One Group Of Indigenous Mexican Women Is Using Their Fashions To Keep Their Culture Alive
Fleeing drought, deforestation, and drug growers high up in the Sierra Madre, the Rarámuris, commonly known as Tarahumaras, are making new homes in the pueblos and cities of Chihuahua.
Many are making a new home for themselves in the pueblito of Oasis. It’s here that the Rarámuri people stand out while also facing hardships the generally Mestizo population doesn’t.
And despite the hardships, the Rarámuri women are refusing to give in to the pressure.
Despite living in large towns and cities, the community continues to practice tribal traditions and wear typical Rarámuri dress.
For the Rarámuri people, assimilation is the same as erasure. They don’t want to face the same fate as other Indigenous groups across the country.
The women are typically dressed in colorful, bright, ankle-length dresses, which can take entire afternoons to sew. They do this despite the pressures from other residents to assimilate with a more Western style.
Across Mexico, the pressure to ‘assimilate’ is powerful.
From Chiapas to Veracruz, Oaxaca to Chihuahua, there is a pervasive idea that progress is dependent on cutting your ties with your Indigenous identity.
One young woman leading the charge in Oasis is Yulissa Ramirez. In an interview with the New York Times, she admits she wants to challenge the notion that you must lose your Native roots to move forward in the country. She plans to attend nursing school after graduating from high school. She’d be expected to wear white scrubs but hopes that the school will allow her to wear her traditional white Rarámuri dress. She tells the NYT: “Our blood runs Rarámuri, and there’s no reason that we should feel ashamed.”
To some, the community’s unwillingness to conform to a ‘Western-style’ is costing them economic opportunities. But some are working to challenge that idea.
Ms. Ramírez, for example, believes that completing her nursing program in traditional dress will be an important statement that Rarámuri people are a vital part of Mexico’s future — and present.
Other Rarámuris are monetizing their craft.
For example, Esperanza Moreno, 44, embroiders tortilla warmers, aprons, and dishcloths with depictions of Rarámuri women in traditional garb, and sells them to Mexican nonprofits who then resell the items to shops and Walmarts throughout the country. Rarámuri women have begun sewing traditional dresses to sell, as well.
Ms. Moreno also works in a dress-making workshop which allows her to provide her family with enough money for food and utilities, but also to uphold Rarámuri traditions. Fabric and sewing supplies for a traditional dress can cost more than 400 pesos (approx. $20 USD), which is more than some families earn in a month.
For Rarámuri men, it’s a bit different.
Most who arrive in the city are looking for work in construction – a difficult but decently paid job so they can better support their families. The men are quick to ditch their traditional looks in favor of blue jeans and boots.
While women rarely trade in their dresses for the uniforms required by employers. “I only wear Rarámuri dresses,” Ms. Holguin told the NYT. And she’s not alone as Rarámuri women are dedicated to not only keeping their traditional dress but also their people’s way of life.
As an Indigenous community, like so many others across Mexico, the group has faced violence.
To many, it would seem that assimilation might be a clear path toward economic liberation, protection, and safety. But to many Rarámuri women, making and wearing traditional dresses is part of their deepest identity and not something they’re willing to give up.
Even Rarámuri women brought up under the influence of Chihuahua’s urban culture, and who mix elements of Western dress like hoop earrings and plastic necklaces, continue to wear traditional dresses.
It’s their way of keeping their traditions, culture, and identity alive.