Sunday, May 15, 2022

Weaving a rebozo.

Even though there are plenty of hot social topics in the news this week, I decided to take a break from that sort of thing and post about my new weaving project: a rebozo for my costume as a volunteer at El Rancho de las Golondrinas. But wouldn't you know it -- the use of rebozos is in the midst of a cultural-appropriation brouhaha. 

I'll explain all that in a sec. First, I want to tell you what the heck a rebozo is. 

Dama con rebozo - Juan Rodríguez Juárez
Museo Nacional de Historia, Mexico City

The striped wrap that the woman in this painting is wearing around her shoulders is a rebozo (one that's a lot fancier than the one I'm making). Basically, a rebozo (it's pronounced reh-BOH-zoh) is a long rectangular piece of cloth. Wikipedia describes it as looking like "a cross between a scarf and a shawl." It originated in Mexico, but it's unclear when; a number of indigenous cultures use similar woven articles. The earliest description by a European was written by Friar Diego Duran in 1572. Other influences on rebozo design were probably the Spanish mantilla (you might have seen pictures of these lacy shawls -- Spanish women would stick a tall comb in their hair and drape the mantilla over it); a Moorish garment called a rebociño that's similar to a mantilla but shorter; and, much later, the Filipino mantón de Manila (flamenco dancers wear these).

Anyway, back to Mexico. Women used the rebozo as sort of an all-purpose garment: over the head, for protection from the sun; around the shoulders for warmth; and as a carrier for all sorts of things, including babies.

In fact, the rebozo has experienced a resurgence over the past several years, both as a baby carrier and as an aid to women in labor. Here's where the cultural appropriation thing comes in. There's a movement among some doulas against White women using rebozos to aid women giving birth. One blogger calls the rebozo a "sacred garment" and says there have been cases where inexperienced White doulas have actually harmed their clients by using a rebozo in techniques they haven't been properly trained in.

I don't know anything about rebozo-related birthing techniques, so I can't speak to that part of the critique. But a rebozo -- a utilitarian piece of cloth -- is a sacred garment? Where did that come from?

The only thing I can think of is this: During the Mexican Revolution, women called Adelitas used their rebozos to carry both babies and weapons past checkpoints. Because of this, the rebozo became a symbol of women's strength and feminity. Frida Kahlo wore them. Mexico's then-First Lady, Margarita Zavala, wore one when she met with our then-First Lady, Michelle Obama, in 2010. 

Today, rebozos come in all sorts of patterns and colors, often with intricately-woven fringe.

Mine isn't going to be anything like that.

The rebozo came to New Mexico with Spanish settlers in the 17th century -- back when it was a simple rectangular shawl, used both as shade from the sun and as a carry-all. This is the historical period I'm going to be representing, so there won't be anything fancy about my rebozo. Here I have it started on the table loom: 

Lynne Cantwell 2022
It's going to be light blue with very basic fringe. With any luck, it'll be about 21 inches wide and about six feet long when it's done. The yarn is 5/2 cotton -- if you're a knitter, that translates to laceweight -- and I'm making it very drapey, to make sure I have enough yarn to finish the thing.

I'm hoping that no one reading this accuses me of cultural appropriation. Granted, I'm not Hispanic. But my rebozo's intended use is as part of a historical reenactment. I won't be using it to carry a baby, and I certainly won't be employing it to help any pregnant women give birth.

I'll post a photo when it's done, hopefully next week.


These moments of weaving blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed and stay safe!

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Happy Domestic Infant Supplier Day?

Yeah. It's about abortion. 

Today is Mother's Day in the United States. This past Monday, somebody at the Supreme Court revealed the high court's take on motherhood by leaking to Politico a draft of the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. The final opinion isn't due out until June or so. But this draft makes it clear that a majority of justices voted initially to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal across the country. 

Written by Justice Samuel Alito, the draft states that "Roe was egregiously wrong from the start." It goes on to say: "It is time... to return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives." Many pundits have interpreted that to mean that the Supremes want to kick the issue back to the states; in other words, state legislatures would be able to restrict, or end, access to abortion for their residents. And legislatures in conservative states are champing at the bit to do it.

But perhaps the most inflammatory statement in the draft -- other than that it would overturn Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe -- is a footnote that contains a quotation from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. If you've been wondering what that tweet in the screengrab above is about, here you go:

Nearly 1 million women were seeking to adopt children in 2002 (i.e., they were in demand for a child), whereas the domestic supply of infants relinquished at birth or within the first month of life and available to be adopted had become virtually nonexistent.

