Bordando por la paz y la memoria: Embroidering for peace and for memory

Handkercheif for Aldo Gutierrez Solano
Aldo Gutierrez Solano

This August the Joel D. Valdez Main Library is honored to display a project that remembers people killed in Mexico during the War on Drugs. Our library display was curated by local artist Hank Tusinski (his statement is provided below, after the handkerchief instructions).

Bordando por la Paz y la Memoria is made up of groups of citizens, women and men from all over Mexico and some cities abroad, who come together to embroider on white handkerchiefs the names and stories of victims in Mexico’s War Against Drug Trafficking. Many were innocent bystanders of random or targeted violence. Some were friends and relatives of people in drug cartels. The stitched stories make visible the suffering caused by this war.

In Mexico, the "Memoria" embroidery is usually done in public squares, in parks or on sidewalks. The memorials display information from the official police report and/or news reports about the victim's death. The words are hand-embroidered with red thread, symbolizing blood, on a man's white handkerchief, symbolizing the tears of the final farewell.

Today the embroidery is international. The collection's memorial handkerchiefs have been made in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Tucson, New York City, Canada, Japan, The Netherlands, Paris, and Barcelona. You are invited to participate also.

Learn more in this visit from Arizona Public Media: (beginning at 26:56)

Closing Reception and Sewing Circle

Join us in the café area on Sunday, August 27 (2-4 pm) to explore the handkerchiefs on display and sew your own. While supplies last, we will provide handkerchiefs, hoops, and thread for participants to embroider their own memorial or message. Event link:

To embroider on sidewalk, stairs, gazebos, in parks and plazas of Mexico today has become a profound exercise of nonviolence, a direct action to promote peace. As the needle enters the fabric, [it] penetrates the social fabric. To embroider then becomes a moral weapon that weaves a victim’s story: It is resistance to the compulsion of war and encourages people to return to speak again.

~ Francesca Gargallo Celentani

Instructions for embroidering the handkerchiefs

  1. Request case assignment(s) from Fuentes Rojas Facebook page by sending a private message specifying how many cases you wish to be assigned—5, 10, 50, etc.
  2. Print the text (computer or block letters) for each case in the Font of your choice.
    Each Case (death) is numbered as an entry on a Master Case List:

    940. En las calles Juan Escutia y Miguel Barragán, al norte de la ciudad, fue acribillada una pareja en un automóvil. Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. 07 dic 2010.

Here’s how to lay out the case so it can be traced onto a white handkerchief (42cm x 42cm, or 16.5” x 16.5”).

Case Description: 28-48 points; Case Number: 36 points. It is difficult to embroider smaller letters.

  1. Center the text on the page [see photo above].
  2. Print the text on paper and trace it (use carbon paper) on a white handkerchief (42 cm x 42 cm (16.5” x 16.5”). Make sure that no letters are left out.
  3. Choose whatever stitch you prefer.
  4. Use any red thread. It isn’t necessary to use a specific red, or that only one person embroider the entire text.
  5.  At the bottom left, embroider the name(s) of those who embroidered and where it was embroidered [e.g., Bordaron: Susana y Mónica, Mexico D.F.; see photo].
  6. Complete the piece by embroidering [use 36 point] the case number and total number of deaths [e.g., 40 / 50 000; see photo above]. Each case is numbered.

One handkerchief
One victim
Stitch after stitch
We are a voice of needle and thread that Is not silenced

Bordando por la Paz y la Memoria: Hank Tusinski statement

Hank Tusinski and Tim Mosman installing the exhibit.
Hank Tusinski and Tim Mosman installing the exhibit.

As a Buddhist and an artist, there are few things that I shy away from: they both are fueled by a questioning curiously and the desire for connectedness (in rereading this, I thought that could be the definition of a library, too).

So in 2012 when I got an email from my friend Debby Breckeen who lives in Ziruhen, Michoacan about a group in Mexico City (Fuentes Rojas) that was needing people to embroider the stories (cases) of individuals who had lost their lives as a result of the “War on Drugs,” I wanted to get involved.

On the one hand, most of my work for the past 20 years has been related to the tradition and celebration of Dia de los Muertos (my altar installation ~:BANDA CALACA:~ was installed at the Tucson Museum of Art in the fall of 2015) so I have a feeling of deep gratitude and connection with the people and places I have been throughout Mexico (we were in Oaxaca in the fall of 2006 when the teacher's strike -APPO- took over the Zocalo and the Military Police

José Inés del Valle Orozco
José Inés del Valle Orozco

took over the city and the Indy Media journalist Brad Will was killed). I am specifically interested in “Mexico Profundo” and indigenous people (which may be called 'cultural-citizenship').

On the other hand, I felt the need to be more involved in taking a stand with concrete actions to bring attention to a crisis that is either ignored, overlooked, or dismissed (“south of the border is not our problem”).

I had never embroidered before, so when I got the instructions, I went to the store and bought the supplies that I needed and some white handkerchiefs. Then I searched on YouTube for “Beginning embroidery instructions”, and I was off.

It is quite a moving experience, of connectedness and support to get engaged. I started talking to friends about the project and what I was doing and many of them decided to embroider cases, too.

Over time the movement has grown to groups around the globe and various installations of the bordados at museums and cultural institutions. The original group meets in Coyoácan every Sunday to this day. Although more attention is being brought to what is happening, sadly the number of casualties is constantly on the rise.

The handkerchiefs are displayed in a checkerboard pattern, on black.

There are a number of reasons why I really wanted the installation to be at the Joel D Valdez Main Library. Libraries are the most socially inclusive places, nonpartisan, and bedrock for understanding and tolerance. Life, culture, diversity, and knowledge thrive and are nourished in the Pima County Library network (I happen to adore my local El Rio Library, and Suzanne Hesch has a group of embroiderers who meet at the Himmel Park Library). A generosity of being comes to mind. To say the least, I was delighted when Betsy gave me the green light for the installation at the Main Library, and I know that all of the people in Mexico City are touched and appreciative for this reaching of hands and hearts across the border.