By Jane Bauer
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
One of my favorite things is to rearrange a room and I have found that many spaces benefit from having things removed rather than added. The trouble is we get so attached to having stuff and having things the way they are.
Even if you don’t consider yourself as someone who concerns themselves with design, most of us add our own signature to a space. Think for a moment about your living room, picture it in your mind if you aren’t there. Visualize each item that you have chosen and ask yourself why? Is it for its sentimental tie to a past event – a display of photographs perhaps? Maybe the object has a practical use – a candy dish, or a foot roller you keep tucked under the couch. Why have you arranged the furniture the way it is – to maximize light or seating faced towards the television set?
What about the colors? Were you intentional as you filled this space or did it become layered over itself with time? What might be taken away? How does the room reflect who you are and your habits?
In this issue our writers explore design. We didn’t limit the topic to home design or architecture or clothing and it was fascinating to see what people came up with. From papel picado, to the clothes we wear to the buildings we spend our lives in, what is clear is that no corner of our lives is untouched by design. Unknowingly, we have each curated our lives, piece by piece over time.
You may not consider yourself a symbol of design but the truth is that we all are. Our style is reflected in our clothes, our haircut, our living room, even the plates we choose to eat our dinner off.
As we approach this commercial season what if instead of adding more stuff to our ever-growing piles, we became intentional about the spaces and objects we already have? Decluttering your space has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and lead to greater creativity.
Let’s lighten our load as we vault into 2024!
By Randy Jackson
Back in December 2021, I wrote an article for The Eye (Understanding Huatulco) that outlined some of the future uncertainty of the Bays of Huatulco as a resort area created and funded by the federal agency FONATUR (Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo). The last official plan for Huatulco under FONATUR was issued by the federal administration of Felipe Calderón (2006-12). Since then, development has continued, but on a smaller scale than had been anticipated by the Calderón plan. Nonetheless, in recent years there has been a flourishing of residential real estate projects, and a continuous increase in the number of tourists, particularly domestic tourists.
Under the current Federal administration of AMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador), funding for and responsibilities of FONATUR were reduced in favor of AMLO’s pet project, the Mayan Train in the Yucatán. As his term comes to an end, AMLO has issued new directives that will have significant impacts on Huatulco, its current level of functioning, and its future development:
(1) The transfer of the ownership, governance, and maintenance of Huatulco from FONATUR to the State of Oaxaca and the municipality of Santa María Huatulco.
(2) The creation of three new national parks within the boundaries of Huatulco, along with the conversion of the Tangolunda golf course to a Natural Protected Area (Áreas Naturales Protegidas, ANPs).
(3) The opening of the toll road from the City of Oaxaca to the Oaxacan Coast.
FONATUR Set To Leave Bahías de Huatulco
The long-running rumor of the exit of FONATUR from Huatulco seems to have come to pass. In January of this year, the State of Oaxaca issued a press release announcing joint actions by the State of Oaxaca and FONATUR for the purpose of “rehabilitation of the Huatulco Comprehensive Planned Center [CIP, Centro Integramente Planeado].” On May 30, 2023, a collaboration agreement was announced by the federal Government of Mexico, the State of Oaxaca, FONATUR, and Tourism Mexico. I paraphrase the salient clauses of this agreement:
● FONATUR will transfer to the State of Oaxaca responsibility for operating the services it has provided to CIP Huatulco through FONATUR infrastructure.
● FONATUR will transfer to the State of Oaxaca responsibility for all matters related to the transfer of FONATUR real estate.
● The collaborating parties will enter into a series of specific agreements to enable the transfer of all assets, properties, licenses, permits, and staff of CIP Huatulco from FONATUR to the State of Oaxaca. The State government will accept the staff for which it has sufficient funds in its budget.
● FONATUR and the State Government will enter into specific agreements with the Municipality of Santa María Huatulco for the provision of services.
● The working group of the parties to this agreement will provide a critical path of actions required to carry out the transfer agreement. This critical path will be provided within 30 days of May 30, 2023.
Following this agreement, the State of Oaxaca announced a list of 700 real estate properties to be transferred from FONATUR to the state. In an October 26 article on NVI Noticias, an online Oaxacan news service, Saymi Pineda Velasco, Oaxaca’s Secretary for Tourism, announced the setting up of nine “work tables” (mesas de trabajo) to clarify the status of infrastructure for CIP Huatulco (for wells, sewage, water systems, treatment plants, etc.). This article also mentioned the only timeline I could find on the actual transfer of CIP Huatulco from FONATUR to the Oaxacan state; Pineda Velasco said it was “two months before the deadline for the delivery and receipt of the Huatulco CIP.” As the article was published on October 26, 2023, the putative transfer target date is December 31, 2023.
Will It Happen?
So, is this a done deal? Well, maybe, maybe not. The clock is ticking on AMLO’s mandate. The next federal election will take place on June 2, 2024, and the new president will take office on December 1, 2024. The number of agreements, legal documents, and possibly legislation required to make the transfer within both the state and federal bureaucracies would be substantial. Also, four of the 19 signatories to the transfer agreement have left their positions, most notably the head of FONATUR, Javier May Rodríguez, who has announced he is running to be the governor of the state of Tabasco. Also, the FONATUR Directors of Development, Commercialization, and Strategic Management and Institutional Liaison have all left their positions since signing the agreement.
Will time run out, and a new federal administration have a different approach to Huatulco? Who knows? But the motivation of the State of Oaxaca (the governor of Oaxaca, Salomón Jara Cruz, is now in the first year of his six-year term) could be a factor. Huatulco receives 17% of the state’s tourists and 45% of the state’s tourism revenue, and the potential sale of the 700 real estate properties that FONATUR would transfer to the state is certainly a source of revenue. It’s possible, as well, that Huatulco would be better off if it were operated by the State of Oaxaca; it would not be competing for funding with all the other priorities of a Federal government, although the state’s funds are more limited. I guess time will tell.
