Friday, December 26, 2014

Faith, Friendship, and Fajas

Natividad weaving. Cuanajo 2004
Natividad Romero Casimiro makes each of her weavings with love, generosity, and gratitude, and the faith that tomorrow will be better. For that reason, I call them "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.
Looking 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.
When we exhibit our artesania and people notice the fajas, which is not that often, they of course want to know what these woven pieces are for. I explain 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. But I also need to explain so much more...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, and we were anxiously hoping to find her at home when we brought our tour group there in August of 2011. As soon as we turned into Cuanajo, there she was, walking down the dirt road towards her house. We stopped and offered 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 with one of her cotton fajas and her mother, Maria Guadalupe (right) is holds a certificate Nati received in recognition of a weaving course she had given recently. Maria, also an excellent weaver, has had to stop weaving due to the arthritis in her hands.

In 2013, we arrived without a tour group, just a couple of friends. We didn't intend to buy anything, because we still had pieces by Nati that we hadn't sold yet and buying fajas or morrales (woven bags) wasn't a priority for my buying trip. We just wanted to say hello. The family had obviously been suffering because the Casa de las Artesanias was no longer buying their work. The new management was not going to buy artesania that didn't sell in their stores. Nati implored me to take three fajas, and told me, "pay me when you sell them...I trust you." We were touched by that trust, reflecting on what this gesture said about our relationships with artisans we have developed over the years. And more sadly, it speaks to the desperation of the these talented artists who are without a market and have few options. I paid Nati a few months later, not because I sold her fajas, but when I received an email from our packer/helper Rene telling me that Nati had called him at the Casa de las Artesanias and asked that he contact us. Her mother was sick in the hospital and needed money to buy medicine. I wired the money (the amount we agreed to charge for the fajas) figuring we would eventually sell them. They are stunning as you can see, and are as of yet, still unsold. They are not only "spirit sashes", but I believe could be called "friendship fajas" as well.

To see or purchase these beautiful fajas please go to our website:

1 comment:

  1. Such a story it's the same I feel with my vintage crocheting i crochet by eye I can't understand directions.. I hope somehow God can make a miracle for here and her mom and the items be sold blessings to you and her with love Janice