By Lois Ellison
The article is part of a series about some of the extraordinary people we’ve met here. They are not the rich, the famous or the eccentric that you typically read about but each has a story worth telling. They are the people you see every day: the waiters, the cab drivers, the vendors, the business owners and your neighbors. This week, meet
It would be impossible to tell Reina’s story without including her late husband Vicente who sold ironwood figures for many years. We met Vicente one year when our daughter was visiting several years ago. Her future husband was named “Fox” so she wanted to buy him a fox figure. The first few vendors we spoke to just laughed. “No hay zorros” (there are no foxes) they’d say. But Vicente was different. He’d never seen one, but he’d ask around. He never did find one, but from then on he always remembered us and we’d share a few laughs about the zorros. In time we became friends. We noticed that Vicente was handicapped and as his condition continued to deteriorate, his wife Reina began working with him.
Reina Cristobal Rosas was born in Copalillo in the state of Guerrero. There were five children in her family. Her parents were field workers, but there wasn’t always much work, so life was very hard. After finishing her primary education, she moved to Puerto Vallarta, found work cleaning houses, then met and married Vicente. Soon they had a son, and then another. Vicente was doing well enough as a figura vendor so Reina was able to stay home and care for the boys.
Five years later, their lives were forever changed when Vicente, who had untreated diabetes, developed diabetic neuropathy. We met him shortly after it all started and each time we saw him, his conditioned had worsened. He went from using a cane, to using a walker and finally to a wheelchair.
This didn’t stop him from working. Reina began helping him; learning the ins and outs of the craft. All the figuras you see being sold around town are made of ironwood. They arrive here from Sonora in rough shapes. Using sandpaper, the vendor spends hours adding details and finishing the shapes. Finally many coats of shoe polish are applied and then buffed to a high sheen.
Over the next ten years, Reina took on ever increasing responsibilities. She had the children to care for, the business to run, and a husband whose health continued to decline. Drawing on her tremendous reservoir of strength and her unwavering love for her family, she managed it all with a smile on her face.
Just before Christmas three years ago, Vicente died of a heart attack in his sleep. I think he knew it was coming because just weeks earlier he spoke to me of his desire for his boys to find a better life. He feared that when he died they would wind up as vendors and he wanted so much more for them.
When Vicente died, the family was devastated, but life goes on.
Reina is the only female figura vendor in Puerto Vallarta. She comes to town from Pitillal seven days a week, transporting heavy crates of the works she hopes to sell and puts in eight hours a day, rarely taking a day off. She is rightly proud of her two sons. Now seventeen, her oldest son is enrolled in a two year program learning to be a baker. The younger son, thirteen, attends school. In their spare time they help their mother.
Although she misses Vicente every day, she has found happiness and contentment with a large informal family of friends. Some of these are her seasonal friends who stop by when they visit Vallarta. But most are the other vendors who work nearby and support each other. A central figure in her life is Juan, who at age ninety, works side by side with Reina selling his handmade jewelry and some toys. Juan is everyone’s beloved Abuelo.
You can find Reina just across from the northwest corner of Lazaro Cardenas Park. Look for the address Olas Altas 218 painted on the utility poll. You will recognize her by her smile.