From the chapter of “Blackbirds in the Pomegranate: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison” titled CITLALI
“Burgundy and blue. The satin-sheen rags woven through Citlali’s black braids and tied in a knot across her back were the color of afternoon skies that would forecast a storm. Furrows radiated from the corners of her eyes where she squinted for thirty-some years in the fields. In a grimy white chair, against a graying background of crumbling lime-washed block wall, she now squinted against a harsh sun that cast curly shadows from the concertina wire overhead. Petite sandaled feet were barely visible under her skirt woven of coarse dark wool. The front of the red blouse that hung loosely on her slight frame was graced by a tree in rainbow hues, sprawling from shoulder to shoulder. Arco Iris. Slung to one side and wrapped in checkered cloth, a child who appeared too large to comfortably carry was chewing on a fistful of her mother’s braid.”
“These designs were not solely ornamental. Even without full understanding, I knew their rococo complexity was intentional. Throughout Mexico and Central America, women wear these geometric expressions on their chests, a symbolic reflection of their own spirit, and the spirit of their ancestors. Not like the t-shirts sold in dollar stores that pronounce “I’m with stupid.” Citlali’s designs, like those created by Chinantec women before her, were intricate stories, allegories, beliefs and cautions. Worn where a woman’s soul lies, where a child feeds, where clear broth warms on a chilly afternoon and memory sits, a barbed knot barely concealed.
Other women in Ixcotel embroidered fluffy pink peonies on tortilla napkins, or green quetzal birds on pillowcases. They sold these for enough money to make more, to keep busy while they waited for whatever came next; to not think about good memories that hurt, memories that crept into the spaces during idle hours. Citlali was making a library. She didn’t sell her work. Her mother brought her new material every month. Her pieces were neatly stacked in a basket at her feet. So many stories expressed in thread fine as corn silk, unfolded in lines and curves across her woven page on the neat squares of red, blue or white fabric. She worked deliberately, methodically, prolifically—managing to create whole new worlds in the space of another woman’s pre-stamped pink peony. Citlali had an urgency to express herself, though few could know exactly what she was saying. Given the context of the colors and the design, I could imagine. I blinked. It was like opening my eyes underwater beside a coral reef. Colorful and alluring, her stories resided in a realm that I admired but couldn’t quite touch.”