Yes, that's right: the Supreme Court appears set to champion the business of forcing women to bear babies they don't want so that others can adopt them.

Here's a link to the CDC report, which was released in 2008. The quote in the Supreme Court draft brief  can be found in the conclusion on page 16. The report is a statistical survey of adoption in America. What it doesn't do is suggest that women who can bear children ought to get cranking.

In fact, there are adoptable kids in America right now. Of the 400,000 or so kids in foster care on any given day, about a quarter of them are available for adoption. Why aren't those million women taking any of those kids? Well, as the CDC report states, women looking to adopt want a kid younger than two who is not disabled and isn't part of a sibling group. Note, please, that the average age of kids entering foster care is eight. 

Moreover, one-third of the available-to-adopt kids are of color. Now, I know there are white folks who would adopt a child of color; I know a few of them myself, and kudos to them. But the fact remains that a lot of people looking to adopt are in the market for cute white babies.

In any case, ending legal abortion isn't going to produce enough babies for every person looking to adopt to have one. The CDC says about 630,000 legal induced abortions occurred in the United States in 2019. But not all of them would have resulted in a live birth if they been carried to term. Women decide to abort for a multitude of reasons, after all.

Moreover, the Guttmacher Institute says there are fewer abortions now than there were when the decision in Roe was handed down. That's partly because fewer young women are becoming pregnant; in 2017, there were just 87 pregnancies per 1,000 American women between the ages of 15 and 44 -- the lowest level ever recorded.

Ending abortion isn't going to solve the adoption supply chain issue. Women will still end unwanted pregnancies; they did it before Roe, and they'll do it again if Roe is overturned. They just won't be able to do it as safely as they can do it now. Which ought to piss off every American woman, particularly those who claim to be pro-life.

One other thing: I saw a comment this week that the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg thought Roe was a bad decision. I had trouble believing it, so I looked it up. What Ginsburg thought was that Roe was decided on the wrong grounds. Instead of making it a privacy issue (that is, the decision on abortion ought to be between a woman and her doctor), Ginsburg thought it should have been based on the idea that women have the same rights as men.

I understand why she thought so. But here are two things to ponder: 1) the Supreme Court at the time Roe was decided was comprised of nine men (eight of them white) and zero women -- the likelihood that they'd accept an equal rights argument was probably vanishingly small; and 2) the right to privacy established by Roe was used later in a whole host of cases -- everything from the availability of contraception to interracial marriage to gay marriage. Would those decisions have broken the same way without Roe as precedent? It's hard to say. But with Roe gone, it's not outside the realm of possibility that these other rights could be in danger, too.

Anyway, getting back to the draft opinion in Dobbs: The leaker may have done us a favor. Assuming the vote doesn't change between now and when the final opinion is handed down, we have more time to remind everyone about the rights we're losing. The best way to fix this is for Congress to legalize abortion across the country -- and the only chance we have of that, given the current mess in Congress, will be to increase the percentage of Democrats in both the House and Senate. Keep that in mind when you get ready to vote this November.

Oh, right -- and happy Mother's Day.


These moments of righteous blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed! And remember to vote!

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Pretty blankets.

I may have mentioned that I'm going to be volunteering at El Rancho de las Golondrinas here in Santa Fe this summer. It's a living history museum situated on the Camino Real, the royal road that led from Mexico City to Santa Fe, back when the Spanish were intent on conquering what's now the Southwestern United States. 

The museum covers a couple of hundred years of northern New Mexico history, from the Mexican settlement of the area in the 1700s to the turn of the 20th century. The building showing the earliest years is the placita, the little plaza, which depicts what life was like when the ranch was a paraje, or an official stop, on the Camino Real. Settlers had to make almost everything themselves, of course, being far from civilization as they were, and among the things they did was weave their own cloth. As you might imagine, that caught my interest. So that's the part of the museum where I'm planning to volunteer.

To prepare, I've been reading some stuff about the history of weaving in New Mexico. Churro sheep first came up from Mexico with Coronado in 1540, but the conquistadores weren't interested in making clothing from their flock -- instead, they ate them. It wasn't until Don Juan de Oñate arrived in 1598 that sheep were used for anything but food. That's when weaving began to take off. 