Creation of New National Parks within CIP Huatulco
On August 16, 2023, SEMARNAT, the federal Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, announced 13 new national protected areas within six states of Mexico. Three of those new areas are within the boundaries of the CIP Huatulco. These are:
● Ricardo Flores Magón National Park (1,801 hectares, about 4,450 acres)
● Oaxaca: Huatulco II National Park (2,261 hectares, about 5,587 acres)
● Bajos de Coyula National Flora and Fauna Protection Area (1,935 hectares, about 4780 acres)
The addition of these three new parks (5,997 hectares, ±14,820 acres), when added to the existing National Park of Huatulco (6,375 hectares, ±15,752 acres), brings the total hectares in CIP Huatulco under natural protection to 12,372 hectares (±30,572 acres). The parks are shown on the map below (courtesy of APRODIT – Asociación de Promotores Inmobiliarios y Turísticos de Bahías de Huatulco)
The Ricardo Flores Magón National Park will contain the Copalita Archaeological Park, which has been closed in the recent past but is currently open (except for the museum) to visitors.
Protests against the New Parks
The formation of these natural protected areas is not without controversy and protests. A number of business and environmental organizations (Association of Hotels & Motels of Huatulco, real estate and hotel promoter APRODIT, Equipo Verde Huatulco, tourism and hotel promoter PROHOTUR, and the Mexican Association of Travel Agents) have formally protested the new national parks, citing multiple issues.
● Huatulco draws people searching for economic opportunities; a good number of people have set up settlements in forested areas. These irregular settlements, like the settlements inside the existing national park at Cacaluta, are not controlled. More such dedicated protected land would exacerbate this issue.
● The sudden declaration of the new parks does not respect the development plan of CIP Huatulco, adding uncertainty for investors.
● The funding of national parks is woefully inadequate and more national parks dilutes this even further. The environment group NOSSA (Noroeste Sociedad Civil para la Sustentabilidad Ambiental), reported that the funds budgeted for national parks and protected areas in Mexico come to $10.7 pesos per hectare for 2024. For Huatulco, that would amount to $64,168 pesos ($3,620 USD) per year to staff, maintain, and operate all the newly announced protected areas of Huatulco.
● The natural area proposed for Bajos de Coyula is widely contested by the residents in and around Coyula, who were not consulted in the process.
A formal objection to these new protected areas has been submitted by the Municipality of Santa María Huatulco to María Luisa Albores González, head of SEMARNAT.
Turning the Golf Course into Parque Nacional Tangolunda
On October 12, 2023, AMLO announced that the golf course in Tangolunda would be converted to a national protected area. Up until August of this year, the concession for the golf course was held by Ricardo Salinas Pliego, a wealthy businessman who is head of TV Azteca. AMLO announced that the golf course would be auctioned off, expecting to raise $600 million pesos, with priority given to Salinas Pliego.
As there was no agreement with Salinas Pliego nor any other offers, AMLO declared it a National Protected Area, to be amalgamated with the Ricardo Flores Magón National Park. The 229-page study and justification document for “Parque Nacional Tangolunda” states that it will be converted to conditions before the golf course was established.
Here, too, there have been protests to the golf course conversion. These protests were acknowledged by Pineda Velasco, Oaxaca’s Secretary of Tourism, in an announcement of the Huatulco CIP transition (AVI Noticias, October 10, 2023). Currently, the golf course is still operating.
Overall, the new national parks and protected areas announced for Huatulco are being contested at the same time as FONATUR is transferring Huatulco CIP to the state of Oaxaca. As a result, uncertainty reigns.
New Toll Road from Oaxaca City to the Coast
The new autopista (highway) is a toll road to connect Oaxaca City, and thereby the toll road system of Mexico, to the Oaxacan coast. The latest (of many) officially scheduled opening was November 29, as per AMLO’s announcement that he would inaugurate the new highway on this date. However, on November 6, AMLO announced that because of a collapse, the highway wouldn’t open until January 2024.
The original concession to build the highway was granted in 2007, with an original projected opening date in 2010. This highway has had numerous opening dates announced that were subsequently canceled over the years, but it seems different this time. The construction seems largely complete and it has been touted as an infrastructure project that AMLO wants included in his legacy.
The official name is Barranca Larga-Ventanilla highway, although it’s usually called the Oaxaca-Puerto Escondido highway. The highway will shorten the travel time from Oaxaca City to the Oaxacan coast near Puerto Escondido from six hours to two hours; it will connect to Route 200, the coastal highway, 15 kilometers (±9 miles) east of Puerto Escondido and about 100 kilometers (±60 miles) from Huatulco.
The highway will have two lanes and run 102.4 kilometers (±61 miles), with nine interchanges and two toll booths along its length. Traffic is estimated at 4,253 vehicles per day traveling at speeds between 90 and 100 km/hr. The relative ease of connecting from the capital to the coast has important implications for Huatulco.
On the one hand, goods, services, and visitors from Oaxaca City and central Mexico can flow more quickly and cheaply than ever before. On the other hand, it raises the specter of an influx of people into an area where existing infrastructure is at or near capacity. And in some areas, during peak season, demand for water, sewage, and electricity already exceeds capacity.
These points were raised in an NVI Noticias article on infrastructure and massive tourism to the Oaxaca Coast. The article cites Gaulberta Rodríguez, President of the Mexican Association of Hotels and Motels of Oaxaca, on the fear that the new highway would cause a huge influx of tourists and economic migrants, possibly causing a collapse in infrastructure services as well as damage to the environment.
The More Things Change, the More They DON’T Stay the Same!
These three important developments, although the exact timing and final outcomes are somewhat uncertain, will significantly affect Huatulco. However, if you put these developments in the context of the history of Huatulco, it becomes easier to see these changes as steps along the development road. Until the 1980s, when the Mexican government sought to develop this area, there wasn’t even a paved road connecting Huatulco to anything – only a fishing village and coffee plantations existed here. The cruise ship dock at Santa Cruz only opened in 2003. As residents and long-term visitors, many of us have witnessed, over decades, many changes in the development of Huatulco. And now, with these three developments on the horizon, there is more change to come.
