Margaret Muñoz Garza

The Rebozo

It was the green shawl that I remember most.  Not really a shawl but a rebozo. I had bought it for her on one of my trips to Mexico.  It was hand made near Malinalco.  The fine threads woven together to make triangular patterns in green and black, with the black threads forming fringes at each end.  She always wore her rebozo, especially during cold weather.  In Mexico, they tell of the woman’s rebozo, given as a wedding gift, used as shawl, carrier for goods and later for babies and eventually grandbabies, and finally by most elderly women for warmth and comfort.  My mother, in her old age used it for comfort and aesthetic.  You see, someone once told her she looked “very pretty” in her shawl, unusual words to describe an old woman, but she did look very pretty in her rebozo.  I can still picture her on her way to church, her face framed in the green and black, eye lashes curled into a V-shape, just a hint of blue eye-shadow, pink rouge and only a thin daub of pink on her lips. 

“You look very pretty,” the priest said.

She turned up to face him; eyes, nose and lips framed in green.  Her shawl almost hid her age, covering silver hair, hiding the crinkles of her fragile skin. She seemed innocent and childlike.  He bent his face in to get a closer look and the magic was gone, replaced by an old woman waiting for mass.  He smiled absentmindedly and continued on towards the sacristy door. Once in, he took off his glasses and polished them thoroughly on his cassock sleeve. He was not mistaken, she had looked very pretty.


Pretty, like the woman who sold me the scarf, ageless too.  It is sometimes difficult to determine the age of indigenous women.  They seem to either be youngish or elderly, nothing in-between.  This woman, sitting on her knees, with her textiles spread before her, was youngish.  Though tired and pale, it was almost evening and most of the buyers had long since headed home.  My husband and I had just returned from dinner and were taking a walk around the plaza when we came upon her.

“¿Un rebozo, Senora?” the woman asks.  She is small and thin, dressed in the bright dress of her clan, hair plaited back into a thin braid, her shoulders draped with a scarf similar to the ones she sells, though much more worn and faded.

No, no,” I say, “Pero muy bonitos.” And they are beautiful. 

“Mira, son buenos, hechos de mano,” she says almost desperately, reiterating the handmade quality, her deft fingers stroking the fine fabric.  Instinctively, I bend down to pick up the end of the soft cloth.

“¿Quien los hace?” I ask, wondering at the fine quality of work.

Pues yo,” she states, almost as if insulted; who else would make them?  “Son bien finas y mas baratos de los que los puedes compra allí,” she lightly tosses her head in the direction of the air-condition shops that cater to the tourists.  Many charge two, three times what the artisans actually are paid for the handiwork.  She tells me the price, and I calculate in my mind, about $20, American.  I finger the fine thread and beautiful workmanship. 

Si es bien fina, la bufanda.

“No es bufanda.  Es un rebozo,” she corrects, as she rearranges the garment she wears, demonstrating how to use is as a wrap, then says, “para niños también,” showing how to carry an infant.

I smile, knowing I am out of spending money budgeted for this trip, but the look on her face is mirrored with desperation. I look into her tired face and I can see the small children waiting for her at home.  I see that she rises well before dawn, to load up probably months’ worth of back-breaking work into two bulging bags made of woven plastic.  She catches a bus, for a two hour trip, only to sit here for the entire day, and sell only one item. I see my mother in her eyes.

Un momento,” I say, as I turn to my husband. He looks at me, as if to argue, but realizes the futility and hands over the cash.  Seeing the American green, she sits up, lifting her head a little higher, the desperation and fatigue replaced by satisfaction and relief.  We exchange garment for cash, she satisfied that she has made a good sale, knowing that I have given her a generous exchange rate for the valuable American dollar, and I equally satisfied with a beautiful gift, I know my mother will wear to church on Sundays.


Sundays were my days to sleep in, since I did not attend mass.  But guilt made me wake up early to give my mother a ride to church.  She hated to bother me and would wake extra early, to avoid waking me, and ride the city bus to church.  Some mornings were especially cold, so she would wrap herself in her green rebozo and off she would go. As years passed, and she began to change, her ritual did not.  Sunday mornings she spent at church, first helping in La Cocinita, then sitting by the small garden between the sacristy and sanctuary, usually accompanied by a crony or two.  The whole parish would pass before them, some prostrate with life’s tribulations and some righteous with their own deeds, yet still others, like my mother, content just to be, for another day.  She noticed them all, and it was on such a day that the priest passed and commented on how pretty she looked.

