Pintando Pasos–Painting Steps


Pintando pasos 5

Try to image life in Pinotepa de Don Luis. The town of less than six thousand is located in southern Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in Mexico. Half of all Oaxacans have indigenous roots. In the town with the curious name, those roots are Mixtec. According to Wikipedia, pinotepa translates as “toward the crumbling hill.” Instead of aiming for the hill, many young people in search of work head north to Oaxaca City, Mexico City, Monterrey or the United States. But in 2005, a unique source of jobs came to town bringing a ray of hope and recognition for locals who carried on a long tradition.

Pintando pasos 3Pintando Pasos, Painting Steps in English, was the brainchild of José Zaga and Juan Alcázar. Zaga, owner and president of Converse México, felt a keen sense of social responsibility. He was also a fan of Oaxacan indigenous artwork and a friend of Alcázar, a native Oaxacan painter who studied under Rufino Tamayo. Alcázar had already established several art academies when Zaga approached him with a desire to invest in a project  that could become self-sustaining.    

In 2006, Grabadores Mixteco Unidos A.C. opened its doors in Pinotepa and Pintando Pasos was born. There, Alcázar trained a group of talented young grabadores, engravers who like generations before them carved designs into jícara gourds and painted nature images. Converse donated materials and handled distribution logistics. Given a blank canvas (double sense intended), the artists went to work, painting elaborate flowers, birds and other images.

Pintando pasos 4Before long, the Mixtec engravers’ creations were selling in posh stores in Mexico City, New York and Europe. They’ve had exhibits at Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology, the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian and at the 2013 World Art Games in Zagreb, Croatia.

Today Florencia Gallino, Converse México’s Coordinator for Social Responsibility, says, “If we could put a chip in every pair of Pintando Pasos sneakers and light them all up on a map, there wouldn’t be a single unlit continent. They’ve become a universal language for transmitting Mixtec culture and admiration in every part of the world where they’ve gone.”

Pintando Pasos artists

Pintando Pasos artists

The current thirteen artists paint six to seven hundred pairs of sneakers a year, working about five days on each pair. The artist receives the entire amount of the retail sales price, usually around $3000 pesos, or $250 U.S. dollars. When an artist isn’t painting shoes, he can be found working on jícaras, paper or murals, tending his fields or continuing his education. Including family members, income from the painted sneakers supports some forty individuals.

Ildefonso Lopez

Ildefonso Lopez

Ildefonso López, leader of Grabadores Mixteco Unidos A.C., says, “Each model (shoe) carries a heavy historical and cultural weight that is the heritage of grandparents, fathers and sons. They are stories of the region, anecdotes, experience lived, legends.”

Juan Alcázar, who many referred to simply as Maestro, meaning both master and teacher, passed away last February. No doubt he would be proud of the work his grabadores carryon.


If, like me, you read about Pintando Pasos and wondered how you can get hold of a pair of sneakers as a holiday gift for that special someone in your life, Gallino suggests contacting one of the stores listed on the Pintanto Pasos website to see if they can ship them to you.

Curious as to what the Mixtec language sounds like? Watch this video with English subtitles.



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