By Julie Etra
The first time I saw them, I had no clue what these colorful and seemingly whimsical hanging, decorations were. Perforated placemats? Rectangular doilies?
Papel picado (literally, perforated paper), also known as banderitas (little flags), is the traditional hand-crafted, brightly colored decoration seen throughout Mexico. Papel picado is hung from wooden dowels or string, a bit like laundry on the line, during numerous celebrations and holidays, including patriotic/historical events, coming-of-age parties for girls (quinceañeras), baptisms, Christmas, and Day of the Dead (more about that later).
Amate – Early Mexican “Paper”
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, “paper” was derived from thin bark, called amate (amatl in Nahuatl), and was used primarily to create codices (pre-Hispanic manuscripts) common in the Aztec and Mayan cultures. Painted codices depicted history, customs, land ownership, sacred rituals, and a variety of other painted symbols. Most of the pre-Hispanic codices were destroyed by the Spaniards, although the creation of codices by both indigenous peoples and the Spanish continued.
Amate is derived from various fig trees; several species were used depending on the location. These included Ficus aurea, strangler fig, and Ficus cotinifolia, predominant in the Maya civilization. The oldest known amate paper in Mesoamerica was made in what is now the state of Jalisco from Ficus aurea, and dates to 75 CE. Other species of Ficus were used in what is now Morelos.
Pre-Hispanic peoples also used amate to decorate religious shrines and accompany burials – these decorations are thought to be the early antecedents of papel picado, and its use in Day of the Dead celebrations, although there is mixed evidence on whether their makers used cutouts as part of these decorations.
Today, amate is used not for papel picado, but in bark paintings, an artisanal, handmade traditional art form. Bark paintings depict culture and rural and folkloric life through colorful and vivid landscapes. Scenes portrayed include parties, parades, weddings, cock fights, and bucolic farms. No doubt you have seen these paintings for sale in Huatulco, in the zocalo in La Crucecita or Santa Cruz, and in many shops.
Historical records indicate that the bark from the small Jamaican nettletree (Trema micranthum) was also used to make paper; its use has been recently resurrected by the Otomi people of the altiplano (high plain) of central Mexico. Volcanic rock was and still is used to beat the bark, which is then soaked overnight to soften in preparation for painting or applying embroidery.
Papel Picado of Today
Forty-odd years after conquering Mexico and other areas of Latin America, Spain colonized Asia, ruling the Phillipines from 1565 to 1898. From there it began trade with China; one of its most interesting imports to Spain, and then Mexico, was papel de china, colored Chinese tissue paper, or papel de seda, silk paper from Japan.
Papel picado surged in popularity in the colonial era (19th century) in the state of Puebla. Indigenous workers on large haciendas, who were more or less indentured servants, were forced to buy what they needed in the “company store” on the hacienda. Tissue paper was often a form of payment to the workers, or they bought it themselves. Imported Chinese cut-paper stencils were also popular; Mexican craftspeople used them as the Chinese did, to create designs for painting and woodcarving – and for papel picado.
Papel picado in its current form most likely originated in the town of San Salvador Huixcolotla in the state of Puebla, east and south of Mexico City (Huixcolotla means “place of the curved spine” in Nahuatl). At least four artisans from San Salvador Huixcolotla are known to have developed designs and produced the cut-paper banners; as the Mexican revolution came to an end, papel picado production spread beyond Puebla into next-door Tlaxcala, and then beyond. On September 22, 1998, the state of Puebla published a decree that declared San Salvador Huixcolotla a Cultural Heritage site and the cuna (cradle, or birthplace) of papel picado.
San Salvador Huixcolotla is no longer the only town in Puebla where the papel picado artisans and workshops are located; other Puebla centers of production are San Martín Texmelucan, Zacapoaxtla, and Tehuacán. Indeed, papel picado is made in many Mexican cities and towns, as well as in the southern and southwestern United States.
Making Authentic Papel Picado
While mass-produced papel picado is often cut by machine, particularly when made in the U.S., and some papel picado is now made of plastic film for added durability, there are dedicated artisans still practicing the art of hand-made papel picado. Outstanding papel picado is characterized by the density of the cuts and the elaborate, diverse designs, which commonly include legends, flowers, animals, patron saints, and other religious figures depending on the event or holiday.
Up to 100 hojas (sheets) of tissue paper, or other thin papers such as rice paper, can be stacked up; sometimes they are folded, which makes matching patterns. The stencil pattern (patron) is drawn on sturdy manila paper, derived from hemp, which is placed on the top of the stack of hojas.
The stencil is then cut into the sheets with mallets and chisels (fierritos), which provide greater accuracy and more detail than scissors. Once cut, the sheets are separated and glued to threads, which can reach more than five meters (16.5 ft.) in length; these are called guides, strips or pasacalles (pass over the streets).
For Día de Muertos, papel picado is hung over streets and on the ceilings of shops, in homes and draped over ofrendas (altars commemorating deceased loved one). For this holiday, patterns of skulls and other objects typical of ofrendas, such as food, flowers, and alcohol (particularly tequila) prevail. Of the four elements (fire, water, earth, and air) that appear on the Day of the Dead altars, the banderitas represent air.
Red and green paper dominate Christmas papel picado, while weddings are dominated by white hojas, representing lace, and frequently depicted with doves, hearts, and other appropriate figures.
If you ever put on parties or events that reflect your Mexican experience, you really need to include some banderitas – you can buy a 14-foot plastic “paper full of wishes” banner on Amazon for $7.99. As for the bark paintings, we purchased two a few years ago in Oaxaca City. They are inexpensive and a lot of fun – and, they’re earthquake-proof since they don’t shatter and can be hung safely anywhere.
