Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Mario Vasquez Bautista: Zapatero Remendón


Mario at work
When I first walked into Mario"s shop in Oaxaca, I had an instant flashback to O'Flaherty's shoe repair shop in St. Paul, Minnesota. His shop emanated the aromas of freshly polished leather and rubber cement, and although Mario's shop is a bit more rustic, it took me right back to my childhood.

Mario is a zapatero remendón (cobbler). His job is not to make shoes, but to give them new life. He learned his trade from his father in Mexico City over forty years ago when shoes were made of real leather and quality materials, not like today when synthetic materials have overrun the market.

Mario still works much like he did forty years ago. Much of his sewing is done by hand. He has a few basic machines: one for grinding, one for polishing and a heavy duty sewing machine for things that cannot be sewn by hand. Despite the "throw away culture" of the shoe industry nowadays, he says that there are still people whose occupations demand a good pair of shoes. Good shoes and boots are expensive, and many people opt to have them repaired rather than buy new ones. Mario is happy to accommodate them. He has never advertised his shop, but the quality of his work speaks for itself and brings him enough new and repeat customers to make ends meet.

The shoe repair business isn't what it used to be. At one time Mario had five employees working with him and his earnings were substantial. Now he works alone and his income is enough to put food on the table, but not much more. Mario said that even though his monthly earnings are meager, he has enough to keep him happy. "I have my house, a good wife, enough to eat, a big garden with lots of animals, and good health. I don't need more." 

At sixty-six, Mario was considering retiring, "When you get older, you begin to see things more clearly. It might be time to give my body a rest. If you stay active and do the things you enjoy, that nurtures you." His life as a zapatero remendón has served him well. He is proud to say that his children have good jobs as professionals and are successful in life. When I left Oaxaca in 2019, Mario was seriously considering retiring.

When I returned to Oaxaca in January 2022, I found Mario in his shop working. He told me had stayed open during the pandemic until November 2020 when he has a debilitating stroke. He was out of work recovering for over three months, went back to work, and then got a severe case of Covid which almost took his life. He was laid up in bed and receiving oxygen for six months. He had just reopened his shop two weeks before I arrived. He now sees his work as a way to keep active and happy and to avoid another stroke. Besides, he has a lot of make-up work due to his absence from his shop during the previous months, and as always, he intends to keep his customers satisfied.