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Native artisans fight to survive in ‘the town of the Nativities’

For 100 years, this central Mexican town has made Nativity sets and other religious figures by hand. Now foreign competition has put its future in doubt.

Religious items produced in Asia can be purchased in Mexico City markets at lower prices than their Mexican-made equivalents. Many merchants sell both Asian and Mexican products, which they say gives consumers the choice of either lower prices or locally made products. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

AMOZOC, Mexico (RNS) — It’s known as the town of the Nativities, or los nacimientos. For more than a century, Amozoc, in central Mexico, has been the home of craftsmen skilled in creating religious figurines, who have passed their skills down through generations.

José Luis Ramírez checks on the small retail section of his workshop. While sales of Nativity sets make up much of his business, the best-selling pieces are still figures of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast comes two weeks before Christmas. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

But the industry has undergone tremendous change in the past decade, due to competition from Asian imports and the increased cost of materials. Out of the roughly 600 families that once produced Christian figurines in Amozoc, only 200 families remain.

José Luis Ramírez, a fourth-generation artisan in Amozoc, is among those who have seen the landscape change rapidly in the past decade. Sales at his family’s workshop have fallen by 40 percent over the past three years. Ramírez blames competition from figurine factories abroad that produce work that is of inferior quality but less expensive.

The Ramírez family is one of only 200 families of artisans continuing to work in Amozoc. Roughly 400 families closed their workshops in the last decade as markets shifted and sales dropped for Mexican artisans. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

Amozoc’s artisans make their molds by hand and cast in small batches, then hand-paint their figures. Decades ago, the Mexican industry sold to the worldwide market, but today the industry’s best customers tend to be smaller merchants and Mexicans who prefer to buy local, high-quality work.

In the middle of the holiday season, the town of the Nativities is doing brisk business, filling locals with hope that their livelihood will survive.  But it might just take a Christmas miracle.

The town of Amozoc, located in the state of Puebla in central Mexico, is filled with religious imagery. The “town of the Nativities” has been home to Mexico’s religious figurine industry for more than 100 years, but local artisans are finding it hard to continue.  RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

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