Among the most popular cultural activities that Indígena’s senoras love is to come together to utilize traditional sewing skills. Not only does this help reduce isolation by bringing them together; it is an opportunity to maintain cultural traditions that provide healing and connection. But what does a program that serves among the most vulnerable and isolated in San Francisco do when they can’t bring them together to engage in these healing traditions? As it turns out, the answer is the same: they sew!
The story begins with Jose Luis, one of Indígena’s Promotores. He had an idea to sew a mask for employees in his partner’s auto shop. Deconstructing a standard blue mask, he created a pattern and made a mask. This effort evolved through multiple prototypes, incorporating CDC’s regulations.
Enter Conchi, another Promotora, who created her own prototype. They conceived to integrate the masks into Indígena’s program. The first one was complete about two weeks into San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order. Soon thereafter, all of Indígena’s staff wanted to participate in the mask-making effort. One person obtained donations of cloth and elastic bands, another sewed the mask, and another added elastic bands.
The new masks are being delivered to Indígena participants and day laborers, as well as IFR outreach staff. Looking to the Super Winiketik (Supermen), an organized group of day laborers, outreach began by word of mouth. As Indígena Health & Wellness Program Manager Julia Orellana notes: “We see that day laborers need and want to work. They are told to stay inside, but not how to survive [this pandemic].”
As the project evolved, it became an opportunity to educate day laborers on how to stay safe. Small packets of detergent and information were handed out with each mask, as well as how to contact Indígena for additional support.
Inspired by this work, Indígena Case Manager Carlos Izaguirre adds: “Everyone speaks about resilience. Yet, our Promotores saw a small piece of fabric and decided that they could make something valuable for the community. That’s amazing.”
To date, approximately 220 masks have been completed and distributed, and Indígena shows no sign of stopping.
Julia summed it up best: “Sewing is an intervention to practice cultural traditions where the abuelitas and señoras come together. It isn’t always valued or respected. Yet, in multiple ways, sewing has proven itself to be community-building and life-saving. “
This pandemic is no different.