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A labor of love: Sewing masks comes easily for titleholders’ sister

A labor of love: Sewing masks comes easily for titleholders’ sister


Supplies for homemade masks, from cotton fabric to thread and needles, have been difficult to find. So Tatiana Otero found herself disassembling fitted bed sheets for the elastics.

“I cut those up and continued to make more masks,” Otero said.

She even contemplated taking the elastic out of her sisters’ skirts. Otero’s sisters are titleholders and she has made them dozens of traditional Navajo outfits.

Since the pandemic, her skills as a seamstress have been invaluable to her rural community of Torreon, New Mexico. She has made hundreds of masks and continues to make more that she gives out to her community for free.

This is only Otero’s second year of sewing. Otero taught herself to sew after her sister, Cherone Otero, won her first title. Paying other people to sew outfits for Cherone was getting expensive. So Otero decided to step up and learn how to sew.

At first, Otero was using her own leftover fabric to make masks but she eventually connected with a group called the Pueblo Action Alliance who provided her with supplies. This organization then connected her with Mask Up New Mexico.

In the state of New Mexico, people are required to wear masks in public. This has been in effect since May 16. The governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan-Grishman, recently re-enacted some public health restrictions.

This included rebanning indoor dining at restaurants. Restaurants are only allowed to offer outdoor dining at 50% capacity.

New Mexico state parks are closed to nonresidents. Nonresidents will not be permitted in. Those traveling in from out-of-state have to self-quarantine for 14 days before going out in public.

Gyms and other close contact businesses are required by law to make sure customers are wearing their masks. These businesses can only operate at 25% capacity. If businesses are violating these laws, they will be fined by the state.

These re-enacted measures are in response to the rise of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico since the state laxed public health measures.

“Unfortunately, our state’s dramatically rising case numbers reflect that those behavior modifications and precautions have either not been taken seriously or taken up by enough people,” Michelle Lujan-Grisham said in a press release. “Too many of us are still not wearing masks. Too many of us are still congregating in groups, taking risks with our own lives and endangering the health of our family members, our neighbors and our state.”

The state has seen over 3,000 new cases in the last week. This increase represents 20% of the overall cases New Mexico has had since the pandemic hit. The Lujan-Grishman administration sees this uptick in cases, after reopening, as similar to those in neighboring states like Arizona.

After opening up restrictions, Arizona saw a huge increase of cases. On June 28, the state saw a single day increase of 3,858 cases.

“But we know prolonged exposure without face-coverings – as is the case in high-contact indoor settings – is a significant risk factor,” Lujan-Grishman said.

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
Tatiana Otero has made hundreds of masks since the start of the coronavirus pandemic that she gives out for free to her community in Torreon, N.M.

This makes Otero’s work that much more important as she tries to fill the gap of masks in rural New Mexico.

A couple times a week she drives from Cuba, New Mexico, all the way to Torreon to deliver masks to people who need them. She uses her own gas money and her own vehicle to make the drive.

She posts on Facebook to let people know she’ll be in the area and goes to wherever they are.

“I usually go to the clinic, in front of the clinic,” she said. “I usually wait there and people just meet me there.”

As she makes her way back home, she’ll make stops for people who have reached out to her on Facebook. Otero will meet people at the end of the roads or even drive all the way to their homes.

One of those people was Belynn Begay who needed masks for her family.

“They have to have a mask with them for their safety and our safety,” Begay said. “I feel safe. I won’t be worried that they could catch Covid-19.”

Before Begay got the masks from Otero, her family was using disposable surgical masks that didn’t fit properly. Begay was glad to get new reusable masks for her family.

Elvera Sandoval and her family also reached out to Otero for masks.

“I wear a mask when I go to town,” Sandoval said. “When I go somewhere to Walmart or to the store, it really protects me.”

Sandoval got four masks from Otero for herself and her family.

“It’s really good to have these masks,” Sandoval said.

This is a labor of love for Otero and she’s happy that she’s able to help her community during this time.

About The Author

Pauly Denetclaw

Pauly Denetclaw is Meadow People born for Towering House People. She was raised in Manuelito and Naschitti, New Mexico. She was the co-recipient of the Native American Journalist Association's 2016 Richard LaCourse Award for Investigative Reporting. Denetclaw is currently finishing her degree in multimedia journalism from the University of New Mexico - Main. Denetclaw covers a range of topics including genetic research, education, health, social justice issues and small businesses. She loves coffee, writing and being with her family. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Her handle is @pdineclah


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