Eventually, as age took its due, for she was over 70, riding the bus became more difficult and she looked to me for support.  And I, overworked with two jobs, would sometimes oversleep.  On one such morning, she was anxious to get to the kitchen; she was responsible for the onions that morning, and not wanting to wait for me and risk being late, she walked to the bus stop at dawn.  It being Sunday, the buses were on a weekend schedule and ran every hour instead of the usual 20 minutes, so she could not afford to miss it.  She had to transfer downtown and was apprehensive because the first bus was off schedule and the second would come any minute, and she couldn’t be late; she had the diced onions after all. Rushing across the street to the second bus, she did not notice her rebozo become loose and free itself from her shoulder.  Falling behind her, the green fabric drifted softly to the street, her quick steps oblivious to the black fringed threads clinging stubbornly to her coat and then finally fell quietly in a soft sad clump on the street; no sound escaped to let her know that it had been left behind, abandoned in the street, the green fabric, a stark contrast to the grey and grit of the city.  It wasn’t until she was on the bus and felt around for its warmth that she noticed it was gone.  Looking around on her seat, the floor, and then finally out the window, she saw the green fabric alone at the intersection.  She half stood, half called out to the driver to stop, but knowing instinctively he would not wait, would not give her the time she needed to retrieve her treasure.  She half stood as she watched her rebozo in the street, first close up and then, as she craned her neck, disappear in the distance.  She sank into her seat, sank into herself, her beloved rebozo, gift from her daughter, its beauty sitting among the harshness of the city, trampled by trucks and cars, stained with oil, torn beneath the rubber of tires.  Ruined, like her, ruined with age and wear.  She sighed, a heaviness in her heart, at the loss of a piece of fabric, left lying in the street. 


The streets of Malinalco are humming with activity.  Wednesday is market day and there is a flurry of activity, despite the light rain; everything seems to be available here.  Streets have been closed to vehicular traffic, replaced by foot traffic meandering through the line of vendors. The sights, sounds and smells of the market engulf me as I wind my way through the maze of brightly colored plastic canopies that line both sides of the streets.  I don’t know on which side to walk, afraid that I’ll miss something.  On this, my second trip, I am searching for a particular gift. Delicious smells waft through the air: roasted pork, bisteque, pollo, and of course maize.  Corn, the essence of life, cooked in a variety of ways; roasted in its shuck and then smothered with mayonnaise, cheese, and hot sauce; ground and fried into gorditas, stuffed with beans and cheese or patted, rolled,and grilled into fresh tortillas for tacos.  The smell fills me, awakening the ancient senses of my ancestors.  I wander through the maze, looking for that one particular item, until finally I come to the plaza, trying to remember where it was that I came upon her, the woman with the rebozos.  I walk in the general direction, but the many years or perhaps the many people, make everything seem different.  I wander towards the cathedral, and there, sitting on the ground with her textiles spread before her is a woman selling rebozos.  A little heavier and perhaps younger than the woman I’d met before.

“¿Un rebozo, senora?” she asks cheerfully. 

I smile in response and bend down, sifting through the pile.  “¿No tienes uno de verde?”  I ask.  She helps me look, and then turns to sort through the plastic woven bag at her side, finally pulling out the fabric of green, identical to the one I’d bought years before.  My breath catches at my throat as I shake loose the fabric, embraced by its warmth. The green rebozo. She would be so happy to have it back.


Back home, the warmth of summer has finally given way to the coolness of autumn.  It is late October, and while others prepare for Halloween, I prepare for the rituals of día de los muertos.  It takes me days to collect the memories for my altar. I send out an email to my sisters, inviting them to breakfast with our mother. 

On the morning of the 2nd, I rise early to cook the breakfast my mother so loved to cook for us: eggs and potatoes, refried beans, extra spicy salsa, and bacon, wrapped in a fresh tortilla, and orange juice.  With everything packed, I am the first to arrive.  Gently, I take her new rebozo and drape it across her headstone and then begin to arrange my memories upon it, her Wordfinder puzzle, reading glasses, coffee cup, a snickers bar, rosary, and other religious items from her home altar, leaving enough room for my sisters to place their own memories. I step back to admire my work.  It looks beautiful.  My breath catches in my throat, the way it did that day in Malinalco, but this time, I give into the sadness that accompanies it. The cool morning air stings as tears spill.  Such a long time it has taken me to bring her a new rebozoHow she had missed it.  I am left standing in the cool wind, while the cold stone is wrapped in the rebozo.  

I remember back to that first trip to Mexico, and that thin, frail, ageless woman who reminded me so much of my mother.  It was she who told me of the woman’s rebozo, given as a wedding gift, used as a shawl, carrier for goods and later for babies and grandbabies, and finally, worn to their graves.  Here at my mother’s grave, she too is finally wrapped in the warmth of her green rebozo.


MAG Acentos 1

Margaret Muñoz Garza is a native Tejana, having lived the majority of her life in Houston, Texas.  She channeled her love of all things literature into an MA in Literature and a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston, and has recently attempted to re-ignite her writing career.   A lifelong educator, Margaret currently teaches adjunct at the University of Houston Downtown in the Department of English. Her poetry has appeared in Con Safos and Of a Like Mind, and more recently in The Return of Coatlicue.

© The Acentos Review 2013