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Remnants of Strings

On the weekends, my aunt and I walked. October wind blustered but the cotton in my ears held. Only slightly muffled, I heard my aunt’s question. “I remember when you told me that your friend in Guatemala named one of her children after you. Do you know anything about that child?”

Maria Candelaria. My weaving teacher. I dropped my head. After COVID, but admittedly before and for much longer, I had not. What had become of this little girl? She would be about ten. Tomorrow is Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Women. Language. Relationships. Identity. These strings are all around me, and they’re never not running through me. They challenge and support me in the way my mother, grandmothers and aunts did not.

All weavers I ever watched kept strings in a bag. Before weaving, I knew the nature of strings through embroidery floss. I learned that you often need to unwind strings to vary the thickness and shading of designs. Though I had always focused on completed weavings. The bag of remnant strings remained. Floss was singular and multiples bound together. From the mass of color, use could be found for each length and color. The strings were not discarded. They only waited for their moment to belong. Today I am no longer far from home, but others are far from me.

In another corner not so long ago, the light was too dim, and I put the loom away just before a sister-in-law of Maria Candelaria had entered the shop. Angelica carried a small, black plastic bag like everyone did whether they just bought tomatoes or a wrapped birthday present. In another time, these items would have just been wrapped in a sute, perhaps the cloth ends tied like a handle. The visitor sat down and removed a piece of a guipil to be. The women spoke briefly, assenting, something about the k’em, or k’emon, weaving. The speech went by too fast ,and I was too tired. The woman left and the bag remained.

“What is it?” I asked.

“The middle piece,” replied Maria Candelaria.

“Why?” I asked again. Maria was quite prolific and knowledgeable, what could she need this piece for?

“I don’t remember how to make this star,” she explained.

I was in awe. I had truly believed that every woman, every weaver in the village knew, or was at least capable, of knowing every design on every guipil, by sight. I never considered that a weaving belonged to a group of women and not an individual. I was wrong. Each weaving belonged to a community of knowledge and skills. Even I with minimal skill, even I, could be that second weaver.

I had been empowered the day I realized other women, experienced women, were not capable of each design. Not every weaver remembered her old designs perfectly. They asked questions. They watched. They wove on each other’s looms. They exchanged or shared woven pieces to complete one guipil. I wanted to be that woman, that weaver, that guide for others, and for myself too. My muscles relaxed. I let go of the expectation to weave alone. Any cloth I created should never be only mine.

Except some choices should be. Passover seders in Guatemala. Holy days kept because Hebrew class was cancelled. I excelled in another’s language without the responsibility of being judged for my words. To squat a personal best on day of no water nor food was both a transgression and a triumph. “All Jews want a second passport,” my brother once explained to me.

Of course, a second county if not a second identity. Except it’s a chance at a greater than less. These choices were my second or third passport, an always kind of passing through. Through race. Ethnicity. Nationality. Gender.

My writing instructors always asked me, “What is your story? What actions do you want others to take? What do you want others to feel?”

The book in my hands wasn’t the beginning. Nor was learning to weave. It had been one conversation with Anastasia. Another friend. Another woman. Another weaver.

"Do you feel a connection to the past through weaving?" I began, pulling the cramped notes on the project proposal document.

"I believe so, because long ago the women wove and I am included in that," Anastasia’s tone was not definitive. She told me nothing of the ancient goddess Ix Chel and the imagery of the woven cloth as the maternal cycle, conception within the womb through birth found in the pile of books on my apartment floor. I had watched Anastasia in Santa Catarina, seated on the hexagonal stones of that slow, easy path for tourists down to the lake. Those tiles were perfect for the hopscotch I played almost every Saturday afternoon with her little sisters. We had played and licked tomato sauce from greasy chuchitos, corn dumplings steamed in cornhusks containing chicken or beef.

I asked, "Anastasia, to you, what do women weaving represent?"

"Their feelings." She misunderstood the question, I had reflected, when I wrote up my notes for a research paper in graduate school. She had placed the women as the actors instead of as the object. And yet, the answer, "their feelings" said so much more about how she saw herself and the importance of relationships in her work.

I sifted through the strings discarded in a metaphorical plastic bag. Some were knotted. Others came loose between my fingers easily. I accepted myself more fully when I choose a community for a different reason than the one for which I needed to be there. I valued more what I was not looking for when I overheard what someone else asked to understand. Where once I found purpose of self in the act of weaving. It was common for the family to notice characteristics in common with a child’s tokaya’, or namesake. My weaving teacher must have seen something in me worth having for her own. Ten years later, the answers may actually be in the remnant strings left behind.


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