More than sandals, huaraches are literally a kind of walking history.
As Conti González explains in “The History of Shoes,” our ancestors had to invent a way to protect their feet from sharp rocks and searing ground during their journeys seeking food and shelter. The skilled hands of Hispanics have historically possessed a sot of magic when creating things, whether they are made of clay, wood, ceramics, wire, copper, stone, glass, and, of course, leather for footwear.
“Many people come looking for huaraches from the city of Leon, Guanajuato,” said José Sánchez, who has a shoe store in east Tulsa. “The best huaraches in the world come from that part of the country. I myself go every year to the famous ‘Plaza del Zapato’ shoe mall in Guanajuato and I bring back a thousand pairs of sandals.”
According to Sánchez, these days “young people like to wear huaraches. Before they were for country folk, but now all kinds of people show up,” he said. “Adults and children.”
Miguelina Sanabria, who works in a store in north Tulsa that specializes in typical Mexican footwear and clothes, says huaraches vary depending on the region. “The way in which they tie and weave is different,” she explained while displaying several pairs. “The ones from Puebla have a lot of things. Those from Jalisco are simpler.”
Over time materials have changed significantly; it is not common to see soles made of calf leather or of a rope made of plant fibers. “Now there are even rubber huaraches,” she said. “They also come in all sorts of colors.”
Rafael Puentes, a regular customer of Sanabria’s, said he has several pairs. “It’s a tradition. In my farm (Tamaulipas, Mexico), I was always in huaraches.” He said that back home they were made using his very foot as the mold and then fashion it on the spot. “Then they would make the holes to insert the straps. And sometimes you had to put some beef tallow on it to be able to work the leather. Those were the huaraches of another time.”
Whether made of leather or of plastic, huaraches are like an anchor that sets our feet in the past.
Did you know?
According to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, the word “huarache” comes from the Tarascan word “kuarache” and means “a rough leather sandal.”
It is also the name for a Mexican dish made with a tortilla-like base toped with beans and salsa.
Photos by Juan Miret