OUR VISIT TO SAN GABRIEL CHILAC, PUEBLA, MX.
As I’m leaving the city of Puebla, I am leaving one side of Mexico: the city where all things modern happen. Puebla is a very old and full of culture city but modernity doesn’t always come gracefully. Sadly, I am told how government has allowed to tear down green areas to build plazas with Walmart stores and Dry Cleaners.
But the Mexico I’m approaching as we pass the highway and enter the mountains, is the simpler Mexico, the quieter Mexico, the rural Mexico. That is the Mexico that most Mexicans live in.
We are going to document the elaboration of a very well-known ethnic Mexican dress with colorful flowers in the region of San Gabriel Chilac, for a meeting with the artisans that produce it.
San Gabriel Chilac, is a very quiet, simple, clean community with paved streets. People always say hello with local formalities when you walk down the street. The population is very much governed by big festivities, for example, the weddings last for 3 days! One day in the groom’s house, another in the bride's house and another day together. “Las Mayordomías” is another very big celebration for “Santos Patrones”, this is one Catholic tradition where all the ladies dress in traditional Mexican embroidered dresses to go to church and celebrate their saint.
Our companion on our trip is Andrea, our production partner, a 24 y/o girl raised in Chilac with a master’s degree in Political Science made in the city of Puebla. She tells us that her whole family (including cousins, aunts, and grandmother) have been working in the production of hand embroidered dresses, or Puebla dresses, generations before her, or since she can remember. She learned to make these Mexican dresses when she was younger but says is a very time-consuming process.
A few years ago, Andrea got financial funds through a government instance called SEDESOL to boost the communities to keep producing these dresses and commercialize them in a more ethical fashion. She organized groups of women in teams and these teams should be qualified under certain parameters: did they speak a native language? How long had they been doing this? And other socio-economical guidelines. What was happening up to this point, was that the buyer would establish the cost in which he wanted to buy the merchandise. With the communities organized; with Andrea as an intermediary and with new technologies, these artisans and their communities had been able to establish the real value to their work, and not the other way around.
Even though some of these communities and artisans have evolved to work in new ways, Andrea tells us that is very tough for the artisans to give access to outsiders to enter their area of work, and document with pictures and video. They really fear plagiarism.
Andrea thinks that it is possible to change the traditional model of selling artisan crafts without losing the very essence of everything. She believes online selling through internet platforms allows the world to know how these crafts are made and the real value they deserve.
As we document the embroidery process David*, the owner of the workshop, and one of the few male embroiderers in the town tells us that he is proud of this workshop. Previously, they used to work inside their house, but everything got bigger and the machines and clothes would pile up on top of everything. David had a dream of growing and could accomplish it thanks to hard work and organizing things with a little help from Andrea.
On our stay there, we all ate at the table together: Angel*, his wife, Daniel*, Andrea, Alejandro* and me, Karina. They treated us like real guests, gave us gorditas, tortillas, beans, toasts of brains, chicken and soft drinks all with a super nice talk, they made us feel welcome inside their house.
It is our pleasure and our duty to show to the world the work behind pieces like these. We are in the quest to spread the importance on how these clothes are made, clothes that are well paid for the artisans, clothes that have a history, a culture behind them, clothes that matter.
Daniel*: embroiders with a pedal machine. Learned since age 13, currently embroiders 6 dresses a day. Is very shy.
Angel*: He is the owner of the workshop, he started this workshop inside his house, until he was able to build it outside because the work was a lot. It had been his dream to have a well-placed workshop and now he is proud to have it. He is one of the few men who own a workshop since they are mostly owned by women. He makes the fabric prints.
Angel's wife*: She is also the owner of the workshop. She completes the dresses on a serger machine and organizes and coordinates the workshop.
Magda*: She embroiders by hand, independently in her own home these loose dresses that carry hand embroidery. She is part of a larger group of hand embroidery artisans Her daughter, Monica was also present.
Alejandro* is the video maker for Kante Decor.