As the director of the Centro de Textiles Traditionales de Cusco (CTTC), Señora Nilda plays an important role in preserving traditional Andean weaving techniques. CTTC is the NGO where I work and it supports over 400 weavers in 9 communities around Cusco from its museum, store and office location on Avenida Sol. Around the office she commands complete respect; people there are typically referred to by their first name – Domingo, Sonia, Amparo – but everyone refers to her as “Señora Nilda.” She wears her hair pulled straight back into a jet-black ponytail and usually wears somber, dark blue pantsuits…ironic attire for someone whose life revolves around traditional weaving and colorful indigenous patterns.
Señora Nilda’s story is well documented. She grew up in the local village of Chinchero and learned traditional weaving from the elders while most everyone else was cranking out woven goods made of synthetic fibers and dyes. She did very well in school and was the first girl from her village to attend university, where she studied tourism. During the turbulent 1980’s and early 1990’s, when the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) was terrorizing much of Peru, Señora Nilda continued her studies and taught others the weaving techniques that she’d learned as a young girl. In 1996, with the help of many friends, she founded CTTC and its influence continues to grow each year.
The amazing thing about Señora Nilda is that she, more than almost anyone else, made high-quality, traditional textiles cool again. In the 1960’s and 1970’s indigenous highland people were drifting away from traditional weaving, opting for machine-made textiles from cheaper synthetic dyes and yarns. These days, being able to weave in the traditional way is a source of pride. As Nilda put it, “For many people who had these traditional weaving skills, it was a way to show status in their community…something to be proud of…and it was good for their self-esteem.”
In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, when the Sendero Luminoso terrorized Peru, tourists were afraid to visit Peru, young people went to Lima looking for jobs and it was a very unstable time in Cusco. In the mid-1990’s the timing was right to start CTTC as tourists were returning and Peru was much safer. According to Señora Nilda, “Yes, it was the right moment. When we started the center in 1996, political turmoil was behind us, tourists were coming back and the market was ready for us. It all came together
At an office picnic a few months ago, about 25 of us sat on the ground and ate roast chicken, beet salad and quinoa. Señora Nilda was the gracious host, making sure that everyone had napkins and enough Inca Cola to drink while her puppy Sombra rambled about. Señora Nilda talked with everyone in the office with warmth and charm. It’s the type of charm that makes you feel important – only later do you realize that she only talked with you for 2 minutes. She is a powerful woman who has a busy schedule and this was her time to connect with the people who make the office go.
As I’ve talked with various people about my work at the center, I’ve occasionally heard comments that imply she controls too much of the local textile industry in Cusco. Whether these comments are well-founded or professional jealousy is not relevant to me. It’s nice to see an indigenous woman with power.