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Chiapas, Mexico 2011 & 2013

EDELO Collaborative lead by Mia

& Caleb Duarte

Shoe-Shiner Youth

One-Month Workshops and Performance

In San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, there are 2,481 working children in the city of 280,000 people. Children work in selling crafts, candy, cigarettes, and fabrics. There are also many shoe shiners in the center of town and around the markets of the city. For many tourists or western travelers, the sight of children cleaning shoes may bring up feelings of guilt and temporary outrage towards the economic inequalities and working conditions in Mexico. For the children and their families, however, this work is a large part of the family income. The intractability of the working-class status of many Indigenous communities reflects the systemic inequality constructed by Mexico’s established classes, a continuation of the country’s racist colonial history.


Boleros is a project that speaks to wealth inequity by breaking open the public’s lens of normality and exposing the realities behind child labor, created in partnership with ten indigenous working children and youth. A collaborative seven-day workshop resulted in a four-hour public performance in which gesso was poured into rectangular blocks in the size of typical shoe shining kits. The children then carried these heavy gesso blocks into the center of town, where they carved out details of textured wood, nails, and cracks. The work raised questions of labor versus play, creativity versus work, and children transformed into autonomous artists.

Several years later we did another project with the same youth. Instead of casting gesso boxes, each child had one of their feet encased in a gesso box. As a group, they walked slowly to the center of town, sometimes dragging their heavy feet. In the square, they began to chisel away at the boxes, bit by bit, until they freed themselves. At various times, participants felt ashamed, strong, entertained, and proud. At other times they felt creative and inspired to carve and create. The performance was a powerful connection between generational systems of oppression and current reality. As participant Juan Diaz Diaz expressed, "The ideas of ancestral slavery came to mind when dragging my foot in a line with the others while making our way to the central plaza.”

Mia Eve Rollow


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