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Our Little
Mexican Cousin

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     MAMMA,” said Juanita one day after school, “may I go over to Sarita’s a little while? She says her mother will show me how to make drawn-work.”

     Juanita’s mother knew that Señora Ortiz, Sarita’s mother, was very skillful in all kinds of Mexican fancy work, and was willing that her daughter should learn how to use the needle and embroidery materials.

     “Yes, you may go,” said Señora Jiminez, “but you must not bother Sarita’s mother about her work. You know that she is a widow and is obliged to support herself and her children by doing fancy work.

     “This drawn-work which you want to learn  how to make is very popular with visitors from America and other countries, and Señora Ortiz sells much of it to them.”

     “All right, mamma, I’ll remember what you say. Perhaps sometime I may be able to find customers for her. You know papa often brings American visitors to our house.”

     So through the streets Juanita hurried, and soon came to Sarita’s home. This was even more humble than that of her friend Rosa. Here in three small rooms lived Señora Ortiz, together with her two daughters, Sarita and Maria, and her son Carlos. Sarita was thirteen years old, just the age of Juanita, and Carlos was eight. Maria, the baby of the family, was only three.

     Juanita tapped at the door, which was quickly opened by her young friend, who greeted her with a hearty kiss. In the centre of the room was placed a large frame made of thin strips of board and mounted on four legs. Over this frame was tightly stretched a piece of linen cloth.

     At one side of the frame sat Sarita’s mother, who gave Juanita a cordial welcome and invited her to take a seat opposite. At one end of the frame Sarita sat down, for she had become quite skilful in this work and gave her mother much help in the hours when she was not in school.

     “Sarita has already told me,” said Señora Ortiz, “that you want to learn how to make drawn-work. I am glad that you want to do this, for, if there is one thing in which Mexican women take pride, it is their skill in fancy work of all kinds.”

     “We have a sewing teacher in school,” said Juanita, “and I like to do the plain work she gives us, but I also want to learn to make the drawn-work. I am sure mamma will be very much pleased if I can do anything which will add to the beauty of our home furnishings.  Then perhaps sometime I may be able to make an altar-cloth for our church.”

     Señora Ortiz gave Juanita a few simple directions, explaining to her that she could not expect to do fine work for a long time, for it required experience as well as deftness. She set her to drawing threads in a portion of the linen where the work was comparatively plain.

     “Drawing the threads is the fundamental work,” the señora said. “This is slow and laborious, especially when the weave of the linen is fine. If a plain piece of cloth is used, the work is easier. The drawing of the threads prepares the background or field, upon which to operate. This is the mechanical part of the work.

     “Then comes the designing upon the groundwork thus prepared. Combinations of straight lines and small curves, as in elementary penmanship, are used in the simpler work, but sometimes intricate designs are introduced.


     We often copy from flowers and scenery. One of the oldest patterns is the cross and crown, which is also one of the prettiest and most solid, for the weave is close and washes well. It consists of a Maltese cross and an ornamented ring alternating.

     “Instead of the ring or crown, we sometimes leave a cuadro or block where, the threads are not drawn. Another favourite design is the paloma or dove with outstretched wings, and the espiga or the ear of wheat design is much used, made in the form of a wreath. The daisy design is often combined with cross and crown. After you have had a little practice, I will show you how to work a forget-me-not pattern upon a handkerchief.”

     Juanita worked away faithfully under the directions given her for about an hour, Sarita and her mother meanwhile steadily toiling on. At the same time little Maria was playing about the room, watching her elders with her sparkling black eyes, and prattling away as only a little child can.

     At the end of the hour Juanita said: “I must go now, for mamma likes to have me at home at tea-time. I thank you very much for what you have shown me, and I hope you will let me come again.”

     “Indeed, we shall be glad to have you,” said Señora Ortiz. “Sarita’s friends are always welcome here. I know that she is specially fond of you.”

     Sarita blushed prettily at this, but she urgently added her own invitation to her mother’s words.

