by Susanna Starr
As I sit here in our home overlooking the Hondo Valley outside of Taos, New Mexico, with the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristos mountains alternately shrouded in cloud cover, I realize that I’ve only been home from our annual three and a half month stay in Mexico for a couple of weeks.
Just little more than two weeks ago we were walking the streets of the weaving village where I’ve been working with the same weaving families for so many years. As always, it was wonderful being there, visiting with our old friends, who are really the closest I have to extended family, and seeing all the changes in the year since our last visit.
This time John and I arrived with copies of our recently published book “Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers: An Odyssey of the Heart” the beautiful mini-coffee table book that my partner, John Lamkin, and I collaborated on, with my story and his beautiful photographic accompaniment.
In this day of immediate electronic communication, it wasn’t quite the surprise we thought it would be since it had already made it’s advance announcement on Facebook. But not everyone had heard about it, especially not the Line of the Spirit weavers. But everyone seemed to be delighted with it. Many of the photos brought happy smiles of recognition but most importantly, it was that special shared feeling of knowing each other, our families and the village itself over these many years that was so meaningful.
This new book of ours tells the story not only of my forty years of working with the Zapotec weavers in this village, but parallels their lives with my own, of the three generations I’ve been involved with, my own being the first generation, the children who are now adults and running the established businesses begun by their parents, as the second generation. All of these families have been and always will be a significant part of my life.
But it’s the third generation that really excites me, the generation of my own grandchildren. These younger people who have already started in on careers of their own such as medicine, or are now at universities studying engineering and international commerce or attending high schools in Oaxaca preparing them for unknown pursuits, are astounding. Their grandparents, my oldest friends, were the transitional age, the one that represented the shift from the traditional ways of their parents and grandparents to being immersed in the contemporary world that included me and a number of other “compradores” (buyers) like me.
They passed the torch to the next generation who continued to build their businesses and their homes and provide new opportunities for advanced education to their own children, often shuttling them back and forth to specialized schools in Oaxaca on a daily basis, for years, to provide them with the foundation for creating an alternative to the weaving tradition they had grown up in, to give them opportunities to forge their own way and often bring back new skills to the community.
Although these “kids” look like teenagers anywhere in the same kind of jeans, tee shirts and sneakers with the same cell phones, there is something special about them. Although very much a part of the 21st century, they are still deeply steeped in more than 5,000 years of Zapotec culture and tradition. They have never suffered the western “angst” wondering who they are or what their place is. They have always known what their place was and continues to be. From the time of their arrival they have been embraced by the strong ties of family and community. They probably go through many of the same thoughts and feelings of contemporaries anywhere, but they are not lost. They step out into the world joyfully. And……every one of them that I know is beautiful, male or female. Every one of them is infused with lovingness. I know I must be getting old when I look at them and feel the tears in my eyes!
But not all of these young people are going on to pursue new careers. Many of them have opted to continue in the weaving tradition, already being fine weavers in their own right. And many more look forward to working at home on the looms that have defined the life of their village, enjoying the familiar tradition they choose to continue, adding new ideas and visions to those they’ve already been exposed to.
Over these past forty years, we’ve spent so much time in the exciting city of Oaxaca, rich in its culture, vibrant in its colors and rich in its cooking tradition (Oaxacan chefs are some of the most famous in Mexico as well as some from the village who have received international recognition) and exciting in its atmosphere. It’s still the exciting city it’s always been. But, this time John and I stayed out in the village with our friends and I still bask in the glow of being there.
Rather than shuttling back and forth from the city, we enjoyed the quiet and intimacy of being in the village, of walking out at night and saying hello to the neighbors, of strolling down the main street and noting all the new construction and remodeling and upgrading that seems to be taking place on every other corner. Many of the old dirt roads have been paved, street lamps light the way and wonderful slogans urging people toward thinking about recycling, mutual respect for gender, women’s rights and other social issues, are written with artistic accompaniments on the walls. The sense of community is pervasive.
There’s so much more to tell about, but I’ll save it for the next installment. Right now I can only celebrate still again the richness that has been part of my life through my connection with the weaving families of this village. The time has come for me to close this chapter of my life, at least the gallery part of it, Starr Interiors. I’ve been processing this time for the past few years and now that it has become clear in my mind that the next step for me is to pass the torch to someone else that will build upon my relationship with the weavers, I feel contented. I’m quite sure that the right person will appear who will weave their own relationships into a meaningful part of their life, finding the counterpart of running the gallery in the equally beautiful mountain town of Taos, New Mexico.