Santa Monica is a small Otomi community in the municipality of Tenango de Doria, Hidalgo. It is situated in a very small valley, almost a ledge, where on one edge, you can look straight down to another, larger valley below. It is one of many small villages nestled among the cliffs and peaks of the Sierra Madre Oriental.
The community ekes out a living growing basics: corn, beans and tomatoes, along with pean
uts in this sub-tropical wet forest area. Most live in small, unpainted, and often unfinished cinderblock constructions, and just about all the women here work on embroidery to supplement family income.
This include Cirenia Tellez Corona, even though she lives with her husband, Salvador, in one of the nicer houses in the community. Both are Santa Monica natives for at least 3 generations, with the previous generations working the land. Salvador told me that he worked a number of years in the United States and as a “coyote” (one who smuggles illegal immigrants). This probably is the reason for the home, along with the 15-passenger van which Salvador now uses to earn a living, as a shuttle between Santa Monica and the town of Tenango de Doria. Sirenia embroiders nearly full-time. The two support four children, aged 5 to 17 years of age.
The artisan’s embroidery is traditional tenango, done with regular cotton embroidery thread, sometimes in a synthetic silk, but she innovates onto what she puts the embroidery on. There were no tablecloths at her house; instead her stock includes tote bags, torilla warmers, sleeveless tops and clam digger sets, skirts and even shirts for boys. All of these she designs herself, having taken advantage of classes offered by a Mexican government program for indigenous peoples. She contracts another woman to do the actual sewing of the garments, but she does the embroidery herself.
The embroidery she learned from her mother, who learned from her mother and so on. Sirenia has no idea just how many generations back goes this particular tradition in her family. She does make one traditional garment, a blouse known locally as a “petenado,” whose yoke is heavily and intricated embroidered in one or various colors, which gathers the fabric that falls below. The design of this garment and its embroidery identifies it as from the Tenango area. While her other garments are made purely for commerical reasons, these blouses are made for family use as well to be worn on special occasions, because the time the embroidery takes.
Unlike many women in Santa Monica, Sirenia travels in the area to sell her work, taking advantage of her husband’s business. However, she is looking to expand beyond this area, even though she has little idea how to go about this, stating the she has been waiting for someone to come and help her. We talked about Facebook, which her eldest daughter has, but I’m not sure if that conversation was helpful.