Updated: Jan 17, 2019
Story by: Sergio Portela
Photos by: Nathan Pillow
With each woven thread and pump of the loom’s pedal, Zapotec culture is alive and well and ready to be passed onto the next generation.
Sergio Martinez, a weaver and owner of Fine Textiles is working on educating people on his cultures traditions.
“Our culture is very important to us,” Martinez says. “For me and indigenous people it’s a very big thing to understand who we are and where we are going. It’s very important to know and teach the younger generation what that means, between two different cultures like Oaxaca and here.”
Martinez grew up in Oaxaca, Mexico a member of the Zapotecs an indigenous peoples that are concentrated in the southern part of Oaxaca. There he learned the trade of weaving, which is a form of textile production where sets of yarn or lace are interlaced together to form fabric or cloth in which Martinez uses a loom.
Weaving is a trade that had been passed on from generations, Martinez learned from his father and grandfather. He has passed down to his children as well. His son Omar Martinez also partakes in designing some of the pieces his father creates on his loom.
“I learned from my father and my grandfather so there are many generations,” Martinez says. “I’ve passed it down, my children like to weave too and Omar began creating his own style.”
The duo of father and son work well together as Omar brings a fresh style to what his father is used to.
“His style is a little different than traditional designs that we have or make in Oaxaca,” Martinez says. “His style is more contemporary.”
Like father like son, when Martinez originally came to the United States he began to add more than just traditional Zapotec design styles.
“In the beginning of the 80’s I started incorporating new elements in the weaving not only Zapotec, but all other cultures.”
But Martinez’s favorite form of art is held deep in his Zapotec lineage.
“I very much like the native art, more pure art,” he says.
That art is still alive today much like the art of weaving is in Oaxaca. Martinez has a studio there and travels back and forth frequently. There he continues with old traditions and uses wool and organic vegetable dyes such as leaves, plant roots and flowers. While he is in Oaxaca he works with some youth so that they can continue the tradition.
“In Oaxaca, at our workshop young people get involved in this job too,” he says. “And weaving is one of the things we try to keep alive to continue. Even if the young people nowadays start to get university schooling or go on to do other things, but I feel it’s important to keep a tradition that helps us identify who we are.”
The current generation nowadays is more technology inclined, but Martinez’s goal is to continue to keep the importance of his Zapotec culture thriving.
“I think it’s important nowadays with technology being one thing this generation is more involved with, but I think it’s important to keep all traditions,” he says. “I think it’s important to keep two main things in our culture; weaving, but also our language. My mother tongue is Zapotec and I think it’s important to let people know here that this art is still alive. I’m trying to keep it alive.
While in Sacramento Martinez works at Casa de Espanol where he sells his work. As well as teaching weaving and speaking a bit of his mother tongue Zapotec.
“I’m at Casa de Espanol it is a language school and I’m there from Monday through Friday, if you would like to talk more about the culture,” he says. “They gave me a space inside, but I teach weaving and sometimes I do talking in my language, Zapotec just to show how that sounds than Spanish, what’s the difference between the two languages, they are totally different. I’m trying to give an idea of who we are and what we do.”