By Saul Escobedo
More than ten years ago, someone recommended a book to me: After Capitalism: Prout’s Vision for a New World by Dada Maheshvarananda. The book was written in English, a language which I didn’t know too well, but after thumbing through it, I decided to buy it.
The term “cooperative” in Monterrey, Mexico where I live, means a small convenience store at a public school where students can purchase primarily junk food if their parents send them off without a home-made lunch. Sometimes the word is also used to mean a pyramid scheme or something similarly dishonorable that no one should trust.
Until that moment I was a firm believer that the capitalist system represented the pinnacle of civilization. Suddenly “cooperativism” appeared to me as a viable alternative movement, upholding the values I’ve always embraced, including the wellbeing of every individual as well as of the entire community.
As I read further, I realized that during different phases of my life I had already worked cooperatively: the theater group I formed in high school, and later the silkscreen workshop and the audio-visual production studio. Yet the principles and policies that I read about helped me understand why my previous endeavors had not been completely successful or had lacked clear consensus or agreements.
I wanted to create a cooperative of professionals in cinematography, animation, graphic design, photography and illustration. I embarked on a quest to find representatives of the cooperativist movement. That was a difficult task in Monterrey, with a huge capitalist influence and strong admiration for the so called “captains of industry!” I found that there were cooperatives of coffee producers, fishing, transportation, cement and even bakeries, but no film producer co-ops. Eventually I found a man who was quite active and respected in the cooperative movement, but after a couple of meetings I gave up because he was unable to clearly understand my dream.
Any time I mentioned my intentions to anyone, their response was “Why would you get into that sort of trouble?”, or “Why not establish a public limited company and just work cooperatively?” So I kept the dream in the back of my mind for a few years, while I continued to study as much as I could about cooperativism.
A new leftist political party had a brief reference to cooperativism in their platform; but when I met their state leader, he was unaware about the subject. Surprisingly, though, the very next day he called me and offered to introduce me to an expert.
That is how I found Mateo Rangel. This professional social worker had great experience with credit unions and housing co-ops, and a profound knowledge of the history of the cooperative movement. The empathy was instantaneous; in no time we were excitedly planning how to make this crazy idea real.
It’s been nearly a year since then, and we’ve been joined by Araceli Collazo, singer and songwriter of Mexican-American descent, Alberto Barrera, photographer, Rafael, a pilot whose dream is to make films, Jesus, owner of an academic support school, Isabel, a social worker, Nivia, an actress of Cuban origin, Francisco, a business administrator, Hermilo, a painter who also writes songs, Luz Elena, with experience in sales, Maria Esther and Laura Reyes Sosa.
None of the co-op members had the financial means to pay for the the rather large registration expense, so we accepted the kind help of a local public figure who arranged this for us. Now we are all members of the legally established Semilla Creativa Sociedad Cooperativa (The Creative Seed Cooperative Society), which focuses on film production. The name also implies our goal of promoting and assisting other new cooperatives.
Through a concession agreement, we got a building that is very beautiful but very old. We have spent many months doing hard restoration work ourselves, without hiring a contractor: electrical installation, plumbing, sanitary installation, renovating old wood roofs, walls, doors and windows, breaking old walls and erecting new ones. Friends have offered professional advice and guidance to maintain the original architecture, built of “sillar” stone blocks.
Semilla Creativa SC has become a benevolent multi-headed hydra that mutates in shape and ideas as people join us. For example, Araceli offers art workshops to the community that have inspired neighbors to collectively create beautiful mosaic art murals in the building as part of the restoration. Another member, Maythé Cantú, brought her professional machinery and taught us many secrets about how to make gourmet coffee.
Because all professionals involved in video production or animation are avid consumers of food and beverage, we decided to offer healthy and nutritious options to choose from at any hour, not only to ourselves but also to the neighborhood. Hence K’iin Café coffeehouse was born. Of Mayan origin, the world “k’iin” means “sun”. We also hold neighborhood meetings to discuss how to make our downtown area flourish, as it has been hit hard by violence and abandonment by property owners and local government. We are starting to hold movie nights, music and poetry recitals, theatrical performances, book releases, workshops and conferences. Because of the coffeehouse’s popularity, a more diverse crowd is getting to know us and aspiring to be members.
Colibrí Films (the name means “hummingbird”) is developing into a team that can provide audio-visual communication solutions, a nucleus of creators self-organized to provide income, social security, employment benefits, professional development and access to state-of-the-art video equipment. The studio is attracting professionals in art, design, film and communication. Our first video production will be a documentary about cooperative movements in Mexico; simultaneously we will publish a comic book about cooperatives for children.
Semilla Creativa is filling a gap in this part of the planet. Many are paying close attention to our progress that promises many more surprises, which will also undoubtedly set a precedent offering economic alternatives for talented individuals who seek their personal and professional growth, for their families and their community.
Saul Escobedo: microculturas[at]gmail.com