By Jordan Kimbrell, writer/editor for Unbound
Unbound works with families from many different cultures and traditions. Inspired by New York Fashion Week, we want to explore the different fashions that are found within those cultures. Today we’re sharing an interview with Josefa and her parents from the Santiago Atitlan area in Guatemala.
For those living in the Santiago Atitlan area of Guatemala, there is a specific style of clothing with roots in the Mayan culture. Sponsored child Josefa and her parents, Juan and Magdalena, shared with us the special meaning behind their traditional garments.
Q. Why are these clothes special to your culture?
Josefa: The outfit says that I am from Santiago Atitlan. There are several pieces to my outfit. The corte is the traditional skirt, the faja a traditional belt, the huipil is the traditional blouse and the reboso is the traditional shawl. The tocoyal is the traditional hair and head piece for Mayan girls.
Juan: The tocoyal is characteristic to the women of Santiago Atitlan; it is unique to our women. The length of the tocoyal represents life. An elder woman uses a tocoyal up to 75 feet long. The designs on the huipil represent nature; there are birds, flowers and patterns in the shape of volcanoes.
Our ancestors called Santiago Atitlan “birds’ house” because people built their homes with straw and there are many birds in the mountains. And that is why we decorate our clothes with bird figures. Atitlan is a beautiful town. Our ancestors decided to decorate our clothing with the things that represent that beauty.
Magdalena: Our outfits are handmade, all of it. Even the weaving of the thread and the embroidery are done by us.
Q. How does it make you feel to wear something that represents your unique culture?
Josefa: I like my outfit because this is who I am, it represents my culture. Not wearing this outfit is like saying “I am not from Atitlan.” I like the birds and the flowers on my huipil.
Q. How do you take care of your clothes?
Magdalena: I hand wash our clothes carefully. I only wash our traditional outfit perhaps every two or three months because I don’t want the colors to fade. To wash the items I turn them inside out and do gentle circular fingertip moves to apply soap. I sun dry the items, but not under direct sunlight; they dry in the shade.
Q. What has sponsorship meant for your family?
Juan: The outfit for my daughter is not cheap. With sponsorship, we receive help with food supplies, school supplies, shoes and other home expenses. This helps us save for things like clothing. Sponsorship is helping us preserve our traditions.
Watch this video and check out our step-by-step tutorial to learn how to wrap a tocoyal.