By Noémie Bourdin-Habert
It’s probable that most foreigners who decided to live full- or part-time in Huatulco had a crush on Mexico’s unique culture. At least, I did. I loved that its rich history and diverse influences have played a crucial role in shaping its art and design, but little did I know when I first set foot in the country that what is shown of it, back in Europe, is only the tip of the iceberg. And one of the things that I fell in love with is Mexico’s modern architecture.
Exploring Mexico for the first time back in 2020 shed a special light on the country’s architectural diversity encompassing various historical periods – and therefore styles.
Delving into Mexico’s history and evolution revealed a vibrant pre-Hispanic architecture, marked by – now disappeared – vivid color schemes, the utilization of stone and wood, along with geometric and clean lines, as well as a deep connection to nature.
Of course it was also deeply influenced by the contrasting colonial style introduced by the Spanish, more visible today than the pre-Hispanic style. The Mediterranean building type gave birth to central courtyards, ornate decorations, and elements such as arches, domes, fountains, and patterned tiles, all while retaining the use of colored facades.
But an unexpected surprise for me was the influence of the modernist and art-deco movements in Mexico in the 20th century. Perhaps because of a desire to break away from the colonial style, modernist architectural trends from the United States and Europe were received with acclaim in Mexico and brought the use of a minimal style, large roof overhangs, clean lines, glass walls, and a strong emphasis on functionality.
The 20th century, marked by two World Wars and the Mexican revolution, was an era of redefining identity for the country. It gave rise to two contrasting movements, one leaning towards internationalization, and the other one towards exploring the roots of Mexico. Eventually, these blended thanks to a forward-looking mindset combined with true pride in pre-Hispanic history. It led to the development of a distinctive Mexican architectural identity that now exerts a significant influence on the global architectural landscape.
All of this is reflected in contemporary Mexican architecture, visually characterized by pure horizontal lines, the use of local and ancestral materials, but above all, by a deep desire to adapt to regional climates and blend into the landscape.
Characteristics of contemporary architecture in Mexico include :
-Integration of Interior and exterior : a focus on maximizing the use of light, climate and landscapes, often achieved through the use of large windows and the creation of shaded areas.
-Simplicity over ornateness : a preference for clean, geometrical lines over the intricate designs of the colonial architecture and the adoption of a minimalist approach, featuring raw materials like wood, marble, or concrete.
-Emphasis on sustainability and nature : contemporary architecture gave center stage to ecological considerations with a strong emphasis on respecting the local environment, using local and durable materials, and connecting with nature.
But Mexicans being Mexicans, cold minimalism quickly evolved into a warm and welcoming minimalism, thanks to the use of wood, touches of colors, and the invitation of nature in.
As of today, Mexico, Brazil, and Chile are the only Latin American countries whose architects have received the prestigious Pritzker Prize (a.k.a. the “Nobel Prize for architecture”). Of these, Mexican architect Luis Barragán, master of the modernist movement, left an indelible mark on the world of architecture.
While the government, through its federal tourism agency FONATUR, initially introduced a colonial architecture in Huatulco in the 1980s, the resort area began promoting Mexico’s unique contemporary architectural movement around 2010. Award-winning architects are making significant contributions to the “look” of Huatulco – here are eight stunning modern projects.
The new school of Un Nuevo Amanecer (A New Dawn, a nonprofit that Works with children with disabilites) was designed by Manuel Cervantes of Manuel Cervantes Estudio, in collaboration with Angel Garcia (2023, http://www.facebook.com/manuelcervantescc/).
The ALMA development – 36 villas and 10 condos – located between Playas Violin and Organo, was designed by José Juan Rivera Río of JJRR/Arquitectura, in collaboration with Modica-Ledezma (2023, http://www.jjrrarquitectura.com/portafolio/alma/).
The Huatulco Convention Center at Chahue Marina was designed by Enrique Norten of Ten Arquitectos (2022, http://www.ten-arquitectos.com/ccchahue).
The Biulú Condos in Tangolunda were designed by María Alicia Gómez Castañares, who runs her own firm just outside Mexico City (2022, https://biulu.mx/). Gómez was a cofounder and designed the Yeé lo Beé Mariposaro (butterfly farm) in Jabalina, just north of Huatulco on Route 200. The Mariposarium is currently closed; Gómez is working on designs for residences on the property.
Montecito Beach Village, developed over the last decade or so, was designed by renowned architect Diego Villaseñor. It lies high above Playa La Bocana, on the eastern península that forms Bahía Conejos (www.dva.com.mx/#/montecito/).
FONATUR, the federal agency that set up Huatulco as a resort, commissioned architect Mario Schjetnan of GDU (Grupo de Diseño Urbano) to build the Museum at the Copalita Eco-Archeological Park (2010, gdu.com.mx/proyecto/parque-eco-arqueologico-copalita).
The Civic Center in Copalita contains a kindergarden and primary school, plus a chapel. It was designed by 128 Arquitectura y Diseno Urbano (2010, https://128asc.com/proyectos).
Despite some misconceptions, Mexico has evolved beyond being viewed as an extension of the United States by upper North Americans or a colony of Europe by Europeans. Instead, it has harnessed its diverse influences to forge a distinct identity rooted in its rich history and vibrant present. Mexico’s design culture is now celebrated globally, with artists, architects, designers, actors, painters, and other creative minds achieving international recognition.
By Kary Vannice
Mexico’s rich textile heritage is a colorful historical narrative interwoven with indigenous traditions and the imprints of European influence. From the earliest known fibers (1400 BCE) to the contemporary fusion of craftsmanship and innovation, textile weavers and designers have left their mark on the Mexican culture.
Mexican Textiles – Indigenous and Colonial Roots
The genesis of Mexican textiles can be traced to 1800 BCE, when fibers of the chichicaste plant (much like stinging nettle) were skillfully woven into fabric fragments. The pre-Hispanic era brought about the artful integration of native fibers like yucca, palm, willow and maguey. Cotton, which is not native to Mexico, made its first appearance much earlier, around 3000 BCE. Obtained through conquest and trade among ancient societies, cotton assumed a revered status and its use was restricted to the elite.
