Martha Dominguez-Cahue de Diaz




Martha Dominguez-Cahue de Diaz




Martha Dominguez-Cahue de Diaz


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date



Chicago, Illinois


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Martha Dominguez-Cahue de Diaz. Today's date is March 28, 2009. It is now 3:20 in the afternoon. We are conducting this interview at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, Illinois. Thank you for doing this interview with me.

MD: Thank you.

KM: Tell me about your quilt "Three Generations."

MD: My quilt, "Three Generations," consists of three panels. In the first panel, it's the c. 1910 when my great-grandfather Miguel Cahue and my great-grandmother Claudia Nuñez, during the Mexican Revolution of 1910, would have to hide their daughters in the caves outside our small town and it became too much of a threat to the family where they had to flee. They would have to flee to Fort Worth, Texas, but unfortunately we don't know how my great-grandmother passed away in Fort Worth, Texas and my great-grandfather, Miguel had to return to the small town, Huandacareo Michoacán, Mexico. You see a lot of hummingbirds in the sky with the first panel because the hummingbirds are very popular in Michoacán, and you do see one monarch butterfly because they also go to Michoacán during the cold season in North America. Prior to going to Texas, there is a lot of havoc during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The hummingbirds represent all that flutterness and not being in agreement with what was going on in the small town because the revolutionaries who were helping people in the small town were also taking advantage. During the war, you take advantage of the woman and unusual things do occur and also the military men that represented the Mexican government also took advantage by stealing and ransacking and doing all sorts of things that ere inappropriate and shouldn't have been permitted. This is why my great grandmother and great grandfather fled to Texas. Unfortunately, they did return to Mexico and he became an agricultural worker. This was during the years of Emiliano Zapata and also Francisco Villa. We can trace our history all the way back to the French Invasion. This is the first panel basically of the migration from Huandacareo, Michoacán, Mexico to Fort Worth, Texas, and the return again. You see the ten little people and then an adult is my great-grandfather returning back in the color purple.

In the second panel, one of Miguel Cahue's sons, my grandfather Ignacio Cahue married my grandmother Celerina Tena and they found that they could have a job and have a better opportunity of life coming in the 1920's. In the area of Maxwell and Halsted Streets, where some of my aunts and uncles were born during the Hull House era near St. Francis of Assisi. They found a job and by they, I mean my grandfather Ignacio and his two brothers, Jose and Mariano found a job at Brach's Candies. Normally you would find a job in Chicago in the steel mills, but they concentrated in that era where the University of Illinois of Chicago now stands and the church they would go to was St. Francis of Assisi, which is a German church, so it was a mixture of people. You see a photograph of my grandfather, my grandmother and the first three children born in Chicago. Then you see a second photograph of my grandmother where she is pregnant from my Uncle James or Jaime with her brother's wife, Paula Caballero and then you see a third photograph when they do return back to Huandacareo, Michoacán. During the Depression, my grandfather had a temper and he is the one that wasn't going to put up and stay in Chicago so he returned to Mexico. He returned to his farmlands. Returned with my grandmother, children and the Singer sewing machine, the pianola and a camera. You see the third picture in the lower left hand side where my grandmother is grieving her first born son who was dressed in Indian clothing, very fancily made where they call this the "Little Angel" because of his innocence. He died as a small child. She is bereaving her son but she is also pregnant from another child, which might have been my Uncle Robert or my mother. My mother was born in Mexico. Unfortunately my grandmother died and also we repeat the same story again, second generation where the head of the household, the male becomes widowed.

