Shoe shiners

San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas Mexico

Confronting Inequity


Jacobo Laos, Ricardo Santis Gomez, Daniel Lopez Lopez, Juan Santis Lopez, Francisco Diaz Diaz, David Lopez Gomez, Freddy Gomez Gomez, Jesus Gomez Santis, Pasqual Diaz Diaz, Victor Diaz Diaz, Caleb Duarte Pinon, Mia Eve Rollow


In San Cristobal de las Casas Chiapas Mexico, child labor has increase 397 percent from 2000 to 2010. There are 2,481 working children in the city of SCLC with a population of 280,000 people. Children work in selling artisans, crafts, candy, cigarettes, and fabrics. There are also many shoe shiners, trash pickers, and window washers in the center of town and around the markets of the city.


When one walks through the cities of Mexico, shoe shiners, especially children, become somewhat of a beautiful and possibly romantic nostalgic scene uniting the present with the past. Or for many tourist or western travelers, the sight of children cleaning shoes may bring up feelings of guilt and temporary outrage towards the economic inequalities and working conditions in Mexico. But for the children and their families, this work is a large part of the family income. Mexican established society imposes these ideas of inequality onto the indigenous working class as a continuation of México’s racist colonial history. Here, the children simply become part of the colonial and architectural city landscape.


Bolero is a continuing per-formative project that collaborates with ten indigenous working children and youth in Chiapas Mexico. This initial seven-day workshop resulted in a four-hour public performance where block cast of gesso were made in the size of their shoe shining material kits.   These gesso blocks were then carried to the center of town where they carved out details of textured wood, nails, and cracks.



The movements of their hands were that of mimicking the gestural movements of the cleaning of shoes. After four hours, they began to break and destroy the sculptures sending pieces of gesso flying into the public. Questions asked dealt with labor versus play, creativity versus work, and working children now seen as artist.


We continued this investigation and workshops a year later. This time the sculptural performance was based on the ideas on physical disability, socially excepted poverty and inequality, and ideas of social mobility with in the economic and political structures of Mexico and the world. Within this five-day workshop, ten children and youth carved into gesso while conversations and discussions of these issues took place.  Wooden boxes were built to the size of their feet and poured gesso covered their necked toes and ankles.

This resulted in having cement like blocks in place of feet. In order to walk they had to carefully drag their heavy limbs little by little. Once in the center plaza they began chip and carve the weight off their feet until fully liberated.  


Bolero is a project that speaks to the issue of wealth inequity by breaking open the publics’ lens of normality and exposing the realities behind child labor. It is the attempt to become physically “abnormal” while placing oneself into a public space for an audience’s possible contemplation. At times some participants felt ashamed, strong, entertained, and proud. At other times they felt creative and enthusiastic to carve and create, but at other moments, as Juan DIaz Diaz expressed while speaking in Tzotsil "The ideas of ancestral slavery came to mind when dragging my foot in a line with the others while making our way to the central plaza.