Fragment adapted from the original narrative Los Martinez, Chapter I. Volcanoes and Stars, by Dina L. Cisneros, Mexican writer.
A representation of affable women awaited my arrival to Los Martinez community in Guanajuato, Mexico. Ramona, with her temper and evident leadership ability, was the hostess that afternoon. In a matter of minutes, the hall leading to the rear stables of the house became a colorful stage for a puppet show.
The puppeteers of Los Martinez introduced themselves one by one, with a mixture of shyness and optimism. Carmen, with restless eyes and an honest smile, served and pampered Lupe, her husband, while the others made inconspicuous jokes about her exorbitant romanticism. Carmen, happy, dreamer, enamored and grateful for life, volunteered to be my guide and accompany me on my first tour of the town.
We went to the new well with a party of young women who, along the way, spoke of the transforming effect of being part of that group of puppeteers.
Estrella, Ilse, Erika, Jazmin… they stated their names and age. One of them was 23 years old and still single, which caused the others to tease her. They said their options were limited after high school: maybe working in the crops near their homes. A sarcastic smile appeared on Jazmin's face as she answered if she would like to continue studying. "My father would never let me leave town. He thinks I'm safe here."
The women of Los Martinez become storytellers
One summer afternoon, the women of Los Martinez received an invitation from the Guanajuato project to join a group that would work hand in hand with local artists. As they became involved with Social Art and water care, their children would develop other activities in the school.
Some of them had no qualms about admitting that their motivation to join the group was neither education nor water concerns. They were afraid of losing potential benefits and also they wanted their children to have a different summer, so they agreed to participate, although they were very skeptical.
However, what started as simple entertainment, turned out to be very different and now, these women are in charge of telling the stories that will inspire their community. "Here we had no right to dance or to play. But because we were part of that group, we played as if we were girls and we were happy learning new things; time was passing quickly," said Carmen.
Proud of their taste and sense of fashion, they showed off the characters they had created for the puppet show. They were happy explaining why they had chosen the fabrics, the colors and the materials that gave life to their puppets.
Eva, a young puppeteer, shared the story that gave rise to one of the group's puppet play. "My grandmother says that the water snake* almost destroyed the houses located at the edge of the community. The water snake came suddenly like lighting, strongly like a tornado, silently like the rain, connecting the sky with the earth. It almost overflowed the dam.” Eva asked me, “Can you see that acacia?” pointing out at a tree (a huisache) of capricious forms. “They say it has had this swing form since then, to show the force of the snake,” said the women with a smile.
Immersed in water snakes, wells guarded by monsters and a lot of imagination, the group of puppeteers revived local stories, offering new generations the legends that they grew up with. They also offer respect and gratitude to their ancestors for the same stories where they find wisdom and inspiration. Confident in the future and honoring the past, the puppeteers of Los Martinez tap into their childhood memories and emotions to enrich the whole community.
The practice of Social Art in Guanajuato has produced a blossoming of emotions, feelings and ideas. This is much more than simply conveying information through the puppet plays. These effects are evident in the new motivation Rosa has to get out of her routine; in the serenity and self-confidence displayed by Ramona, who knows she is a community leader; in the will and determination emanating from Carmen, who found her charisma behind the scenes and now reflects it in everything she does. Or simply as Carmen puts it: "The puppets are more exciting because I do not see myself, I can laugh and nobody sees my teeth. That's why I like the puppet theater."
The project financed by Lazos de Agua and executed by Living Water in this community has empowered the women puppeteers of Los Martinez, who now take an active role in the process of behavioral change through Social Art. "This project has shaken our spirit," one of the women excitedly says. "It has lit a spark, and I hope it will spread like fire in dry grass," says another woman.
The day arrived; the puppeteers had their show outside their community
The women were invited to the Water Expo in the city of Guanajuato. That generated an unparalleled enthusiasm. Most of them had never been to the capital of the State. Some had never even crossed the sorghum borders of their community. The comments were all positive: "Finally, somebody sees us! We are taken into account.” “Here at the ranch, we do not go out, nor do we know Guanajuato, or anything.” “This is a trip; it is to know a new place and new people!” “This is important because it is an important issue: water!” In addition, said Carmen, "We will see if other places have the same problems we have in our town."
While sweeping her large patio adorned by lush cactus, Carmen proudly noted the efforts made to achieve a shelter for her children. She remembered her happiness when building the only bathroom of the house, a few steps outside, next to a rustic water container.
"The water arrives every third day, if we are lucky. Sometimes we have an entire week dry. It is because our house is in the highland. We need to better organize the water distribution; otherwise this issue will be permanent,” said Carmen without outshining the enthusiasm of her face.
Excited by the invitation to Water Expo, the puppeteers meticulously rehearsed the three pieces of their repertoire so they would not leave anything unforeseen, although they did not know how much time they would be given for their intervention.
At dusk, they finalized their rehearsal and left the small room that served as a workshop. I saw them pleased as they put their puppets in boxes and talked about their new role as communicators. I could feel an enthusiastic group of women who had overcome discrimination and shyness and were now happy and confident as their own characters.
*Character, part of the local culture.
Photos: One Drop / Dina L. Cisneros