The third panel is where my mother, thanks to her brother, Jaime, was able to come via airplane. No problems at all. Aurora Cahue Tena was able to take the plane and arrive [at Midway Airport.] in Chicago. This is where she meets my father who came from a different state in Mexico, San Luis Potosi. His first time in the U.S., he had to cross the river carrying his suit above his shoulders because he was crossing the river so as not to get it wet. He arrived in Houston, worked as a busboy in Houston [Texas.] in the Sheraton Hotel. Unfortunately he got caught, immigration took him back. He asked for a pardon through the US government and luckily he had some friends in Chicago, Illinois, who were from San Luis Potosi, the state and the city where he is from. These friends signed an affidavit and he got the pardon from the U.S. government. He was accepted back into Chicago, Illinois as a legal resident. He was working at the time at General Electric-Hotpoint and he lived on the north side of Chicago by Lawrence and Sheridan but he met my mom who lived near Grenshaw and Western on the south side of the city. He followed her because they met on a bus. He followed her all the way to her house. Once she got off the bus, he actually followed her to her home and said, 'May I see you again?' It was a very beautiful encounter and they did get to meet each other again at Douglas Park where they would date and see each other again behind my mother's brothers. The funny thing was the brothers said, 'You know you have to be careful. He is from a different town, different state in Mexico. What if he is married in Mexico?' So most of the family was opposing the marriage but my mom had faith in my dad and she fell in love and as you can see there is a photograph of my dad as a little boy. There is a photograph of my mom in the third panel when she is single and in Mexico City where she takes the plane and arrives in Chicago. There is another photograph where they are dating and they are holding hands and 25 years later when I got married I have another photograph where they are still holding hands in a black and white ball. You will see in the middle photograph is where they got married. Chicago is where they had their two children, Martha Dominguez Cahue and Luis Dominguez Cahue. They were married until my father passed away ten years ago and I'm happy to present this quilt and dedicate it to my mom who is now 75 years of age, in honor of her because she went through trials and tribulations. People were going against her, 'Don't marry this man because you never know where he might come from. He is not from your same hometown.' You will see in the panel from the 1920's that there is St. Francis of Assisi and you will see again a small church, St. Francis of Assisi again. That is where everyone in the family would get baptized, get married, have social gatherings, you know weddings, everything. It is a repetition of history repeating itself and it's a beautiful story. The reason I made these three panels is for my children and my students and any of the younger generations to acknowledge that we have to know where we come from and to appreciate who our parents were, what their dreams were because they had dreams coming into this country. They had high hopes and many of these dreams did get accomplished, many did not. There were sad stories to tell, but also there were very happy stories and very beautiful love stories to tell. We should admire our culture and have a responsibility to continue admiring each others' culture and the respect for everyone's culture and language and where they came from because we are all a nation of immigrants. Thank you very much.

KM: Tell me about the techniques that you used to make the panels.

MD: This was my first time using cotton batting and I used zigzag. Of course I was trying to get used to the new sewing machine. I had used a previous sewing machine and the curves were kind of tricky to do, but it was a wonderful experience because the more I dealt with it, the more I got accustomed to using the machine. I would use zigzag. I would use appliqués. I started adding little embellishments too. Lace to make my mother and father's wedding picture stand out and a little tulle to add on to it, because her wedding dress, that is another part of the story, very sad story. There is a time when they are newly married. They hardly have any furniture. Dad gets laid off. Dad sells mom's wedding dress without mom knowing about it. So mom almost had an attack there, but they were still married. So the ups and downs of a marriage were always present. That is why I put the tulle in there and I used iridescent paint on her wedding dress and I tried using paint on the picture where they are holding hands. I also used embellishing threads. What else did I use?

KM: You used photo transfer.

MD: I used the photo transfers to put those antique photos. Some of them were scanned from original photographs. The second panel is circa 1920's photograph. We do have the original so it's a picture of a picture, but all the other photos were scanned photographs, original photographs. I had never used photo transfer, it's a wonderful thing to use to record history, especially if you have photographs. I also used different tonalities. I love to use bright colors. As I said, those hummingbirds were to show the migration and mixture of flying over the sky and the movement. I tried using a lot of movement with the curves and the clouds, the hills or "ceros" as they call them. I tried to use movement there. Tried using contrasting colors of thread. I got a little overexcited with it. [laughs.].

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

MD: I didn't think I would get that interested. I just wanted to tell a story, but once I started to tell the story it was like I wanted to make more and more. For example, I would be brushing my hair and then all of a sudden I would get this idea, 'Oh my goodness, I can make a quilt out of this,' or 'Oh my goodness, I could add this to the quilt,' or I was bending down one day tying my shoes and then I got an idea to add more to the quilt, add more embellishments, put silk flowers around my mom when she was single. It got me more excited and more thrilled to do more activities.

KM: Tell me about your background.

