RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — For Hispanic Heritage Month, 8News spotlighted a woman who has dedicated her life to empowering indigenous communities in areas of the world that have experienced high levels of historical trauma — and she’s doing it from right here in Richmond.
One might have seen the bright pink shop in Carytown before, but it’s more than a business. Inside, AlterNatives is filled with vibrant Mayan textiles, handcrafted jewelry and ornaments individually shaped by local and international artisans.
Owner Guadalupe Ramirez Blevins has created an energizing home at AlterNatives in Central Virginia.
“It doesn’t matter where you are,” Ramirez-Blevins said. “You just have to find the area where you most feel comfortable.”
To her, it’s reminiscent and representative of a special, cherished place.
“The marketplace is sacred,” Ramirez-Blevins said. “It’s a place where we can exchange services and goods. Your energy feeds me, my energy will feed you.”
Born in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, Ramirez-Blevins grew up during the Guatemalan Civil War. As the eldest of her siblings, she took on a nurturing role of leadership very early on.
“I had to take care of my sisters,” Ramirez-Blevins said. “I had to do a little bit more chores.”
Her parents became leaders in the cooperative movement, so Guadalupe quickly learned about the injustices facing indigenous peoples but also the power of community action. Over the years, through her work, she’s helped widows and orphans — empowering people in marginalized communities across the world.
She met her husband — a University of Richmond graduate — and moved to Central Virginia. Guadalupe eventually founded the Highland Support Project in 1993. Since then, through her non-profit and AlterNatives, she’s poured her soul into raising money and support for programs in Guatemala, Ecuador, Arizona and beyond to improve access to resources like healthy food, clean water and quality healthcare.
“There are still a lot of women who — it breaks my heart the way that they do it,” Ramirez said with emotion. “Here, we have appliances in our kitchens, and we just push buttons, and our coffee is… it’s done.”
A major part of the mission is to help people feel comfortable and inspired within their communities. Money made at AlterNatives goes to helping indigenous artisans. These creators can craft in their homeland while competing in the global marketplace. Each piece is unique.
“That’s what makes the charm,” Ramirez explained. “This is not mass production.”
While born and raised in Guatemala, Guadalupe has always celebrated her Mayan culture. She said it’s largely about finding “the good life” and giving others the confidence to do the same.
“One woman at a time,” Ramirez said. “That gives me my energy to keep going… [doing] what I’m doing.”
Guadalupe told 8News that the market can be a source of life and happiness. From Carytown to across the world, she and her loved ones hope to continue to spread that joy through art, culture and teamwork.