Photo: Tina Larkin
When Maria Isabel (Chavi) Petersen, a native of Bolivia, arrived in Taos in March, 1987, she didn’t know a soul here and spoke little English. Twenty-four years later, she is a beloved, well-known member of our community. She owns From the Andes, a delightful, reasonably-priced store in the Plaza where you can find fine Alpaca garments, pretty cotton blouses, colorful skirts and handmade purses from Peru and Bolivia, among many other goodies. And she graduated last spring with an Associate Degree in General Studies from UNM-Taos.
Petersen works at her store almost every day of the week, but she somehow finds the time to do volunteer service. She was Board President in Community Wellness, worked at the hotline for Community Against Violence, Mountain Hospice, as an auxiliary at Holy Cross Hospital, and at a number of local schools (from Head Start to Taos High School). She also raised her five children.
Petersen considers her community service a way to reciprocate the support and inspiration she has received here. “I am so grateful that we have the Taos Public Library, where my two daughters visited during the summers while I worked in the store,” she said. “My five children graduated from of theTaos Public School system and they found encouragement and guidance from local teachers.”
She sees theTaoscommunity as an essential part of her personal and professional life. “I was a single mother for most of my time in this town, and I also had a business to run, so I relied on the community to provide support and mentorship for my children and myself,” she said. “That’s why I feel it is important to give back to the community.’”
She has found many ways to express her gratitude. “Maria Isabel ‘Chavi’ Petersen is a member of the Taos Milagro Rotary Club,” said Yale Jones, past Rotary Club president and a member of the Millicent Rogers Museum Board. “She has led service trips for adults and youth toBolivia,Peru and other countries and has been an inspirational and stabilizing influence in the lives of many young people. Another thing that all who know her value is her absolute and thoughtful honesty and integrity. She is clear-sighted and courageous. Everyone should have one friend in their life as remarkable as Chavi!”
Petersen also values friendship. “When I think about my community service I also think of the many friends I have made throughout the years, whose presence I treasure in my life,” she said.
Bernardine DeHerrera is one of these friends. She has known Petersen for the past 15 years. “Our children grew up and attended school together,” said DeHerrera, “so I know Chavi quite well. She is a committed and intelligent business woman, self-taught and hard working.”
De Herrera highlighted Petersen’s constant work to broaden the young people’s horizons. “She has been a sponsor for the Taos Interact Club, a youth branch for the Taos Rotary International Club,” she said. “Chavi developed a program by which the youth of Taos could experience helping people abroad, inPeruand other places.”
Petersen considers education a priority, for her five children and for everyone else’s, so she was always active in her kids’ schools. “At the same time, I wanted to continue my own education,” she said. “Pursuing a higher education in theUnited Statesis accessible to all who want to do that.”
“She was a very good and conscientious student,” said Bonnie Lee Black, who was Petersen’s English professor at UNM. “She shared her perspective as a mature woman who has seen life and traveled a lot, and she was generous with her life experiences. She was an A-student and an inspiration to the younger women in the class.”
Petersen acknowledges that life can be challenging and that, quite often, education takes more time and effort than people initially thought. “But with perseverance, and all the help that is available to the UNM students, even a 57-year-old can get a degree of higher learning!” she said.
The best part of it, though, is being able to use her skills to help others. “I like to sit in the classroom with a student that doesn’t know math, for example, and help him understand,” she said.
At this stage of her life, Petersen considers herself a Taoseña and takes pride on the beauty and resources of her adopted land. “There are so many things aboutTaosthat I love,” she said. “I enjoy seeing the mountains on my way to work and the amazing sunset when I come back home. I love my house, my private sanctuary where I hear birds sing in the morning and rest quietly at night.” She also admires the local galleries, art exhibits and museums. “I wish I had more time to explore them,” she said.
Petersen opened From the Andes in 1987 because she was also a business owner inBoliviaand wanted to translate her entrepreneurial skills to theTaoscommunity. Today her store is one of the most popular spots in town, visited by locals and tourists alike.
“Though I was new inTaos, I decided to stay because of the diverse nature of the community and the great hearts of the people, who embraced my family and me,” she said. “Today I’m happy I made that decision. I couldn’t have chosen a better place.”From The Andes Inc. is located at 103 E Plaza # G Taos, NM 87571-5928, Phone: (575) 758-0485