MD: I was born in Chicago from two Mexican parents. My mom was born in Michoacan, my dad was born in San Louis Potosi, Mexico. They met here in Chicago. I was born in '58, six years older than her brother, Louis, born in '64. We lived here during the sixties, during the era of the Rock n' Roll era, the Vietnam War, all the way up to '72. Then in '72, my parents thought it was too dangerous to live here because of the gang violence. They weren't used to shootings, so they decide they are going to move back to Mexico, which has always been the Mexicans' dream to go back to Mexico and they did. We returned to Mexico and I was put in secundaria in a Mexico City middle school, and I lived out there for two years. It was the most wonderful. It was a frightening experience because I had to leave my friends as a teenager at age 15. Leave high school, leave your friends. It's a traumatic experience during your teenage years to move to another country. I didn't consider myself as they say 'pacha,' because I knew how to write Spanish. I knew how to read it. I talked fluently. I seemed like I was a native of Mexico. So going back to Mexico there was some sort of culture shock because once you live out there, it is a different story. It is fine when you go on vacation and you are with your aunts and uncles, but once you live out there and you truly do live, it's a beautiful way of living. That is why we always have within our hearts the yearning to return back to the homeland, the country, to Mexico City. I did two years of school in Mexico, but my dad developed lymph sarcoma and in that time in 1975, there were only two places where chemo therapy could be given and the medicine didn't exist in Mexico City. So all the doctors, even doctors in Mexico and the U.S., said, 'You know what you have to stay in the U.S. because all the research on cancer is done in the U.S.' I didn't want to come back to the U.S., but mom said, 'You know what your dad is very sick and you'll regret it later on.' So I did come back and I went back to Kelly High School, graduated from Kelly High School, went on and got my degree as a bilingual-bicultural education teacher and after 28 years I'm still in the education field. Now I'm a citywide teacher or educational coach for the Office of Early Childhood and I love my job because I love children and I see their stories. I see many, many stories going on that are not told yet. Many that are going incognito. I'm married. I have two children of my own, a 23 year old and a 16 year old. My husband, Pedro Diaz and one of my dreams is that both boys finish their school, have a degree and go on to their success and to follow their dream. My son's major is Anthropology and Latin American studies. I said, 'Follow you dream,' and my dream has been education and the arts.

KM: What do they think of the quilts that you made?

MD: The 22 year old commented the other day, 'Wow that really looks great. You are doing a great job Mom.' I was astonished because he is a male and males usually don't appreciate. They will say, 'Oh she is just sewing,' or 'She is on that machine rattling on.' Even the teenager, who is a teenager, said, 'Wow you did three panels, not just one.' I go, 'Well, I'm telling a story,' but surprisingly they haven't asked who those stories are for. Those stories are for them and for my students to see.

KM: You plan to take the panels with you when you teach?

MD: Probably, yes, and show them. In fact in the office they have seen them already and some of the ladies said, 'How much? I will pay you for one.' I'm like, 'Um no, I think these aren't for sale.' 'Well, will you make me one?' I'm like, 'Let me get through the first few and then I will see about getting paid, okay?' Right now, it is creativity that I want to do.

KM: Doesn't that make you feel good?

MD: Yes it makes me feel good.

KM: This is your first three quilts.

MD: First experience. Yes. Very first experience and I'm very excited to be in this class, very excited.

KM: What are your plans for the future with quiltmaking?

MD: My plans are to continue making more mini stories. Currently I'm working on a quilt with Mujeres or Ladies of Juárez and I will continue probably not just do one quilt, maybe a second quilt about femininity and about what it is to be a woman and it is very important that women take pride in themselves. Eleanor Roosevelt said, 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,' and that is something very true and very important. Some women are battered and they need to have their self esteem lifted. In my family, yes, there has been domestic violence. I saw it when I was growing up. I see it in families that I deal with as an educator so it's a very important issue for me- domestic violence and the woman of Juárez. I stongly believe there will be some solutions. I hope in the very near future.

KM: Tell me about your creative process. How did you go about designing your quilts?

MD: Normally I like to draw with the scissors. I usually don't look at things. I will make stencils if I want a hummingbird. I did make my own stencil and then I would trace the hummingbirds, but normally the hills, everything else that I did on the quilt was just with the scissors, drawing with scissors and cutting them on the spot and getting that creativity, pulling it out of my brain.

KM: What is your favorite part of making a quilt?

MD: You know what, the sewing. Ideally I would like to do more hand sewing and doing more appliqués and more different stitches and different techniques, more stamping, more painting. I did use in the three panels, I did use also fabric paints to represent the hummingbirds in copper tones. Copper because it represents Michoacán; there is a city that they make a lot of copper items. Just using different media and selecting threads and adding them on to make it more interesting and more intriguing. It is very exciting to pull something and add more and more on there. The more you see your quilt, you may be doing something else not even related to your quilt and all of a sudden, I get an idea and I write it down on a little book that I have. Idea and I write it down and then I apply it.