In pre-Spanish culture, textile making was not merely a technique, but a sacred gift bestowed upon women by the gods. The backstrap loom, a lightweight, mobile loom made of wood and a strap that is wrapped around the back, was exclusively operated by women, and played a central role in weaving fabrics. In those times, the intricate process of weaving, spinning, and embroidering held more than cultural significance – some fabrics were also used as currency.
The Spanish conquest ushered in a transformative era for Mexican textiles. New fibers arriving from Europe, like silk and wool, reshaped the industry. The imported foot treadle loom, often seen in Mexico today, mechanized weaving and lead to an explosion of production and a pivotal shift in the textile trade.
Mexican Textiles Travel the World
Wool and silk imports, coupled with the introduction of sheep and silkworms, catapulted Mexico into the global textile scene by the late 1500s. This period marked a significant exchange of textile knowledge and resources between Europe and the Americas.
Over time, European textile techniques became assimilated into the rich tapestry of Mexican craftsmanship. This influx of new materials spurred innovation among native weavers and resulted in a fusion of styles and patterns. Mexican textiles became sought-after commodities and unique fashion statements throughout Europe.
Native weavers began exporting their diverse range of handcrafted garments and homemade items to international markets. Their designs showcased the distinctive aesthetic of Mexican culture, characterized by vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and the use of naturally dyed fibers.
During the 19th century, the introduction of steam-powered machines opened new horizons for the textile industry in Mexico. By the late 19th century, textile production and distribution emerged as a dominant force in the country’s manufacturing sector and Mexico’s textiles became known the world over.
When industrial sewing machines became available in the early 20th century it brought about another chapter in textile production and catalyzed a new phase in the industry – the production of finished clothing.
Despite the transition to modern textile production, the influence of ancient techniques endures. Weaving has become a cultural narrative and the artisans committed to preserving traditional methods not only sustain the authenticity of Mexican textiles but also foster a sense of continuity between generations.
Mexican textiles have emerged as international representatives of cultural craftsmanship. Their global recognition reflects the adaptability of Mexico’s textile industry, which today honors its heritage while at the same time embracing contemporary trends (see Brooke O’Connor’s article elsewhere in this issue).
Sustainable Tradition, Environmentally Ethical
Mexico’s long-standing traditional approach to textile production, rooted in sustainable and ethical practices, aligns with the growing global emphasis on environmentally conscious fashion. Mexican designers and industry leaders continue to push the boundaries of sustainable textile innovation. In 2019, the Mexico-based company Adriano di Marti, went to the Milan (Italy) Leather Fair and presented a vegan leather made from nopal cactus called Desserto. The company has developed a version of the leather called Desertex for use in automobiles; they are now working on using agave fiber, a waste byproduct of the tequila-making process, to produce a third vegan leather, Desserto Agave, for use in the fashion industry. Adriana di Marti also produces cactus yarns for woven fabrics.
The enduring history of naturally derived textiles in Mexico is a testament to the cultural richness that transcends time. Mexican textiles narrate a saga of centuries, embodying a cultural legacy that continues to flourish in the tapestry of modern life.
By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken
One of our shared characteristics is flat feet. As children, we were among the very few who, while running around a pool, left footprints that displayed a complete foot with no open arch space. But the similarity in our feet ends there; one of us wears a US men’s size 13 shoe and the other a US women’s 5.5 (Mexico, size 22.5). For the latter, looking for smaller than average dress shoes that provide comfortable support was always a challenge in the U.S. – but not in Mexico.
Shopping for Mexican Shoes
For anyone in the United States or Canada whose feet are smaller than the shoes that local footwear brands bother to sell, traveling and shopping in Mexico provides them with a welcome opportunity to explore footwear in a great variety of styles, colors, materials and price ranges. That’s because Mexico has a long history of designing and creating footwear for a population whose mix of foot sizes differs from what is found in the US and Canada.
Production of footwear in Mexico developed gradually out of traditional work of artisans using locally available materials. Now it is one of Latin America’s major industries and collectively aspires to export to the entire world. But that is a comparatively recent development, as the first exports of footwear from Mexico to the United States occurred in 1951.
Before the Spanish conquest of Mexico (16th century), shoe making was already a creative endeavor. As throughout the world, once homo sapiens decided to stand on their own two feet and roam, there was a recognized need to protect soft soles from thorns and other sharp objects. Sandal-type foot coverings were made from bark, animal skins, plant fibers and, in Mesoamerica, from rubber. The nations indigenous to Mexico were creators of prototypes of the earliest artisan shoes – huaraches, an iconic Mexican style of sandals that continues to be popular today. Huaraches were traditionally made from woven leather strips but now are also of synthetic materials, with a distinctive, open-toed design. They come in various styles, from simple everyday versions to more ornate, decorative options. These shoes are not only comfortable and suitable for Mexico’s warm climate but are also a symbol of Mexican craftsmanship.
The conquistadores (and later their families) brought European design expectations with them and created a demand for footwear that was far more elaborate than simple huaraches.
Charro boots, or botas vaqueras, are also a distinctive style of Mexico. Charros are skilled horsemen who participate in rodeo events, and their attire, including the boots, has been widely adopted by Mexicanos. The boots typically feature pointed toes and high heels, have intricate designs and embroidery, and are acceptable at even formal events.
The Mexican Shoe Industry
Although Europeans who flocked to Mexico included shoemakers who started cottage industries to supply locals with footwear, Mexican shoemaking became centralized as the world shifted to mass production. Consider León, a city in the state of Guanajuato that is unofficially considered to be the footwear capital of all of North America – it produces more shoes annually than any other city on the continent. Nearly every major footwear company in Mexico has its headquarters or outlets in León. How did that happen? Well, León is surrounded by cattle ranches, which provide a large supply of hides for tanning, not to mention numerous cowboys needing boots. León also has a ready supply of water for tanneries. Talented shoemakers established factories in León initially to make rugged cowboy boots but gradually expanded to a wide variety of footwear.
