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Indigenous fashion center stage in Mexico presidential election

The prominence of the traditional garments on the campaign trail in Mexico has generated mixed feelings among their creators

Traditional Huipils made by Mexican indigenous from Chiapas, on a Ciudadela handicfrafts market in Mexico City. Photo via AFP


LAST PUBLISHED 23.04.2024  |  10:19 AM IST

After years of fighting for greater recognition, Mexico's Indigenous weavers have seen their creations thrust into the spotlight by the two women leading the country's presidential race.

The brightly colored, elaborately embroidered garments handcrafted by generations of artisans have long enchanted visitors to Mexico—including international designers whose use of the motifs have sparked accusations of plagiarism.

Now an aficionado of the Indigenous designs is almost certain to become Mexico's first woman president, although the prominence of the traditional garments on the campaign trail has generated mixed feelings among their creators.

"It's important that they don't just wear them as a costume or to attract attention," said Trinidad Gonzalez, 55, a weaver in the community of El Mejay in Hidalgo state in central Mexico.

Opposition candidate Xochitl Galvez, an outspoken businesswoman and senator of Indigenous origin, has worn the traditional garments since entering politics more than two decades ago.

Claudia Sheinbaum, the former Mexico City mayor who is representing the ruling party and is leading the election race, has also worn Indigenous designs during her campaign, including at its launch.

"It's very positive that Mexican textiles are center stage in the political arena," said anthropologist Marta Turok.

But according to Andres Vidal, a doctor in social anthropology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the choice of clothing is also part of the “electoral game."


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Martina Cruz—Gonzalez's mother—is 83 years old, but she still weaves using techniques passed down through generations.

She is happy to see traditional clothing worn by the presidential candidates, especially Galvez, who also hails from Hidalgo.

"I like it a lot," Cruz said, while weaving a garment that can take up to eight months to make and is sold for the equivalent of $1,000.

The painter Frida Kahlo was the first internationally prominent Mexican personality to wear Indigenous clothing, said Turok, an expert in popular art.

In politics, the pioneer was Maria Esther Zuno, wife of Luis Echeverria, who was president from 1970 to 1976.

"Mexican politics is a reflection of society," Turok said.

At one time, politicians "were ashamed" to wear Indigenous clothing, a reluctance that mirrored the wider problem of "discrimination and racism," she recalled.

But gradually Indigenous designs gained popularity and prestige. Now they can be worth thousands of dollars.

As a senator, Galvez promoted the adoption of the Day of the Huipil, held on March 7 in recognition of the traditional embroidered blouse.

"Never haggle over the price of a huipil with an Indigenous woman," the politician said in one of her videos, in which she showed her traditional blouses, some made of silk that according to Turok would cost up to $5,000.

Sheinbaum, the granddaughter of Bulgarian and Lithuanian Jewish migrants, also has a collection of Indigenous clothing given to her on tour, according to a source from her campaign.

While several major foreign clothing brands have been accused by Mexico of cultural appropriation for their Indigenous-inspired designs, Turok said she did not view the candidates' use of the huipil in the same way.

"Improper cultural appropriation is taking a textile to another country to reproduce it," she said.

"If we're going to start saying who can and can't wear them, it's going to be a never-ending story," Turok added.

Vidal sees the use of Indigenous clothing as a way for politicians to connect with voters. "One way to reach them is by creating symbiosis through the use of a certain type of clothing," he said.

The election fashion parade has brought new customers into Alfonso Giron's store in Mexico City. "They say, 'Hey, I'm looking for the garment I saw the candidate wearing on television,'" he said.

But in reality, every huipil is unique, Giron added.

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