ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS
Renee Fajardo has been a freelance writer for over ten years. She specializes in all things South West. Her writing assignments include artist profiles, art gallery reviews, travel and entertainment news. Her pieces can be read on line at readfive.com and caminos.us. She also writes for the North Denver News and La Voz, Colorado's largest Latino news paper.She is the Denver corespondent for Indian Country Today. She recently was awarded a writing fellowhip from the Rocky Mounatin Women's Instite and will be working on interviewing women artist from throughout the South West for an new anthology titled "Return of the Corn Mothers".
Rita Flores de Wallace - Denver, Colorado
Rita was born in Galena, Nuevo León in the late 1930s. Her small town in the mountains of central Mexico was famous for its fruit orchards. She spent her formative years traveling all over Mexico with her family and studying the traditional folk arts of the indigenous people of the region. She studied dance with the prestigious Bellas Artes Academy in Mexico City for six months and then continued performing with their Coahuilan dance troupe for the next 12 years. During this time, she mastered many artistic skills. She taught throughout Mexico as a master artist, renowned for her papier mache, paper flowers, and folk dancing, and especially for her bordado mágico (magic embroidery).
In 1978, Rita met her husband-to-be, John Wallace, a teacher from Denver. She moved to Colorado, where she continues to teach at schools, universities, and museums as a master folk artist. She has received numerous awards for her work with the community, including the Colorado Council on the Arts Master Artist Award in 1992. She continues to tour throughout the United States and recently completed a two-month exhibition at the Onda Arte Latina gallery in Portland, Oregon.
In 1911, Pancho Villa and his revolutionaries rode through my village. Almost all the men were killed in the fighting that ensued, including my grandfather and many of my uncles. My mother vividly remembers the burning of the town and the orchard (la huerta). She and her three sisters were only able to survive the horrors and abuse by hiding for three days in a rock chimney.
Through all this, though, my family never lost their faith in God. I was raised in that orchard with my grandmother, mother, father, and smaller brothers and sisters. We were always taught to be generous to those in need, and to be proud of our heritage. I had great respect for the makers of arts and crafts; their weaving and flower making were so beautiful to me. Even though these women were not rich, they made these stunning creations to represent their love and affection for their family and community. I also saw that it seemed that the really rich people were the ones who gave the least to the poor; maybe they were afraid of becoming poor themselves. The working poor were the ones who really took care of the sick, and of those in need. My family was blessed with being able to feed and support themselves, because we had restored our orchard and we always helped the mestizos, the indigenous people of the village.
My grandmother encouraged me to learn all I could about the folk arts of our village, because she knew it was important to have someone pass on their magical secrets. Today I continue to spend my life teaching and passing on the ancient techniques and artful creations, so that the world will not forget the gentle, kind spirit of the women of that epoch.
Rita’s Life Quote
La burla es la careta de la ignorancia.
Two Stories About My Abuelitas
By Rita Flores de Wallace
I have two stories. Both of them are about my abuelitas (grannies) and both are about shawls, beautifully woven magic shawls that have refined and defined my very being to this day.
The first story takes place in Galeana, the village of my birth. As everyone knew, this village had suffered many hardships during the revolution, and many people had died because of it. My abuelita Lenore, my mother’s mother, kept all her surviving children together and made a good living from tending the orchard we had restored after the siege.
It was a magnificent place. In the summer, flowers grew the size of dinner plates, and everywhere were bees and butterflies. It was breathtaking—trees filled with quince, apples, pears, apricots, avocados, and pecans. You can’t imagine a more perfect paradise. It was God’s solace for all we had been though.
When I was about five, a great windstorm came through the village. These storms are legendary. Every August, we experienced what I think is called a monsoon season. This was a particularly violent storm, and as I and my sister and two brothers cowered under pillows and blankets, the wind whipped and howled outside. My grandmother Lenore, my mother, and my Tia (Aunt)Lilia, who was 12 years old, stood at the windows watching as trees flew by. I knew this storm was a really bad one.
