When Romeo Siguenza put his first piece of thread through a needle at age 5, he began to learn the art of embroidery and the value of tradition from his great-grandmother. He hoped to one day pass it on to following generations.
Almost 50 years later, the Nevada State Museum Las Vegas, in collaboration with the Nevada Arts Council’s Folklife Program, will display his collection of traditional southern Mexican attire in the first-ever “Flores Familiares” (Family Flowers) embroidery exhibit beginning today.
“Embroidery is considered to be one of the most beautiful traditions in all of Mexico,” Siguenza, 54, said during an interview conducted in Spanish. “My only goal is to promote the culture.”
Rebecca Snetselaar, exhibit curator, has worked closely with Siguenza and his wife, Anita, for two years in preparation for the exhibit. She first met Siguenza two years ago when he was teaching an embroidery class. She later saw his collection and learned that his whole family embroidered.
“That’s when I realized how extensive his collection was, and how good it was,” Snetselaar said. “I was just really impressed by the breadth of his knowledge.”
“Flores Familiares” will feature traditional dresses from southern Mexican states such as San Luis Potosi, Chiapas, Michoacan and Oaxaca. Each outfit will have a brief explanation of its origin and use, in Spanish and English.
But for Siguenza, “Flores Familiares” means much more than just presenting his work to the public, it’s a chance to teach people the importance of traditions and passing them on through generations of families.
Siguenza was born and raised in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico, where embroidery is a family tradition.
“Embroidery there is not just a job exclusively for women, it’s a familial art,” Siguenza said.
In some areas of Mexico, there are entire families whose sole dedication is to embroider, he added.
Although Siguenza and his wife left Mexico more than 30 years ago and have lived in Spain and California and have been in Las Vegas since 1995, they’ve never forgotten their hometown roots and traditions.
“No matter where we have lived, we’ve always identified ourselves as ‘embroiderers of our culture,’ ” Siguenza said.
Anita Siguenza remains so loyal to her culture that on Sundays and special occasions she dons a traditional southern Mexican dress. She doesn’t think there will be a day when, come Sunday, she won’t be dressed that way, she said.
The Siguenzas’ only daughter, Orlenda Rosa, was raised in the United States but wore a traditional enagua con faldon (long skirt with petticoat) and huipil bordado (embroidered short sleeved tunic) until she was 14 years old, Siguenza said.
Rosa, now 33, has told her father she will teach her daughter the art of embroidery, just as he taught her, he said.
“I feel like I’ve fulfilled my purpose here and when I’m gone I’m leaving behind what I cultivated,” Siguenza said.
Siguenza strongly values family and keeping traditions alive. If one chooses not to pass on a tradition from one generation to the next, the tradition dies when the person does, he said. The best way to keep traditions alive is through families.
“Family is absolutely everything,” Siguenza said. “It’s not just about having parents, or siblings or cousins. A family is a group of people who act like a family day to day and live through love, respect and freedom.”
The pieces Siguenza chose for the exhibit are the ones in the most danger of being lost because not many people know how to make them anymore, he said. The collection displayed in the exhibit was crafted over 35 years and is only a portion of Siguenza’s 115-piece collection, he added.
The opening reception from 2 to 5 p.m. today is free and will feature performances by folk dance groups Xochipilli Macuilxochitl de East Las Vegas Community Center, Ballet Folklorico Xyachimal and a special performance by Romeo and Anita Siguenza.
Dennis McBride, museum director for the Nevada State Museum, thinks “Flores Familiares” will be popular and attract a more diverse crowd to the museum.
“The Spanish-language community is a demographic we’d love to be more involved with,” McBride said. “Las Vegas is so diverse, and I think this exhibit will bring people in who might not otherwise come to the museum.”
Most of all, Siguenza hopes to reach young people through the exhibit, to interest them in learning about the roots of their heritage and culture.
“When we know about our roots, it gives us security about something,” Siguenza said. “With that security we never forget where we came from, and when we know where we came from, it’s easy to know where we’re going.”
Contact reporter Yvette Cruz at email@example.com or 702-383-0256.