Sometimes a crazy synchronicity happens at D Magazine, like when I found myself at the end of January crammed into our staff photographer’s small studio with six Latinas, five 50-pound bags of heirloom Mexican corn, and a rack of Mi Golondrina dresses while a Mexican hair braiding ceremony took place.
The magic started with an email from former D editor Kristie Ramirez alerting us to the recent Dallas arrival of Danié Gómez-Ortigoza, a multimedia artist and Mexico City native who once taught Kristie how to braid her hair in a traditional style interwoven with fabric. “She is beyond,” Kristie wrote.
The email was fortuitous.
Our staff photographer, Elizabeth Lavin, was in the process of scheduling a cover shoot with chef Olivia Lopez for our feature on the current state of Mexican food in Dallas, which is all about honoring tradition, from ingredients to techniques. (You can read that story here.) The young maestro of heirloom corn, who had started her business during the pandemic with tamales, not tacos, to set herself apart, and who is now doing seven-course tasting menus (I hired her to do one at my house for a friend’s birthday; it was beyond), seemed to be the perfect encapsulation of the breadth of the scene.
We had talked with Olivia about shooting her two ways: in her usual work attire (button-down shirt, cotton apron, long braids) and in a dress from Mi Golondrina, Cristina Lynch’s Dallas-based company that features the work of Mexican artisans, for a colorful version of what she wears on normal days. On a whim, I DM’d Danié to see if she’d be willing to come to the shoot and maybe try some fabric braiding with Olivia’s hair. Danié and Olivia both said they were game.
Danié, who has performed braiding ceremonies at the Mexican Consulate, the Coral Gables Museum, and Sweet Pass Sculpture Park in Dallas, arrived on set with her own hair braided with glittery gold lamé. She took Olivia out in the hall, sat her down, and explained that braiding is an ancient ritual, a visual and tactile link between women across eons. She explained that the crown braid has a final knot that carries a daily intention of success. As she worked, the two women murmured to each other in Spanish.
Meanwhile, pastry chef Diana Zamora arrived with boxes of tres leches cakes and multilayered pastries for Elizabeth to shoot for the feature. She had her two daughters and one of their friends in tow. There was a bustle of activity, but then everyone noticed Danié and Olivia off to the side and stood still for a moment. Danié finished and held up a mirror. Olivia audibly gasped.
As she walked back into the studio, Danié nudged me. “You can see it,” she said. “Her whole posture has changed.”
Was it too much? Too expected? Too much of a stereotype? As we all crowded around Elizabeth’s images on her computer screen, we talked about the implications and the meanings. But in the end, the cover choice was clear. Anything else would not have been enough.