Guadalupe Angeles' status as an undocumented immigrant living in Santa Fe's Southside leaves her—and others like her—with limited job opportunities.
Angeles came to Santa Fe three years ago following the 2008 deportation of her husband from Arizona to Mexico. Now every Monday and Wednesday, after her kids go to school, she travels six miles to the northwest side of town to take English classes.
But it's what happens afterward where the real challenge begins.
Angeles takes part in Mujeres de Adelante, a "homeless mothers" cooperative where she makes items such as soap, lima bean soup and special teas. She's one of five women who participate in the program, which seeks to provide job training and create business opportunities for those who either are or have been homeless.
"They're very industrious, they have a lot of energy, they want to work," says Allegra Love, a liaison with Adelante. "And so they are using their energy and their skills and their talents to come together and create a business."
Another participant, Anabel Fierro, came to Santa Fe nine years ago and has been participating in the Mujeres program since its inception about two years ago. Currently undocumented, Fierro says she recently received a waiver and is in the process of getting a green card.
Though it doesn't pay much, both Angeles and Fierro say the program gives them an opportunity to work and learn techniques that will help them succeed in day-to-day life in Santa Fe. When Fierro describes the program's biggest benefits, she says it's her "dream" to have an ownership stake in her own business.
A typical shift for them includes making products like cooking oil, Agua de Jamaica (hibiscus tea) and garbanzo bean soup. They then sell the products at local craft fairs and sometimes in booths at places like Sam's Club. The mission is simple—feeding their bottom line.
"This is a neat project and it makes everyone feel good, but they're here because they want to earn money," Love says.
Getting there, however, is another story. Both Angeles and Tierro could use the extra help; though they sometimes care for children for work, their workload is often very limited. In 2013, each of the Mujeres participants made just about $300 for the entire year. That's partly because Adelante hasn't found many areas to sell the cooperative's products.
Adelante is trying to narrow the scope of the Mujeres program to make it more financially viable. Since they don't have access to a commercial kitchen, making large-scale food items is out of the question for now.
But Mujeres may soon get help from a new partner—the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce.
Love says she's talked with the Green Chamber about helping Mujeres develop reusable bags for the city's upcoming plastic bag ban. They would then pitch the bag design to the city to be used in its rollout of free reusable bags to the public.
But Santa Fe Green Chamber Executive Director Glenn Schiffbauer says those talks are still tentative.
"We've talked about it on the Santa Fe Sustainable Commission," Schiffbauer says. "But we haven't flushed it out yet."
Soon, the Mujeres will also focus on making and selling organic soap, which is relatively cheap to make, and stores well and sells well, according to Love. She hopes the plan will help transform Mujeres into something "more professional" for the five women involved in the program.
"They don't have papers, they don't speak English, they don't have jobs, so they're taking matters into their own hands," she says.