Gilda (La Madrina) recently returned from one of her trips to Mexico bringing for me this time a beautiful, handwoven table runner. At least that is how I will use it, as something decorative for my table. She found the colorful fabric in a shop in San Miguel de Allende that sells gently-used textiles as well as embroidered or woven articles of clothing and table linens–all handcrafted by indigenous women who embroider or weave colorful cloth as a cottage industry to provide food and medicine for their families. But, they often hock their personal belongings when they are in desperate need.
I look at the vibrant cloth, smooth the ribbons of color with my hands and think about the woman who once owned it. Did she use it as a rebozo, throwing it over her shoulders on chilly mountain nights? Or wrap it around her baby to keep him close? Did she care for it lovingly? Use it to wipe her tears after a row with her husband? Was she sad to give it away?
Mexico’s indigenous population is a group that is ever-present and among the country’s poorest people. To make ends meet, women with bright ribbons in their braids or wearing layers of cotton frocks huddle on church steps hoping for alms, sell their wares in city squares, and materialize to earn a few centavos (cents) wherever people gather.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time across the border in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, a place that, unlike San Miguel de Allende, is now under siege by warring drug cartels. I remember the children selling chicles (gum) barefoot in the sunbaked streets, the vendors desperate to make a sale, and the elderly women sitting with their knees bent to one side on filthy sidewalks, their faces in the shadows and hands outstretched to catch pesos were they to rain from the heavens. I imagine that even the poor have retreated to safer ground now that tourism is dead and those with the means to do so have fled.
I look at the table runner and how it spans the length of the table the way my love of Mexico extends beyond its beauty to its complexity. Its colors undulate, taking me away on travels to Mexico I have not yet made. And then, I imagine taking hold of one end as the mysterious fabric flows across the miles between the woman who owned it and me, her hands clasping the other end.
I wonder whether she misses it or imagines where it is.