hospitals were still figuring out how to get masks has meant so much for our artists and our staff to be able to give back to our community that way,” said Alvarez-DeGolia.
Now the organization has been expanding and is focused on donating to other groups in need, such as migrant communities in the U.S.
“We have donated several thousand masks to migrant farm workers in California and the Black Lives Matter in Brooklyn because we are an interracial organization and work in Guatemala based specifically because of the racism that indigenous people in Guatemala face. It’s been exciting to be able to help the population we serve because right now there is a huge hunger crisis in Guatemala because the economy has totally shut down due to the pandemic.”
Mercado Global was happy to help New York when locals needed masks the most.
“It was really exciting,” said Alvarez-DeGolia. “Guatemala is closer to New York City than Los Angeles is to New York so we were able to do it so fast. One of our clients is Levi Strauss, who donated overstocked denim that we used to make our first production of masks and it was great to be able to ship so many masks to New York hospitals.”
She also discussed their Industry City space.
“It’s a good environment for our creative and sales team where we are with a vibrant creative community and a lot of organizations,” she said. “Our whole team in Guatemala are all indigenous women and we try to bring them here when we do events for our gala and they always feel really comfortable here too which is great because there’s a large Guatemalan migrant community in Sunset Park.”
Dealing with the Black Lives Matter movement has also been an important aspect for Mercado Global, as members have dealt with racism.
“When we go to Guatemalan offices, people won’t speak to the head of operations of Guatemala because they think she’s illiterate because she’s indigenous so we have dealt with so much racism there, and we’ve been having conversations about racism there and what can we learn from the racism that the U.S. is dealing with,” said Alvarez-DeGolia.
For more information, visit mercadoglobal.org.