When an American thinks of cowboy boots, what is the first image that comes to mind? A picture of dusty brown leather boots worn-out from range-riding, cracking in the burning sun? Or maybe some newly polished, slick black alligator boots? Regardless the individual interpretation, the boots conjure up the figure of the wearer that has long held iconic status in the American West.
The classic rugged adventurer cowboy has long been regarded as among the founding Americans who worked by the strength of their backs to define and carry out the nation’s “manifest destiny” of settling the West. It is because of how iconic this symbol is to America that I was not surprised to find the cowboy’s classic footwear for sale in a shop in an indoor plaza in Phoenix.
But this plaza is named Mercado de los Cielos, a Mexican remake of a defunct Mervyn's department store anchor at the aging Desert Sky Mall in Maryvale. An early outpost of white middle class Phoenix suburbia (see a project about this by Christen Garden on this site), Maryvale has become a predominantly Latino neighborhood with a high dose (30-45%) of immigrants. The Mercado’s dense warren of swap-meet style vendor shops cater to the area’s new denizens. Shops include jewelry shops, photography studios, cell phone repair, and income tax services.
Among these vendors is Botas Malcreado, a small shop packed floor to ceiling with cowboy boots of all types for men, women and even tiny children. This shop serves as apt reminder that the Mexican cowboy too holds iconic status in the southwest borderlands—and not just on this metaphorical border-in-the-city. In fact, all cowboys are descendants of the Spanish vaqueros, horse-mounted livestock herders that originated on the Iberian Peninsula and came to the New World in the 17th C along with Conquistadores to become the cattle herders of Spanish Mexico (see, for example Wikipedia’s entry on Vaquero, or google Mexican cowboys!).
When happening upon the boot establishment as I explored the Mercado, the first pair that caught my eye was totally different from the typical synonymous cowboy boot. The prominently displayed boot had a pointy toe elongated to some 18 inches. Upon friendly exchanges with frequent patrons, I learned about the wide use of the elongated toe boots in rural Mexico. This piercing trend is more a recent fashion statement than it is for show or status.
Pointy boots are worn with skinny jeans for dancing to a type of Mexican music called Tribal, which “mixes pre-Hispanic and African sounds with Cumbia baselines,” as explained by the “god of Tribal music” DJ Erick Rincón in a terrific YouTube video “Mexican Pointy Boots” (2012, see video below). According to Rincón, Tribal originated in Mexico City in around 2000 and then spread to other Mexican states like Monterrey. Dance crews “strut their stuff” in choreographed performances and showcase their sharp footwear that they often make themselves, with points up to seven feet long! Not only that, but Rincón says in the video that Tribal competition events are even better in the US than in Mexico, and part of a huge scene in places like Dallas, Texas, where most Mexican immigrants come from the state of San Luis where Tribal is popular.
Mexican Pointy Boots. YouTube Apr 17, 2012. Hosted by Bernardo Loyola | Originally released on Vice in 2011 at http://vice.com
Later while watching the traditional folklorico performances held each weekend on a raised stage platform erected in the center of the erstwhile mall lobby re-fashioned into a Mexican town plaza, I was disappointed not to see any Tribal dancing with pointy boots. Along with a variety of Mexican and American dance routines, complete with costume changes, the male and female folklorico troupe did perform a few cowboy/ranchero numbers, but without pointy boots. But the large, appreciative crowd of entire families assembled around the “plaza,” snacking on nachos, raspados and other Mexican treats, didn’t seem to mind.
The pointy boot for sale in the Mercado de los Cielos is a piece of Mexican tradition that has manifested its destiny in our neck of the woods, taking its place among our rugged brown and slick black classics. Despite the controversy of immigration in this country, it seems this designer Mexican boot has easily crossed the border wall and found its place here in transnationalized Phoenix.