Updated: Mar 21, 2018
I grew up believing that mamá helped the sun rise and in the evening made sure that it set. At night she designed the pattern, carefully aligning the seam to the stars. In the morning, the sun rose in her hands, as if she were threading a needle. The steady motion of the treadle throughout the day ensured that dusk was eventually united to dawn. Finally, when evening fell, the thread was bound into a knot and she whispered a prayer of gratitude.
The creativity that flowed from my grandmother's heart and mind manifest beauty in each day that she lived.
In my eyes, there was nothing that my grandmother could not do, could not fix, and could not cure. Her home, was for the family a center place, from which pathways radiated out into the village and from there, to the natural world. For her, everything was intricately connected and when it was torn, she created the join. In the yard, she and my grandfather created a paradise of fruit trees and from her mountain visits, she replanted herbs that surrounded her home, all to be harvested in a moment’s notice in order to cure wounds. In the kitchen, in no time at all calditos and fresh tortillas emerged to nurture all who sat at a table set three times a day. While her work over hot stoves and in the rearing of children was equally as substantial, her partnership in the business enterprises of her husband was also significant.
The work, however, that most defined her own legacy was that of being a designer and seamstress. On the one hand, at the very basic level she was the woman who sewed —mending, linking and uniting, a metaphor and reality for what she did in the world. The manifestations of her creativity revealed something more complex, however. She could and occasionally did copy patterns from catalogues so that those she dressed could look like women in New York, Mexico City and Paris. However, it was her own imagination, thoughtfully paired with skill, which created looks that were second to none. In a different era and setting, this creativity may have been revealed to the world differently, as it did for Coco Chanel and Jeanne Paquin who were her contemporaries.
She was born María Andrellita Mandonado, the descendant of a complex mix of ancestors. Although she would marry a Rael, her own origins and name carried great meaning for her. Remarking on the fact that the family name was not Maldonado, but Mandonado, holding her head high, she once said: “no somos malos, pero mandamos,” an emphasis that revealed an audacity of courage and confidence that had most likely emerged from coming from and through poverty. It probably also emerged from navigating the politics of belonging in a village to which she was not born, and yet a place where she would bury her mother and five of her own children.
Mamá was also one of three people who most defined the core values that shaped how I would come to view the world. From her, I learned empathy, curiosity and imagination. I learned that there was a story behind every story and lessons come from the movement in our hands. Every day that I was with her in my youth, I remember lessons that came with cleaning beans, shucking corn or planting seeds and I particularly recall a lesson from her that revealed that great storytellers sometimes first must lean in and listen before they can tell. We would sit on her porch facing the mountain as she brought the past to life, effectively teaching me how memory and story were the connective tissue between people separated by time and space.
In her 90s by this time, she began to break silences, revealing both joy and pain. Embedded in her words was also the wisdom that she knew I would need to navigate the world.
She taught me that stories are gifts, but gifts always carry a great responsibility of holding them, carrying them and recognizing that balance is knowing when they can be used to sustain community and when they can be used to raise consciousness. She always encouraged me to draw deeper still from the wells of memory, and to take those stories, center them, and raise them up. Because of her, I learned that even the smallest gifts have resonance.
For me, mamá
—la mujer que era y que cosía la belleza—
was one of the greatest gifts in my life
and her memory sustains me still to this day.
Copyright 2018 Estevan Rael-Gálvez