Master Weaver Natalia Mendoza Bizarro
On the day that we visited Natalia at home, she was weaving green and red place mats to sell for the Christmas holidays. This set up for the backstrap loom is the longest possible using all the poles on the urdidor (the warping board) and allowing her to weave six place mats within one loom.
Married at 22, she has 5 children ranging in age from 27 to 12 all living at home. No grandchildren yet. Her four girls can all weave, but have little time for it as they all work. When I asked her if there was other things she likes to do besides weaving she looked at me like I might be from Mars and then mentioned that she embroiders the traditional men's and women's traje. When asked if she ever traveled outside of Lake Atitlán she laughed and said she went to Xela once (a 3½ hour rather uncomfortable bus ride) and once she was brought to a hospital in the capital because she was very sick. She laughed again and said she'd like to fly in an airplane and that she'd go to the U.S. if I brought her with me!
I've spoken with Natalia several times and each time she was friendly but reserved. Our last visit however was quite long and by the end of it we were both more relaxed. I realized then that this woman is downright funny as she began to tell more stories from her life with wry humor.
Like many of the women weavers of San Juan, Natalia began weaving at the age of 10 foregoing schooling. She and her sisters would wake up at 4 a.m. to work in the family's vegetable plot on the shores of the lake then return home to tend to the house and weaving. Her parents went to work in the coffee fields on the mountain. Her father forbid any of his four daughters to attend school, so Natalia can neither read nor write though she says she didn't miss it. Despite the prohibition her youngest sister however did go to school until the 4th grade unbeknownst to her father! The three older sisters and their mother kept this hidden from the father, which she said wasn't all that difficult because he was always drinking. A few years ago, when her mother was 66 years old, she went to school with a group of ancianas and at the age of 71 graduated from grade school. Natalia proudly went to her graduation.
Her daughter Amelia is a long-term volunteer at the Quetzalli Women's Cooperative.