Ep#37 A week in Tulum: Entrepreneurship as Sacred Activism
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I reflect on the week I recently spent in Tulum, Mexico.
Now, what comes to mind when you think of Tulum?
Yogis? Pretty beaches? Sacred sites? Selfies of pretty people in pretty spots?
For real; Tulum was on the list of places I wanted to visit because of how beautiful I thought the photos were! As well as to pay reverence to the sacred sites and the spirituality of the land.
After a week spent at a business retreat with one of my coaches, Melissa Ruiz, I am reminded of how much of a façade social media can be. While I can only speak for myself, it just breaks my heart to see how much gentrification and colonization I see of this land.
Now, I used to be one of those tourists with the big backpacks that have made traveling for the fun of it a part of their lifestyle.
But now that I’m older and have my own business, I’ve become more interested in hearing about the history and culture of a place directly from the locals. I love trying to get a glimpse of different lands through the eyes of the ancestors who lived on those lands.
One of the sacred sites I visited in Tulum is called Coba. The guides are Mayan, and their ancestors have lived at Coba for thousands and thousands of years. Coba was only recently “discovered” in the 1970s.
My guide grew up not ever seeing an outsider, and his father was actually a first-generation tour guide who could speak five different languages. And my guide was so excited to share his stories with me!
I learned that a lot of the temples at Coba were only accessible to the elite members of the community. Even his own ancestors weren’t allowed on those grounds.
I remember walking through the purifying cave that warriors would go to cleanse themselves before battle, and I became curious as to how my guide’s ancestors purified themselves.
That’s when he said, “Go to the cenotes.” Cenotes are underground caves filled with water that the Mayans believed were entrances to the underworld.
So, I, along with my group—all women of color, entrepreneurs, and ceremonialists—arrived at the cenotes where a tour was just leaving. We had this precious five-to-ten minutes to ourselves.
The water was still and clear, and we felt as if we were back in our mother’s womb. We expressed our gratitude and allowed that amazing moment to sink in…
...until the next tour bus rolled along and shook us awake!
We left the area and later stopped at a spot with a bunch of local Mayan shops. Now, I’ve never been a haggler, but to see all of these Mayan women with smiles on their faces, eager to please us—how could I not pay their asking price just to hear them thank us for supporting their businesses?
And here’s what I found out: Even though the prices at these hotels, cafés, and other establishments were comparable to those in the U.S., most of these workers were getting paid only $200 a month.
There was this particular café in front of our AirBnB where one of the employees just stood out: his energy and enthusiasm were through the roof. I couldn’t help but tell him that he needed to have his own restaurant.
Lo and behold, Rogelio Flores’s story medicine began to unfold.
Rogelio actually lived in the United States for 25 years. He married the love of his life—a white American woman. They had two beautiful children together and he made a great living as an electrician working 60+ hours a week. But he was deported, not once, not twice—but nine times.
I asked him why he kept coming back. His answer? “I wanted to be with my family.”
He was never naturalized. After the ninth time he was deported, he was thrown in jail for 18 months and accused of being part of the mafia. When he got out, he started a new life in Mexico and used the money he had to start his own restaurant. It was successful… until the actual mafia shut it down and took everything away.
Hence why he ended up in Tulum making $200 helping to run this gentrified area of the town.
“How is it that you’re so joyful?” I asked Rogelio.
“Well,” he replied, “I woke up another day. I’m still alive.”
His wife died two years ago, and he wasn’t able to be there by her side. He misses his children.
To top it all off, he has $40,000 in savings at Bank of America, which he can’t access because he would need to be there in person to prove his identity.
He’s a survivor. He clings on to hope. He prays for his children. He wants to start another business. But for now, he accepts his circumstances for the time being, and was never above serving us with a smile when we dined at that café.
This is why I think of entrepreneurship as our sacred form of activism.
When we think about abundance, when we think about people who have a lot of money, we tend to associate it with corrupt politicians and corporations who launder their money.
We need more people like Rogelio and the Mayan women who can barely stay above the waterline to have their own enterprises. We need more individuals like them to birth their sacred offerings.
There are so many good things that we can do with money if only that money were in the hands of the right people.
I would love to purchase the beautiful cloth that you sewed with your own hands that tells the stories of where you come from.
I would love to try your grandmother’s recipes.
I would love to see more of your community use money to uphold the traditions and healing practices of your ancestors.
If you have a vision—if you know in your belly that you have an offering that is so sacred—that can help even just one person, then allow yourself to receive the support to help your offering come to fruition.
Let’s see people like Rogelio allow himself to receive that support so that he can invest in his local community.
You can email me at [email protected] or send me a message on Instagram @jumakae.
Get to know what local communities are doing and ask yourself what you can do to uplift what’s happening.
Let’s invest in the storytellers, entrepreneurs, and indigineous people so that we all rise up, together.
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