Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Spirit Sashes

We first got to know Nati when we were shooting our video documentary for La Casa de las Artesanias (the Michoacán Folk Art Center) and right away we knew that she was special. How many people can endure so much illness and hardship, and manage to smile like that? Polio as a child, and barely surviving cancer shortly before we met, Nati has always inspired Doug and me. When I look at this photo-- her crippled feet tucked under and her wooden crutches nearby-- with that big warm smile... I feel this gentle woman's strong spirit and determination.

Natividad Romero Casimiro makes each of her weavings with love, generosity, and gratitude, and the hope that tomorrow will be better. For that reason, I call them "spirit sashes".
Recently a woman asked me at an exhibit for Dia de los Muertos, what these woven pieces sashes called fajas are for. I answered that the women who make them use them as belts, but one could make a camera or guitar strap out of them, or simply hang them for decoration. All were correct answers to her question. But I needed to tell her so much more. I needed to say that all of Nati's woven belts, bags, and table runners carry the same designs used by her ancestors, the Purepecha women who came before her and who taught the next generation, as she is now doing. When I look at her weavings I am reminded of all the poor Mexican campesinos who struggle to hold on to their indigenous traditions. Weavings from Cuanajo-- even from this master artisan-- have never been commercially successful. Mexicans and Americans alike usually fail to understand that $70 (my reduced price) is not a lot of money for this work. So I end up selling what I buy from Nati at my cost...which gives her a few more pesos for food or bus tickets or yarn, so that she might keep doing what she knows until she can't any do it any longer.
We hadn't seen Nati for a couple of years, though we saw her mother last summer, and we were anxiously hoping to find her at home this time when we brought our tour group this past August. There she was, as soon as we turned into Cuanajo, walking down the dirt road towards her house. We stopped to pick her up, and after kisses and happy exclamations of "que milagro", we quickly noticed how the diabetes has taken its toll on this woman who has already suffered so much. We all treasured that visit...our tourists also found Nati and her family special, and they enthusiastically bought numerous weavings to take back home. Below Nati proudly posed this summer with one of her cotton fajas. Her mother, Maria Guadalupe (right) is holding a certificate Nati received in recognition of a weaving course she gave. Maria, also an excellent weaver, recently stopped weaving due to the arthritis in her hands.
To see or purchase cotton fajas or wool purses (morral) please go to our website: www.mexicobyhand.com

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