The Pueblo Indians were already weaving when Oñate showed up, but they grew and wove cotton, not wool, and their looms were different from the kind the Spanish brought with them to the New World. Weaving became a big part of the local economy, with tens of thousands of blankets being sent south to Mexico as trade items by 1840. 

I won't get too far into the weeds here. But as I was reading one of the handouts, some of the terms stood out for me. Saltillo-style weaving, for instance. I'd heard of saltillo tile -- the large terracotta tiles used in flooring across the Southwest -- but Saltillo weaving? What did it look like?

Dear Reader, I have googled and found photos, and now I will share them with you.

So the earliest weaving patterns were horizontal stripes. (I've stolen most of these photos from this webpage, and I hope Centinela Traditional Arts doesn't come after me for using them.) 

A striped blanket.
Horizontal stripes are stupid easy to weave. Even I can do them. You just go back and forth across the loom with one color 'til you decide to switch, and then you go back and forth with the new color, and so on. The earliest blankets were made with undyed yarn -- churro sheep come in shades of black, brown, and white -- although sometimes the yarn was dyed with natural materials. Chamisa, for example, makes a yellow dye. But not all natural dyes were local. Indigo blue had to be imported from Mexico. Cochineal red is made from little bugs collected from cacti -- no, really -- and it was also imported.

So the early blankets went south, and Saltillo blankets came north in trade. Those often had stripes at either end and a triangular motif in the middle. New Mexican weavers began to adopt and modify the style. 

Blanket with Saltillo elements, including the central medallion.
When the Santa Fe Trail was established in the 1820s, trade in New Mexico turned away from Mexico and toward the eastern United States. That's when commercial dyes became popular. By the mid 19th century, local weavers -- including many Navajo -- had moved away from natural dyes and began developing their own designs. One non-Indian style of weaving developed in New Mexico during this period is the Vallero. I found this example here. Isn't it dazzling?
A Vallero-style blanket.
As amazing as these later blankets and rugs are, I expect I'll stick with stupid easy designs for my own weaving projects. But I'm hoping to learn how to dye yarn at Las Golondrinas this summer. I'll let you know how it goes.


These moments of dazzling blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Steve Martin and -- cultural appropriation?

This weekend on Facebook, I shared a YouTube video of comedian Steve Martin's first performance of "King Tut". It's been 44 years since the song aired on Saturday Night Live, which is kind of an odd anniversary to mark, but I guess somebody mentioned it on Twitter, and it was off to the races.

Apparently, in the intervening four decades and change, the song has become controversial. Back in 2017, students at Reed College in Oregon got upset when they had to watch the video for an introductory humanities class. Members of Reedies Against Racism complained that the bit was racist. "That's like making a song...that's just littered with the n-word everywhere," one student told the college newspaper.

Some Millennials today don't get the joke, either. One tweeted: "I'm sure my parents found this hilarious in the 70's but I honestly dont get it." (sic) 

Okay, then. Let me explain it to you: It's satire. Moreover, it's a satire about consumerist culture.

Context matters. At the time the song aired on SNL, a major exhibition of grave goods from King Tutenkamen's tomb was touring the United States, sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. More than eight million Americans saw the exhibit, which included the boy king's spectacular funereal mask. 

People around the world went wild for everything that had anything to do with Egypt. And as American, uh, entrepreneurs are wont to do, there were a ton of tacky Tut-related items offered for sale, up to and including women's t-shirts featuring a graphic of golden falsies with the legend, "Hands Off My Tuts".

The video that circulated on Twitter this weekend apparently included only the musical performance, without Martin's opening remarks -- in which he talks about how all the Tut tchotchkes inspired him to write the song. And then the music starts, and he goes into his usual manic schtick (backed by a band billed as the Toot Uncommons that included members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). It's a hilarious bit. Here, see for yourself:

Would the skit make it on the air now, in this day and age? Maybe not. It's not as cool these days to dress up in another culture's clothing, even to poke fun at something wholly American.

But is this skit cultural appropriation? Is it racist? Come on. 


By the way, if you haven't seen Martin's most recent work -- Only Murders in the Building, co-starring Martin Short and Selena Gomez -- you owe it to yourself to grab a free trial of Hulu and binge the first season now. It's very funny. And then you'll be all set for season two when it drops on June 28th.


These moments of bloggy Egyptomania have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (who does have a condo, but it's not made of stone-ah). Get vaxxed!