Marisol Chancos Mendoza recently became a legal resident of the United States. She made the move from her native town of Ayacucho, Peru to New York City only a few weeks ago, joining her husband and 14-year-old son, Adrian, both of whom she hadn’t seen in five years. She endured a long wait for her papers, and was even denied visitor visas during the process. However, for the first time this month she saw snow — and a hurricane — and she also attended her first parent-teacher conference for Adrian, who is now fluent in English and also learning to speak Chinese.
“My husband and I thought it was better for him to get accustomed early, but I remember it was so hard when I had to ask him if he wanted to come to the States and tell him he would have to come without me,” said Mendoza. “He was only 9 and he said, ‘Mom, don’t worry. The first thing we’ll do is get you there.”
It wasn’t an easy five years after her family left Peru, but Mendoza wasn’t lonely — nor was she idle. Working as a volunteer coordinator for an international service organization, she crossed paths with Martha Dudenhoeffer Kolodny, a local resident who had come to Peru with the desire to make a difference.
Kolodny, with Mendoza’s guidance, found her passion working with female prisoners in Ayacucho, and ended up returning several times to visit and bring materials for embroidery — a traditional talent Kolodny noticed the women had. Many serving time for drug trafficking they were forced into, the prisoners began creating intricate Peruvian textiles, which Kolodny sold in the United States to raise money for educational programs in the prison. Soon enough, the women’s efforts grew into the non-profit Maki International, which not only brought solace to Mendoza while she was separated from her family, but uplifted her hometown, which is still recovering from a 20-year guerilla conflict that began there in 1980 and resulted in the deaths and disappearances of some 80,000 people.
“Maki was my salvation during that time. It kept me busy,” said Mendoza, giving an appreciative glance to Kolodny during a Nov. 14 interview at Pannikin Del Mar.
Kolodny responded,”If you were busy, had you had your son there, Maki might not have ever happened.”
Mendoza spent a week in Del Mar — her first trip to California — to attend a Nov. 13 fundraiser for Maki at the Powerhouse Community Center, where she met Maki supporters and shared first-hand experiences about life in Ayacucho.
The prisoners who benefit from Maki’s framework of creating, exporting and selling their work each have stories to tell, either of how they were forced into being a drug mule or how Maki’s educational programs will keep them out of the drug trade upon their release. But many have also lived to tell the story of the decades-long genocide that was brought upon the Andean region by the Shining Path, a terrorist group that recruited thousands into its murderous insurgency.