Suddenly, I heard my grandmother cry, “Oh, no! The compuerta!” This was the wooden gate that held the water in the irrigation ditch. The Río Galeana ran past our front yard, and we had small irrigation canals running off it to water the trees in the orchard. But the rain and wind were so strong that the river was overflowing the ditch. Soon, water was flooding the house and we were standing ankle deep in river.
Calmly, my grandmother said “We will all drown if we don’t cut the ropes that hold the gate closed.” She grabbed her woven gray and white shawl, which hung from a nail on the wall, and went outside. It was a very important family heirloom. It was the shawl that wrapped us up as babies, held us close to abuelita’s breast when we were sick, and covered us when we napped. She was not going to wrap us up this time; she was going outside into the storm. My mother begged her to let her go instead, but my abuelita said “No, you have your children to take care of.” She pushed my mother aside, grabbed a machete, and went through the door.
We ran to the window. We could see my abuelita, her hair flying everywhere and her shawl whipping wildly in the wind, holding a large machete over her head and fighting the storm. When she reached the gate, she firmly chopped at the ropes that held it shut. Water rushed everywhere and almost washed her away. As she fought her way back to the house, windblown and battered by pelting rain, I saw a vision. The shawl had taken on the spirit of my grandmother; she was wrapped in a cloak of valor and honor. My grandmother was a hero!
The second story took place when I was 8 years old. My father had moved us to Saltillo, Coahuila, about an 8-hour train ride from Galeana. He wanted to be a farmer—not a fruit picker, but a farmer. He wanted to work with cows, horses, and goats. It may be the Mexican version of a settler.
His parents had already moved to this place, which my mother said would be very different from the place where we grew up. How different I didn’t know, but something about moving scared me.
When we got off at the train station, I was almost in tears. It was the middle of nowhere. It was hot, there was a lot of sand and cactus, and the wind was blowing everything across the horizon in a cloud of dust. My father stayed at the station to wait for our luggage, while my mother and I and my three siblings started the two-hour walk on the only road to our new house.
My mother wrapped us in a shawl and tried to encourage us not to be sad. When we arrived at the house, it was empty. No lights, no candles, no heat. Very different from the lush, fragrant orchard and warm, cozy home we’d left. We were depressed, and before long, we were very scared when the wind began to howl like a wounded animal.
Soon, the biggest sandstorm I’d ever seen kicked up and covered the whole world in blowing sand. My mother, and we little ones, huddled in a corner of the house, trying to keep warm. Mama sang and told us stories, trying to keep us calm. But the storm was so loud and the sky was so dark. I was starting to feel more than just scared. I felt like I was trapped in a foreign land with no hope of escape.
Just as my despair seemed it would never end, one of the boys said he saw something from the window. He laughed and yelled for us to come look. There, in the middle of the driveway, was a small figure wrapped in a brown and beige woven shawl. It was my grandma. Her hair whipped around her face, and the wind seemed to suck her backwards each time she took a step toward the house.
It was my father’s mother, my abuelita Sara! She had walked all the way from her town on the other side of the train station to our house. It took her hours. Under her arms were two big jars. One was filled with sweetbreads and the other with lemonade.
We ran to the door and embraced her. We were relieved. Joy filled our faces. Abuelita Sara hugged and kissed us and told us not to worry. She had come to rescue us. We were happy once again.
This was the second time in my life that the image of a grandmother wrapped in courage and wearing the shawl of love and honor had graced my sight. These images are forever etched into my memory. For these memories, for the honor of my abuelitas, I have devoted my life to passing on the art of bordado mágico, because today in Mexico and the United States, the magic is being lost. I want to ensure that the younger generation appreciates and realizes that these women wove their hearts and souls into these shawls. A world of kindness and a world of love have been put into them by the fingers of the women who wove the threads. So much love, in such small gestures.