December 4, 2022

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Museo de Ropa Étnica de México (Mexican Ethnic Clothing Museum) in Valladolid, Mexico

Growing up in Mexico City, Angeles López-Portillo de Stiteler often wore the china poblana outfit for dance recitals and special occasions. The China Poblana herself was an Asian woman (most likely from what is now India) who was trafficked into New Spain (the colonial entity that is now Mexico) and then forced into servitude of a well-to-do family in the city of Puebla. At the time, anything or anyone Asian would commonly be referred to as “Chinese”, so she came to be known as the China Poblana (Chinese Woman from Puebla). Her South Asian dresses came to be widely appreciated in the city, and they would eventually be adapted into a super-sequined local variant.

Angeles’s own china poblana dress was a referrent throughout her life, even as she moved to the United States at a young age. After settling in Pittsburgh, she worked in cultural initiatives that focused on the Latino communities, as well as raising a daughter, Tey Mariana Stiteler. Growing up bilingual, Tey apparently inherited her mother’s taste for clothing the reflected Mexico’s colorful folkloric dress. After Tey’s own retirement, both Stiteler women traveled to Mexico, where they often went on adventures to find unique pieces of clothing.

Having particularly liked Valladolid, Tey decided to house their growing ethnic clothing collection in the city. On what was formerly a hotel, the Mexican Ethnic Clothing Museum (MUREM) was established in 2020. One of Angeles’s own china poblana dresses is still displayed in the collection. Given its location in the Yucatán Peninsula, much of the clothing found here reflects modern and traditional Maya cultures.

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The characteristic female blouse worn by many Indigenous peoples of Mexico is known as “huipil” in the center of the country, but in the Peninsula, the variant “hipil” is almost invariably used instead. MUREM’s collection has numerous examples of both huipiles and hipiles, and for the latter, it has full sections dedicated to the types of stitching that have decorated them over a few generations. Some of the classic Maya patterns, such as x’manikté, have been further adopted in more globalized fashions, such as the hip-hop outfits of rapper Pat Boy.

The rest of the country is well-represented too, with spiky boots from the North, dried grass cloaks from the Center and, of course, china poblana outfits, all making an appearance.