I asked Janet (Yah-nette) Chavez Santiago if she knew the significance of the color of ribbons the abuelas use in their braids. I didn’t hear from her for a few days and when she reported back, I thought, wow, I was really trying to read something more into this than what was really there! How culturally naive of me, and then I thought, how many of us do this when we travel and even when we think we know a place very well, wanting to find meaning in really small, insignificant practices?
The answer Janet gave me was simple. She asked her grandmother, Soledad, who is in her late 70’s and wears traditional Zapotec dress as her daily habit. Soledad replied that ladies wind their hair in braids using colorful ribbons to keep unruly hair tidy while they are cooking and cleaning, but especially cooking. Ribbons as a useful tool for hygiene was the underlying meaning communicated. I asked Janet to ask again about the color of the ribbons, which I notice can be blue, green, red, yellow, and many women from distinct villages choose to use the same color of ribbon. The answer that came back was that it was personal preference having no grander significance than that. Peer influence is powerful the world over as to wanting to wear similar costumes. Why am I not surprised?