Julieta | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Julieta

Last November I posted about our visit to a furniture-making workshop in the tiny town of Adjuntos del Rio. There, I met men who make mesquite furniture using grossly unsafe power tools, shaking their hands which are knobby because of missing fingers. Also employed there was a developmentally disabled woman named Julieta (Hoo-lee-EH-tah, gringos). Struck by her appearance, I asked her if I could take her picture. She agreed if 1) I wasn't going to sell it, and 2) I would give her a copy.

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Julieta's Portrait

The odd blue light in her left eye suggests she has a mind that sees things we don't. Missing half her teeth, she clearly hasn't received a lot of care. But for all her disabilities, her face is untroubled. Her world is a benign one.

Her place consists of a banco (workbench) where she sands furniture, and a recamera (bedroom), a small, windowless closet in the workshop where she keeps her few possessions and sleeps. She says she has no parents. The woman who runs the furniture workshop gives her food and a place to stay. The workmen accept her as part of their family, treating her with respect and providing her with security.

Julieta is a straightforward person. She speaks without guile; she projects a kind of fierce innocence.

—§—

Almost three months had passed since I took her picture. My friend Paul Latoures visited the workshop several times in the interim. Each time, Julieta asked him about her photograph. When would she get it? She remembered my promise even if I didn't. Apparently, posing for me was a highlight in her circumscribed life.

Today I returned with Paul to Adjuntos del Rio to give Julieta her portrait. Paul had a camera ready to record the moment. I tried to hand her the picture, but she pushed it away! Then it dawned on me. Julieta thought she was posing for Paul and that I was ruining the shot by shoving the picture into her hand. She was taking her posing responsibilities very seriously.

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Julieta Rejects Her Photograph

Reluctant at first even to look at the photo, eventually she began to accept it. She said she didn't think her face was beautiful; we assured her otherwise. Finally she took the frame out of my hands, and scuttled back to her room.

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Maybe She'll Accept It After All.

Julieta was overwhelmed. I don't think she has had many special days like this one. She was shy, confused and reluctant. She needed to get off by herself to admire her gift. Her "family," the woodworkers, laughed and applauded, sharing her happiness.

Up north, I ran into people like Julieta in OSH, industriously dusting shelves. I saw them on buses, on their way to work or returning to their group homes. They receive special education and live comfortable, subsidized lives.

Julieta doesn't have any of that stuff. But she is surrounded by people who care for her. She has work that gives her purpose. And she has a couple of Gringo friends who like to visit her.

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