Throughout the month of July, communities across Mexico observed La Guelaguetza, a month-long celebration of Oaxaca’s indigenous cultures. Pulled from the Zapotec language, the word “Guelaguetza” is usually interpreted as the "reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services" and the celebration is the largest ethnic and cultural festival in Oaxaca.
During the holiday, the eight regions of Oaxaca share their various music, dance, art, and food traditions in small gatherings throughout the state, coming together for a large celebration in Oaxaca City at the end of the month. A tradition spanning centuries, La Guelaguetza has grown into a must-see tourist experience and as it grows, it remains a cornerstone of Oaxacan and Mexican culture and its preservation is the primary focus of the communities that participate.
Globalization and the Double-Edged Sword of Technology
With La Guelaguetza and other elements of Oaxacan culture—and Mexican culture at large—continuing to transcend borders and capture the imagination and interest of people around the world, it highlights ways that modern methods of communication and community engagement tie into the sharing, protection, and consumption of ancestral experiences and cultural heritage.
From celebrations and experiences to food and beverages, technological advancements and the digital economy provide ample opportunity for connection and socioeconomic growth. They also provide ample opportunity for commodification, commercialization, loss of authenticity, and the exploitation and misuse of resources.
Applications to Agave Spirits
When we think about Maguey Exchange, we picture ourselves standing in the crossroads of time. On one side, there's a deeply-rooted past steeped in rich traditions of agave spirit production. On the other is an expansive digital horizon that's changing the way we connect, communicate, and conduct business. That's where we are—right in the middle, learning from the past and leveraging the future.
At Maguey Exchange, we don't see the balance between old and new as a challenge. Instead, we see it as an exciting opportunity. It's about ensuring that traditional festivals like La Guelaguetza can continue to thrive, even in a world that's increasingly going online. It's about preserving the authenticity of our heritage and using technology to celebrate it, rather than dilute it. We're excited about where this journey is taking us. We're not just building a business, we're reshaping an industry and forging a path for the future. And we're just getting started.
We recognize that, while technology is not a substitute for good policies and implementation, it can greatly accelerate development if effectively harnessed. The World Bank reports that countries that successfully take advantage of digital developments can see an increase of up to 2% in their GDP growth rates. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reports that regions that have adopted digital technology witnessed a significant decrease in social inequality, with an average decrease of 7.6% in their Gini coefficient, a commonly used measure of income inequality. This data underscores the potential economic gains for producers and regions where our platform is implemented and bolsters our mission of using technology to drive shared prosperity and social impact.
Cynthia Ruiz Villalobos, founding partner of Aventureros del Mezcal, a social entrepreneurship project focused on preserving traditional production of artisanal and ancient mezcal, supporting fair payment to producers, and conserving endemic agave species, and fierce advocate for leveraging technology responsibly has seen firsthand how digital interventions are affecting the mezcal world, for better and for worse.
“I think [technology] has affected it for the better because many producers have managed to sell their product and gain exposure. However, it also affects it negatively because many people don't even bother to go and visit the producer… Nowadays, most of the operations are done through Facebook and Instagram [and] there's also the issue of buying, let's say, 100 liters of mezcal, making up a story, or having a pre-prepared story without notifying the producer where those mezcals are going. They might be using the producer's image to buy cheaper materials and in a way, expropriating that image without the producer ever finding out. So, while technology is very useful, we shouldn't forget the importance of establishing personal relationships with the producers. That's crucial.”
We agree. Through direct, on-the-ground conversations with producers, importers, brands, and consumers, Maguey Exchange is building tools to bring agave spirits to a larger audience while maintaining respect for the communities and cultural heritage at its center. We’re identifying and relaying the metrics that help participants of the value chain make informed decisions about sourcing and procurement. We’re providing educational tools for individuals and businesses to plan and analyze. And most importantly, we’re building capacity for the industry to responsibly continue its expansion without compromising people, profits, or our planet.
A Call to Action
One of the benefits of today’s world is that we have access to more corners of it than ever before—and this access increases daily. As we take advantage of these resources and opportunities, it is our collective responsibility to leave things better than how we found them.
This includes being honest about the motivations behind our engagement and presence in communities. It includes interrogating the sources from which we learn about and observe culture and tradition. It includes holding each other accountable for the impact we have on the spaces we inhabit. And it includes thinking beyond this single moment towards the potential, long-term effect for all.
Join us as we honor the tradition and legacy of agave spirits and other customs and traditions throughout Mexico while moving towards a more robust future.
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