With a particular sound, as if they’re “squeaking” on impact with the ground, Yucatecan Alpargatas – made of white leather stripes with silver ornaments and a small heel – move to the rhythm of Jaranas in Vaquerías, adorning those who proudly wear them.
While sandals or Huaraches are worn in other Mexican states, Alpargatas Chillonas (Chillona means squeaky) are the traditional footwear of Yucatán. They’ve managed to survive for generations, as they’re part of the typical attire of a Jaranero. A Jaranero is any man, regardless of age, who dances Jarana, the Yucatecan musical style that brightens Fiestas Gremiales (the yearly celebrations for each village’s patron saint) and other popular festivities with its 6/8 or 3/4 beats.
Alpargatas are made in Yucatán, either in Mérida, Umán, or Maxcanú. These shoes are constructed completely by hand, in a way that has been passed down from generation to generation, as leatherworkers are usually trained by their parents or master tanners.
Don Santiago Lavadores Tamayo, who has a shoe stand at the Lucas de Gálvez market, learned when he was still quite young. “When I was 12 years old, I became interested in my father’s trade because he had a workshop in our house; at first I only made Alpargatas before going to school, but then I dedicated myself to this.” With this trade, he raised his four children; two of them, Fernando and Gabriel, also learned it and are carrying on with the tradition of offering this footwear to market shoppers, or during the trips they make to different municipalities throughout the Fiestas Patronales season.
Be it the traditional model, donned for Vaquerías and regional theater, or in other colors and materials, like those with tire soles worn by Milperos and construction workers, Alpargatas have been used by Yucatecans for centuries. But they also catch the eye of national and international visitors who might prefer models without raised heels, in more modern tones of either deep blue or mahogany. A leather Alpargata can last years, and because they’re made in all sizes, they can also be worn by children and teens.
Mérida: “La Alpargata Yucateca”, Mercado Lucas de Gálvez, Calle 65 x 56, Centro, Mérida
Umán: Don Pío, Calle 21 #113 x 20-A y 20-B, Umán
Maxcanú: Don Temo, Calle 15-A x 16 y 18, Maxcanú
Editorial by Violeta H. Cantarell
Born in Mérida, Violeta is a communicologist dedicated to writing and creating content on tourism, fashion, and entrepreneurship. She has recently started working as an English-Spanish translator.
Photography by Ema Duarte for use in Yucatán Today.
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