     Just before Juanita was to take her leave, Sarita’s brother Carlos came rushing in, his olive-tinted cheeks aglow with excitement and his eyes sparkling under the wide brim of his tall, bell-crowned hat.

     “Oh, mamma,” he said, “I have just carried a valise from the railway station to the Humboldt Hotel for an English gentleman, and he gave me twenty-five centavos. He says if I will come around to-morrow he will have some more errands for me.”

     Carlos was always greatly delighted when he was able to earn a little money, for it meant just so much more help and happiness for his hard-working mother. She was wise enough to sympathize and rejoice with her boy in all his successes, but she was also careful not to let his ambition to earn money interfere with his school work.

     Bidding her friends good-bye, Juanita hastily passed out the door. As she walked up the street, she turned for a last look and caught a glimpse of little Maria throwing kisses after her.

     The girl did not daily on her way home, though she saw much to interest her on the streets. Some of the sights excited her tender sympathies. Many little boys, much younger than Juanita, were going about with heavy bundles on their backs, early in life being compelled to become cargadores, or burden-bearers, like their fathers.

     If Juanita had been in some of the cities of Northern Mexico, where rain seldom falls, she would have seen boys acting as water-carriers. They carry two large cans of water hung on to a clumsy wooden yoke laid across the shoulders.

     The donkey-boys were a more pleasant sight, and Juanita smiled as she saw them skilfully guiding the little beasts about the streets. No grown man could have handled them any better.

     Soon, however, she arrived at her own home, where she found her papa returned from his store. Glad as she always was to see him, she was especially affectionate at this time, as she remembered that her friend Sarita had no father to love and cherish her.

     Family relations in Mexico are very affectionate and close. The children live with their parents until they are married, meanwhile regarding all that is in the house as their very own. In this respect home life in Mexico is like home life in the East, as pictured in the parable of the prodigal son, where the father said to the murmuring brother, “All I have is thine.”

     Juanita, like the daughters in other Mexican homes, was watched with jealous care, and was known as “pedazo del corazon,” or “piece of the heart,” of the parents.

     During the evening meal Juanita told her father what she had been doing during the day, — about the visit to Sarita, the lesson in making drawn-work, the poor little cargadores, the donkey-boys, as well as about her school work.

     In this her father was always much interested, especially in her history lessons. He often took occasion to tell her tales of the early history of Mexico. To-night he told her that Aztec mythology mentioned traditions of the flood, the ark, the dove, the green leaf the temptation of Eve, and the subsequent sorrow.

     He also told her of the pyramids of Mexico, which are said to be as old as those of Egypt, and are almost as large. The supposition that the Mexicans sprang from Asiatic races, who brought to this continent the old Biblical stories, is sustained by various authorities.

     About the year 1500 B. C., the Olmecas, of Tartar origin, superseded the Mexican giants. They inhabited the table-lands, swarmed in its ghostly forests, and like wild birds lived upon its silent lakes.

     After twenty centuries the Aztec shifted into the scene, drifting southward from the Californias. Half-hunter, half-fisherman, he reached Mexico, where his troubles began. He was like an Ishmaelite. Five hundred years of wandering found him entering the Valley of Mexico, and it took him one hundred years to make the circuit of the valley from Texcoco to Chapultepec and from Tlaltelolco to Ixtapalapa.

     In 1325 the Aztecs selected as the site of their city an island located between the present cathedral site and the plaza of Santo Domingo. Upon a rock they found the legendary eagle, its claws fastened upon the branch of a thorny cactus and in its beak a writhing serpent. Their little city was named Tenochtitlan.

     Mexico City, which is built on the site of that ancient town, is really a great and beautiful city, created in 1523 by the Spaniards. In 1600 the city had only 15,000 people, 8,000 Aztecs and 7,000 Spaniards, but now its population is 450,000.

     All this Señor Jiminez told Juanita while they ate their supper. Of course she asked him a great many questions. She would have been very different from other children if she had not. A promise was given that she might soon visit the National Museum, where she would see many relics of the time of the Aztecs.

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