Finding Federico & Eric Chavez: Calle Francisco I. Madero #55

Preface: The village just had an election and there is a new president and village council. They have renumbered every home on every street. Many homes will now have their “old numbers” and their “new numbers” enameled in yellow on dark green. I’m certain this will be confusing to many travelers who want to search out the very best weavers who are not to be found in the village market. The Chavez family have just put up the new numbers — #55. Many families are using both the old and new numbers. Sometimes, numbers alone are not enough. For example, to find the Chavez family, as you enter into town on Avenida Benito Juarez, turn left at Francisco I Madero (Mexican revolutionary hero). The street is before you cross the bridge going toward the central square. There will be a big yellow sign at the corner that says” Familia Chavez Santiago”. Go down one long block and cross Independencia. You’ll then come to a pretty scrabbly cobble stone road. Don’t let that stop you. Keep going until you get to a long alley way. There will be a small sign up above that says F.Chavez with #55 below it. Turn right and go down the alley until you get to the gate and the family home.  ****** It’s nearly 1:30 p.m. I’m sitting at the dining table in the courtyard of the Federico Chavez Sosa family in Teotitlan. The table is wood covered with a pretty plaid and floral oilcloth. It seats up to 10 people and serves as the center of family business, meals, relaxation and talking time. I am surrounded by looms, tapetes (rugs or blankets — TAH-pet-tays), hanks of yarn both dyed and natural shades in a g-zillion variations of red, green, blue, yellow, tan, brown, orange, pink. Middle child, daughter Janet age 22, a university student studying linguistics, is sitting across from me, fiddling with a metal brush that she is using to clean a rug that has just been woven. She picks out the tiny bits of plant fiber from the wool with a tweezers, then brushes the rug with the metal implement which reveals more plant material, continues plucking until the rug is clean. This can take an hour or several hours, depending upon the size of the rug. Last week, Federico completed a commission for a couple who live in Arizona. The rug was 10 x 14 and this hand method of cleaning it took several hours by the entire family — Federico, wife Dolores, Eric, Janet and 14-year old Omar. Eric is behind me at his loom, measuring what will be the warp threads, preparing the warp by hand winding it between two iron posts set into the courtyard bricks, using incredibly strong cotton to begin a another project, a set of pillows that will be completed for me to take home to North Carolina and offer for sale. Eric completed university in Oaxaca last year, speaks fluent English and is deciding what he will do next. He loves to weave, is an excellent weaver, too, like his parents and fore bearers, but is considering going on for advanced graduate education in the United States. In a village where ancient traditions and family ties are strong, where young women become eligible for marriage after the Quinceanos celebration of puberty, where pregnancy and marriage at age 17 or 18 is common, where it is not unusual for families to have six to eight children or more, where youthful dreams of economic prosperity become subsumed to the basic needs of everyday life, this family has created a different model. Omar will complete middle school in the village in July and then go on to post-secondary high school, which is private education, in Oaxaca city starting in August 2008, getting up early in the morning, riding the bus daily back and forth from the village to the city, like his brother and sister before him. The Christmas tree is still up; the manger scene is decorated with plastic farm animals, the wise men, baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary nestled in moss and whole root aloe plants in bloom bought at the market brought down from the mountain village of Benito Juarez by mountain top farmers who cultivate roses and gladiolas and cana lilies. A bright blue 3-burner propane gas cooktop is ready for preparing the next batch of natural dyes. The courtyard is the living room. From it, two sets of concrete stairs lead to the upper floors, dominated by Federico’s large looms (six are set up and two are unbuilt), flanked by bedrooms. The altar room is also the area for displaying rugs. Janet recollects that this is the house where she was born and raised, and that in the early years the courtyard flourished with pomegranate, avocado and mango trees where the paved courtyard is now. As the family grew and as the grandfather’s land in this narrow and long plot of land was divided among three brothers, rooms were added as rugs were sold and money became available, a second story was built, the courtyard became smaller, the trees gave way to concrete, and building became a vertical endeavor. This is a cash economy and people build or add on until the money for the project runs out or the project is completed. Throughout the village we see various stages of construction, and prosperity is measured by the same standards that we have in the U.S. — size of house and hillside vs. flat land location. Up until recently no one built beyond the boundaries of the river, but now, families with multiple offspring who are able to sell rugs to distributors or representatives in the U.S. use their profits to build. This is how people invest here. Since the Chavez family has been coming to the U.S. to give lectures and presentations at universities, museums and galleries over the last two years, their situation has improved, and they are now building an entirely new casa on the outskirts of the village where there will be the space and freedom to have gardens, fresh air and great views.

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