KM: What is your least favorite part of making a quilt?

MD: The least favorite part would be getting up and going to the iron. [laughs.] It is very helpful getting up from your sewing position and going and ironing the fabric because it will look better.

KM: How do you feel about the fact that the quilts are being shown at the National Museum of Mexican Art?

MD: I think it is wonderful because a lot of people need to see what the stories we have told. It is very important and some people don't have an idea that they have their own stories to tell. Once they see these stories then automatically, it clicks and then they say, 'Wait a minute I have a story to tell. I have a story of when I lost my job and had to do something else,' or 'I have a story…' They have different experiences that they can put on a quilt.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

MD: First of all that it is not a gender thing. Usually they want people to think we are just sewing and we are just putting patches together in squares and all of that is so easy and simple, but it is very intrigue and I wish more men would get involved in quiltmaking because sewing is telling a story, the colors that you use on your fabric, the tones, the embellishments, the threads that contrast with whatever appliqué you do on the quilt. That all tells a story and that also shows your creativity too.

KM: Did your quilts turn out like you had hoped?

MD: Yes, yes. The only thing I would have added maybe was a little more hand sewing. I was happy that I started in January and ended in March. Basically three months to do.

KM: It was tough for you coming in to the class after everybody else had done.

MD: Yes, but I loved it. I loved every minute of it. During class, even the boys said, 'Mom, are you going to your class today?' And I'd go, 'No, not today. It's break time,' but every minute that I've been in the class I've thoroughly enjoyed it because it gives us a chance to create, brings out your self-esteem. Especially my self-esteem and I consider myself the frustrated artist because in the seventies I needed a portfolio to go into the Art Institute and unfortunately I'm the frustrated artist that didn't have a portfolio ready because of the move to Mexico. I feel that I'm a happy artist creating what I'm doing now at the moment with these quilts and once in a while drawing and painting.

KM: Now that you are starting a second series of quilts, how has your confidence level changed, how has your approach changed, or has it?

MD: My confidence level changed. The first one was a little frustrating. It was rush, rush, rush, rush, and now with the second quilt it was like, 'Okay, I did a drawing. I lost the drawing, but I have it in my brain.' And all of a sudden I applied it to the panel that I'm creating and new ideas are popping up and again I'm more excited about this one too [laughs.] because it is also telling a story and it is something that will be kept up for generations to see and for the public to see too.

KM: What plans do you have for the future?

MD: To continue quilting. I would like to make a quilt especially for my mother, even though this one has her pictures on it, the third panel, but one for my mom and she will probably have it on display in her home and something also for my children, for each one of the boys. I think they will love that.

KM: What are you going to do for the boys? Have you decided?

MD: Not yet, but I'm starting to think about that one.

KM: What does your husband think of the quilts?

MD: He has admired them too. In fact, I was going to do a fourth panel with my story but I think now I will continue with my story in the seventies when I went back to Mexico and what happened in Mexico and how I met my husband so each one of the boys will have a part of me with that quilt, with each panel of the quilts.

KM: Aren't you glad you didn't connect them? [It was KM's suggestion that MD create panels instead of trying to make it a large quilt. This was in part so that MD could participate in the group's exhibit at the museum, to ease finding a place to hang it and allow MD to add to the story.]

MD: Yeah. In fact, it's a series-- [pause.]

KM: You can keep adding.

MD: I'll keep adding. Basically a continuation of very important times in my life so Mexico and living in Mexico City was the most wonderful thing even though there was culture shock. It was! I didn't want to come back to Chicago, that's how wonderful it was. Now every two years if I don't go to Mexico City, I have this strange longing to go back. I do go back every two years, every three years, and just see my family and go to Michoacán. We have only one family left in Michoacán and then I married someone from Michoacán, from the same town of my mom, so there is a story to be told there of my husband and how I met.

KM: Good. Is there anything you want to add that you haven't shared that you would like to before we conclude?

MD: I guess that is about it.

KM: You did a good job.

MD: Thank you.

KM: We are going to conclude our interview and it is now 3:50.


“Martha Dominguez-Cahue de Diaz,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,