César Domínguez Alvarado is one of the first generation of Mata Ortiz potters, having started in 1984. He has worked his way up into that small group of Mata Ortiz potters whose work is considered ceramic fine art. The following is an interview I conducted with César.
I was born on June 19, 1961, in Mata Ortiz. No, let me think . . . actually, they took my mother to the hospital in Nuevo Casas Grandes; I was born in the hospital there and went back to Mata Ortiz the next day.
Back then, weren't most births at home? Why were you born in a hospital?
I don't know. I don't remember; I was just a baby. (Laughter) Possibly a midwife was not available, I don't recall, but my birth was normal and without complications. Last month I celebrated my forty-eighth birthday. I drank bastante cerveza [a large quantity of beer] Ricardo, and I danced.
I would have liked to have been there for that celebration, really. But on with the interview: can you talk about your schooling?
I went to primaria [grade school] and secundaria [junior high] in Mata Ortiz. That was all the schooling that was offered in Mata Ortiz then. It is still the same today, except that now we also have a kindergarten. In 1977, after I finished secundaria, I took my first job in a private school system, teaching grade school for the Chihuahua al Pacífico Railroad. I was only sixteen and did not have a teaching credential. The hiring agreement required that I begin school after starting work, to obtain a credential. So in 1978 I began studying, first in Durango and later finishing in Ciudad Juárez, in 1981. In my [End Page 165] case, it took four years to get a credential, because I was working and could go to school full time only for two months each summer and two weeks each—during Christmas and Easter vacations. In 1987, I left the railroad to become a grade-school teacher for the state of Chihuahua in the public school system. I continue in this job today, having completed twenty-two years toward a state government retirement. The pay is very little, but having a retirement pension in Mexico is rare. Also, because I am a public school teacher, my family and I have good medical benefits. If I were living on teacher's pay alone, it would be difficult. My income comes largely from pottery.
On September 1, 1979, at the age of seventeen, César married his neighbor and childhood sweetheart in Mata Ortiz, María Gabriela Almeida Gallegos (Gaby). It was a civil ceremony in Gaby's home. From the beginning, Gaby has been a major factor in César's success as a ceramic artist. She continues to perform a large part of the work involved in the process: clay work, burnishing, painting, etc. Today she signs her own work. Gaby has given César two handsome sons. Cesarín (César Jr.) is a fine potter who pursues a career in education, teaching grade school like his father. His wife, Julisa, is a potter also, and raises their son and daughter. She too pursues a career in education. César and Gaby's younger son, Javier, is working as a crime scene investigator. He has one daughter.
What was the job like with Chihuahua al Pacífico?
I taught the children of the railroad workers from 1977 till 1987. For ten years my house and classroom had wheels! It was a railroad car—a mobile house and classroom (cuadrilla ambulante)—that moved along the line from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, to Chihuahua City, Chihuahua. The company employed about ten of these mobile private schools to cover the 418 miles of rail line that pass through the Copper Canyon. We would stay as little as two or three weeks, or as long as eight months, in one place. The engine would come and hook us up, sometimes at 5 a.m., and vámonos: to Bella Vista...