While most shoe stores sell shoes for both men and women, the patterns of shopping and purchase differ greatly between them. In Mexico approximately 70% of all footwear purchases are for women’s shoes. Sometimes you may spy a husband or boyfriend just sitting placidly in a shoe store awaiting the woman’s decisions, and perhaps completing the final purchase. Studies show that approximately half of women’s purchases arise out of desire for style or variety rather than for need. A typical average is four pairs of shoes for work, three for exercise, five pairs of walking shoes, and three more for special occasions. Men, by contrast, generally consider only comfort, durability, and cost when buying shoes. Their wardrobe contains on average one pair for casual outings, one for sports or exercise, and two pairs of dress shoes.
The Story of Grupo Flexi
When we first travelled extensively within Mexico (over 25 years ago), quality shoes were readily available only in major cities, notably Guadalajara and Mexico City. Now they are plentiful even in Huatulco, and shoes can be purchased in other outlets such as Coppel or sections attached to supermarkets. Flexi is our go-to store in Mexico and is a typical mid-range store competing against brands such as DSW, Zappos, and ASICS.
Founded in 1935 under the name CESAR, Flexi is now a multi-national company with stores throughout North America, and exports to Europe and Asia. In 1998, Flexi had 30 stores in Mexico; by 2014, it was 300. By 2015, it was producing 16 million pairs of shoes a year; today it produces 22.6 million pairs a year. With $56.4 million in revenues, Flexi is the leading shoe manufacturer in Mexico.
Grupo Flexi now has over 400 physical stores in Mexico, perhaps 4,000 shops within other stores, and stores in a half-dozen other countries; it also runs a strong online business built on the latest SAP technology for e-commerce. Originally focused on outdoor boots, especially worker boots for men, Flexi now has designers who try to keep ahead of the latest styles and materials for women’s shoes.
Therein lies the rub. Finding comfortable dress shoes in size 22.5 for flat feet is not really easy even in Mexico’s Flexi shops. Once found and worn literally to shreds, they cannot be replaced with exactly the same style since designers have moved on to later fashions and models. The only solution is to buy several pairs of exactly the same shoes and hope that customs inspectors do not jump to the conclusion that they are being imported for resale and therefore are not duty-free. But the good news is that the need to shop for shoes in Mexico may prevent us from even considering giving up our annual winters in our home away from home.
By Brooke O’Connor
Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them.
— Marc Jacobs
How we dress is an identifier. We signal to others our status, our preferences, and our priorities. We find it endearing when a multimillionaire wears “normal” clothes, and we see middle-class people going into debt for designer wares. Yet something interesting is happening in the fashion world, and it has everything to do with identities changing, bringing out an emphasis on pride in our roots.
High Fashion in a Traditional World
One designer at the forefront of this movement is Carla Fernández. Just last October, she received the first annual Designer of the Year award for fashion from Latin American Design (LAD), the promotional organization for creative design in Latin America. LAD held a Fashion Week in Washington, DC, to present the awards; Fernández gave one of two Design Talks, “Fashion as Resistance: A Conversation with Carla Fernández.”
The Carla Fernández Casa de Moda (Fashion House), founded in Mexico City in 2000, focuses on preserving and rejuvenating the rich textile traditions of indigenous and mestizo communities in Mexico. She operates a “sister” business, a mobile studio called Taller Flora, A.C. (Flora’s Workshop, nonprofit – http://www.tallerflora.org/), with the motto “The Future is Hand-Made.”
The partnership demonstrates that ethical fashion can be cutting-edge, creative, and forward-thinking, while still incorporating painstaking artisanal techniques and traditional design. By acting as a catalyst for transformation in the world of luxury fashion, Carla Fernández is actively supporting the preservation of ancient indigenous methods and the individuals who safeguard this invaluable heritage. You can look at or purchase her designs at http://www.carlafernandez.com.
The Traditional Huipil in the Modern World
The huipil is an excellent example of fashion coming full circle for daily wear. Derived from the Nahuatl word huīpīlli, it is popular traditional attire worn by native women in Mexico and some regions of Central America. These cap-sleeve blouses, which are roomy and comfortable, are typically crafted by stitching together two or three rectangular fabric pieces, leaving openings for the head and arms. They may also feature ribbons or fabric strips or embroidery.
Huipiles come in various designs, some of which are intricate and hold significant meaning. The dressiest huipiles are worn at velas, days-long fiestas that celebrate culture and tradition, most prominently in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
The style of a huipil can indicate the wearer’s social class and ethnicity; in addition, methods of design and decoration creation within each community can also be conveyed through the huipiles, providing insight into the wearer’s locality.
The huipil, commonly worn in this tropical climate, is usually lined with cotton to ensure comfort. Back in the early twentieth century, fabrics for huipiles were manufactured in Manchester, England, and then exported to the Isthmus as sewing machines became more prevalent; machine-made patterns with chain-stitching gained popularity, complementing the traditional hand embroidery work.
The evolution of fashion has been shaped by macro socioeconomic trends, including capitalism, rising consumption, and shifting interpretations of national symbols. Huipiles have changed style and importance as their makers have incorporated traditional indigenous patterns into contemporary fashion.
The huipil’s evolving designs tell a story of cultural exchange between indigenous traditions and Western modernity. In the classic Mayan period (300-850 CD), weavers created translucent, white-on-white fabric for huipiles, which was used until the modesty requirements of the Porfirian era dictated a change to opaque muslin; up until then, women wore slender wrap skirts – these were replaced with wider skirts worn over multiple petticoats.
