Dia de los Niños celebrates the San Jacinto Valley’s historical roots, art

Photos by Matthew McPherson/The Valley Chronicle
Just a few of the many baskets Mary Margaret Masiel has produced throughout the years.

■ By Matt McPherson / Columnist

More than 60 people celebrated Dia de los Ninos at the Valle Vista Library on April 14 by exploring the Native American and Spanish culture and art for which our valley is known.
The day began with hands-on arts and crafts, then delved into a presentation on Native American basket weaving and gourd decorating. Traditional Mexican dances were performed by a local folklorico dance group.
Stephanie Milner, library branch manager, helped children craft colorful tissue paper flowers and Ojo de Dios (God’s eye), which is a spiritual object typically woven with yarn and wood, or in this case, yarn and craft sticks. Ojo de Dios are created for celebrations or given as gifts to bless a home. Dozens of children spent upwards of an hour creating their individual masterpieces.
“It makes us so happy to be able to have parents bring their little ones here to share in the day,” said Milner. “We learn from them every day in many ways. It’s amazing the things they come up with and we’re so happy to provide an environment in which their creativity can flourish.”

Valle Vista Library Branch Manager Stephanie Milner helped children create many beautiful art pieces at the arts and crafts room at Dia de Los Niños.

The ancient art of basket weaving explained
In the children’s reading room, two Soboba Band of Luiseño Indian elders, Mary Margaret Masiel and Barbara Guanche, taught the ancient skills of basket weaving and gourd artwork. Masiel explained the very involved process of basket weaving – details such as selecting which native plants to use, how to waterproof a basket and add artistic accents.
First she selects which plant types will be used in the basket. The three local plant varieties used are juncas, yucca and deer grass. Each has a different function in the basket’s construction.
Next she uses a tool to gauge the diameter of the plant she wants to use, usually dependent upon how large of a basket she plans to make. Then, using scissors and a knife, she cleans and prepares the cuttings, which must be soaked in water to make them malleable and easy to work with to achieve the tight loops.
After wrapping the juncas loops into circles, she uses an awl to weave the yucca and deer grass into tightly wrapped rings, which hold the loops together.
She explained that different sizes and colors can be used to create beautiful designs and artwork.
“I have been basket weaving for more than 15 years, but still consider myself a student and attribute my skills to my mentor, Rosie Kitchen Salinas,” she said. “Currently on the Soboba Reservation, Carrie Garcia, a cultural director for the tribe, received grant money from the state of California to expand the very popular basket weaving classes offered to the Band of Luiseño Indians and is doing a tremendous job preserving and now expanding these ancient traditions.”

Mary Margaret Masiel explains the ethnobotany and ancient skills involved in constructing the beautiful Cahuilla baskets she has on display.

Ornate gourd art on display
The next presentation was by 93-year-old Barbara Guanche, who had an assortment of ornately carved, dyed and painted gourds on display. Barbara begins her process with a trip to Wilbur’s Gourd Farm in Fallbrook, which sells an expansive variety of gourds from all over the world.
First Barbara cleans the gourd using steel wool and removes the seeds. She advises using a mask to avoid the harmful dust that is generated while cleaning and preparing the gourds. After she cuts and sands the gourds, she decides how to decorate them. The gourds can be carved with a dremel point sander, dyed, burned with a hot iron or painted. She also likes to incorporate various types of plants into the tops, but prefers pine needles. Smaller gourds are used to decorate necklaces that she gives to children.
“I’ve been creating beautiful gourd art pieces for over 20 years and find it to be a form of meditation,” said Guanche. “It is very relaxing.”
The St Hyacinth Ballet Folklorico Dance Group closed the day by entertaining the guests with traditional Mexican dances. Maria Aguilera started the group about 12 years ago and she says it continues to grow every season. “There is no charge to invite the group of 70 to celebrate an event you may have planned. They perform at many quinceañeras throughout the region and recently performed for the Ramona Days in downtown Hemet.” They performed several routines at the Valle Vista Library, including “La Botella” (The Bottle Dance), “Guadalajara,” “La Raspa,” “El Gavillanico,” and “Jarabe Tapatio.” For the finale they invited participants from the audience to join in, which led to many proud parents snapping pictures for their memory albums.

Barbara Guanche goes over the many different techniques she uses to create and decorate her very ornate gourds. Mary Margaret Masiel observes Barbara Guanche’s presentation next to a beautiful collection of Native American gourds.

The Valle Vista Library continues to enrich the valley with educational and culturally diverse events that seem to be growing in attendance every month. Contact the Valle Vista Library at 951-927-2611 to inquire about free and fun upcoming events for the whole family. The Valle Vista Library is located at 25757 Fairview Avenue in Valle Vista.

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