Twelve days ago, a rip-roaring 7.5 scale earthquake shot up the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, tumbling adobe houses in its path. Just 2 kilometers from the epicenter, Margarita is at her back-strap loom, working diligently on a new blouse for Ali and Ibu. Her village trembles; parts of it fall. In the midst of the rubble, the shaken Mixtec Tixinda weavers locate one another and their ali4ibu work still on the looms; once convinced everyone is ok, they join forces to start rebuilding each other's homes.
Margarita and I met last summer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. When Ali slipped on one of the tops she had created, we were both hooked. The simplicity, the modern drama running down this classic handwoven top, the hand-stitching, the tonal three-months-to-make-it texture of the cotton . . . all of this had us at Bueno . . .
Mixtec weavers of this region are just returning to a beautiful pride in their indigenous culture - and the self-sustaining income it can yield - as the rest of the western world begins to take notice of their well-preserved ancient skill. Margarita and the 60 other women in their weaving cooperative have little in the way of possessions; this cultural heritage is a wealth from which they are learning to draw. Without it, many are without work, and head to the mythic promised land of the states. Patrice Perille, who oversees this group, calls what they are doing a reverse immigration project - giving the members of this community not only a reason to stay in the place that they came by, but to honor it.
15 men in this community are the only ones left in Mexico who know how to extract the ancient purple dye, tixinda, which is milked from a nearly extinct mollusk - without killing it. The women spin their cotton with a spindle, the old-fashioned way. That means for each garment, two weeks of preparation and spinning, and another 3 months or 400 hours of weaving. Who of us gives such time to create a simple piece of clothing that is nothing less than a language of love?
Margarita does, and I am a better person when I wear her threads.
Roofing is going up on the homes of those hardest hit, thanks to this group. The weavers will return to their looms and make of them a song of survival, and hope, and gratitude. Ibu will get their striking tunics soon enough. You will hear their song in the threads - how can you not? It is a song of grit, of community, of how nothing can fell the human spirit when we are creating beauty. . .together.
All the best,
Susan Hull Walker