The huipiles and skirts represented different social classes. Women with limited economic resources usually wore plain huipiles, kept the wrap-around skirts, and braided ribbons into their hair. Women of higher social status wore clothes with ruffles, lace collars, gold fringes, and silk scarves. Indeed, you couldn’t be admitted to many public fiestas unless your dress was deemed suitable for a gala.
Traditional Traje – A Modern Choice
Today, we see a resurgence of Latinas choosing traditional clothing over fast fashion and homogenized looks. Mexican women, for example, proudly wear their indigenous attire in everyday life and on important occasions. Latinas in the USA are no different; they have embraced this fashion trend. Some people wear indigenous clothes as a fashion statement, while others wear them to embrace their mixed heritage as mestizas. Some see it as a powerful way to reconnect with their indigenous roots and challenge colonial beauty and cultural norms.
This shift in attitude toward indigenous textiles, dresses, and shirts marks a significant departure from previous generations, who considered them outdated, unfashionable, and an invitation to discrimination. Mexican-Americans who came of age before the 1970s were discouraged from speaking Spanish or showcasing their cultural background. Families made efforts to blend into white American society, and educational institutions and cultural establishments reinforced this by advocating for the use of only one language. Countless Mexican-Americans faced discrimination, both in the past and even today, especially when speaking Spanish or embracing their traditional attire.
The concept of Mexican clothing has been evolving and adapting to the younger generations. Anyone can pair a simple blouse with intricate flower embroidery and jeans instead of a traditional skirt. The new fabrics are less fussy and can be washed in a machine instead of by hand.
Latinas increasingly recognize indigenous communities’ rich diversity and appreciate their unique creativity. Each design and stitch holds a special meaning for every community, highlighting the importance of cultural representation.
What You Wear – Is It “Cultural Appropriation”?
The Oxford Dictionary defines appropriation as “the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.” Does that mean you shouldn’t buy Mexican-style clothing?
Purchasing and wearing clothes made by local artisans sends money into the community and into the hands of the people produce the clothing. Take advantage of the opportunity to purchase handmade, sustainably-produced, items that will last many years and never go out of fashion.
By Jane Bauer
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”
—Lucius Annaeus Seneca
If you have not ventured to the highway around Huatulco lately you may not have noticed the number of migrants on their walk towards a better life. Many months ago on the south side of Copalita an immigration kiosk was erected and manned by immigration and army personnel. They pull over buses and vans and have a tented area where I occasionally see people who have been pulled off buses and vans, for not having the proper documentation, waiting. When I happened to be standing next to a man in an immigration uniform at the bank, I asked him what they did with the people and he told me they sent them back to their country or at least to the border of Mexico.
In the last month the number of migrants has steadily grown and some days I have seen at least a couple of hundred people walking on my fifteen-minute drive home. A path just before the immigration kiosk has been forged through the brush so that they can avoid it altogether.
One day in early November I stopped and asked a group where they were from just before they got on the avoid-immigration kiosk path through the bushes.
“Haiti” one man responded.
“Où allez vous?” I asked
“Les Etats-Unis” he said.
One Sunday morning while driving in to work, moving in the same direction as the walkers, I stopped for two women. They climbed into my car with a small baby and a few meters later we picked up a young man. I asked if they were from Haiti and they said they were from Guinea.
The immigration kiosk was just up ahead but we weren’t stopped, to be fair the two soldiers standing in front of it looked resigned to their inability to do anything.
We stopped just off the highway in Copalita and had breakfast. Guinea is 9345 km from Huatulco. Over breakfast we talked about their journey.
Mari Assi, a robust young woman, with a burn scar covering one hand and forearm, was wearing sandals and carrying her 19 month-old daughter Fati. Her traveling companion was Aminata who had left her 13-year old daughter back in Guinea and the young man was Osmane. While French is the primary language in Guinea, due to its colonization by the French, their speech was also peppered with words of a language I didn’t know. They flew from Guinea to Nicaragua and had been walking/taking buses/ hitchhiking for 12 days. Their final destination goal: New York.
Since then I have met people from Senegal, Ghana, Venezuela, Guatemala and even a family from Afghanistan with three young girls. I keep my car stacked with bottles of water and non-perishable snacks and gently used footwear.
I know there are many differing opinions when it comes to immigration policies and migrants. However, when it comes to being face to face with a person in need, politics cannot be the discussion, humanity needs to be the discussion. Helping people in our path, if we can, is the bare minimum of what we should offer- regardless of religious credo or political affiliations.
If you watch the news it will tell you about the atrocities happening in other parts of the world- military coups, crime, instability, places where women being raped is a regular occurrence. I don’t need look at the news to understand the why of what brought Mari Assi, Aminata, Fati and Osmane to be on the same road as me. I only need to look at their inadequate footwear, their clothes that have leaves sticking to them from sleeping in the bushes, to know they deserve more… more help… more humanity… and more compassion.
If you would like to contribute water/ juice and non-perishable snacks such as granola bars I will hand them out on my daily commute. If you have any new or gently used proper footwear I will distribute that as well. Items can be dropped off at Café Juanita.
By Deborah Van Hoewyk
On Thursday, October 20, 2022, author and Mexican First Lady Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller Instagrammed American designer Ralph Lauren:
Hey, Ralph, we already knew that you’re a big fan of Mexican designs, above all those that work with our ancestral cultures to preserve textile traditions. However, by copying these designs you commit plagiarism, and as you know, plagiarism is illegal and immoral. At least acknowledge it. And I hope you compensate the damage to the native communities that do this work with love and not for million-dollar profits.
Gutiérrez was calling out Lauren for his use of Mexican serape fabric in a cardigan-style jacket in his current line of clothing; she mentioned specifically the weavers from Contla de Juan Cuamatzi in Jalisco and Saltillo in Coahuila as the “authors” of the textile design of the cardigan.
This was not the first time, either. Ralph Lauren has made a mint by refining the looks of the New England preppie, early-Hollywood glamour, and the rough-and-rustic American West. It was hardly a skip or a jump when his collection for Spring/Summer 2013 was described, by The New York Times, as showing there was “no doubt Ralph Lauren was down Mexico way.” Lauren again showed serapes in his Fall 2014 collection, when he added a Polo Ralph Lauren collection for women that included a Mexican-patterned maxi dress and a serape-fabric jacket.
Gutiérrez clearly sees Lauren’s use of the serape fabric as cultural appropriation. She identifies his work as plagiarism, i.e., an exact copy, and asserts that it has damaged the indigenous communities, whose work is a labor of love that preserves ancient traditions, because Lauren did not acknowledge or compensate them. Lauren no doubt considered it cultural appreciation – if he considered it at all.
A repeat offender like Lauren, Marant included a cape clearly taken from the Purépecha of Michoacán in her 2020-21 Etoile collection. Alejandra Frausto Guerrero, the Mexican Minister of Culture, sought an explanation:
Some symbols [on the cape] that you took have a profound meaning for this culture. These symbols are very old and have been conserved thanks to the memory of the artisans. I ask you, Ms. Isabel Marant, to publicly explain on what grounds you privatize a collective property … and how its use benefits the creator communities.
In 2021, Frausto Guerrero accused several other fashion brands of wrongly appropriating designs from three Oaxacan towns. US-based Anthropologie took embroidery patterns representing the sun, the mountains, and the maguey cactus preserved by the Mixe of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, and slapped them on fringe-edged shorts no Mexican woman would ever wear. The Spanish retailer Zara made a light green dress with dark green embroidery patterns unique to the Mixtec weaving cooperatives of San Juan Colorado. Internet-based retailer Patowl was selling blouses with elaborate embroidery characteristic of the Zapotec community in San Antonio Castilla Velasco.
Protecting All Cultural Expression
These events foregrounded the need for legal protection of Mexico’s indigenous cultural heritage from the “plagiarism” of appropriation. According to Andrea Bonifaz of the social justice organization Impacto Social Metropolitan Group, which defends the rights of traditional artisanal communities against cultural appropriation, the underlying problem is that “ancestral expressions, like the serape, are collective.” Laws protecting patrimony cover individuals, not communities. “Who or what the community is,” and therefore who can bring suit, is never defined.
However, some progress has been made. In 2020, following the Herrera resort-wear confrontation, Mexico changed the federal copyright law to specify that native communities – if the community has taken the steps to organize as a collective – own the intellectual property rights to craftwork that expresses cultural and local popular tradition. As owners of their work, they can oppose unauthorized use, even when that use altered the original design. In 2021, the Mexican senate passed a federal law that established penalties for taking – by reproducing, copying, imitating, or otherwise appropriating without prior and proper authorization – the designs that represent indigenous cultural heritage, including that of Afro-Mexicans.
These legislative changes set up a legal framework and a registry to recognize cultural expressions, identify the owners of those expressions, and establish the protocols for owners to authorize any permitted use. Mexico’s Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI, manages patents and trademarks) and the Copyright Office (INDAUTOR) give classes for indigenous communities and individual artisans on intellectual property, explaining how to protect their rights to their work. They also give discounts to the artisans or collectives for registering ownership of their work.
From Appropriation to Appreciation
Is it ever okay to use the cultural assets of another people? Vogue India, prompted by Sarah Jessica Parker’s costume in the “Diwali” episode of And Just Like That, asks “How do you know if you are co-opting cultural connotations or innocuously borrowing an aesthetic?”
It’s a longstanding debate, but the answer, actually, is yes, you can appreciate rather than appropriate (see Brooke O’Connor’s article on page 26). Vogue India came up with a rather narrow answer – you have to avoid “demeaning” the culture from which you have taken something. This is a backward way of saying you have to respect, to recognize, to acknowledge the culture that produced it. Vogue India quotes Kelvin Gonclaves, owner of Elkel, an “avante-garde” boutique in the Soho neighborhood in New York City:
If your action disrespects the original idea because of cultural, religious or other customs, then you’ve gone too far. If you claim it as yours without giving credit, you’ve definitely gone too far. There are a few things that should never be done like blackface or dreadlocks on a white person. With taste and acknowledgement, though, most things can be done.
Gonclaves thinks that all art, fashion included, “borrows inspiration from other cultures [to create] new and wonderful things.”
The Gray Area of Inspiration
The designers Mexico has accused of cultural appropriation have said their work is “inspired” by Mexican “ideas.” That may well be so, but it doesn’t determine whether or not they have created something “new and wonderful.”
Take a look at a sweatshirt recently stocked at both Nordstrom and Gonclaves’ boutique:
Billed as a “Gender Inclusive Keith Haring Witches Print Cotton Blend Sweatshirt,” it’s sold out at Nordstrom. According to Nordstrom, the sweatshirt and matching sweatpants were “produced in collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation” and “creatively showcases the late artist’s iconic designs.” There is no mention that Haring produced the designs forty years ago, or that they were inspired by ancient Mexican hieroglyphic writings and low-relief sculptures.
Keith Haring (1958-90) was a New York “street artist” whose early work, inspired by the graffiti subculture of the early 1980s, was considered pop art, and Haring was very much a part of the pop art scene. In 1982, he was approached by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, who were very much a part of the same scene in England, to prepare designs on the theme of “Witches” for one of McLaren’s albums (Duck Rock) and McLaren/Westwood’s fashion line. By 1983, Haring had produced the Witches series of drawings, but never credited any specific Mexican sources.
Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987; he set up the Keith Haring Foundation to preserve and promote his work, and to raise funds for those affected by AIDS. The Foundation licensed the sweatshirt and pants as a fundraising activity. It can easily be argued that the Witches sweatsuit is “inspired” by Mesoamerican designs, that Keith Haring did not “appropriate” any specific work, and that he created something “new and wonderful.” But a little mention of how he came to use his Mexican inspiration might have been nice.