Sunday, August 23, 2015

Maria Monserrate 'Malen' Hernandez Vale (1935-2015)

X-posted in part from Mundillo, encaje y vida

Que noticia triste esta manana.

Malen Hernandez Vale passed away yesterday on August 22, 2015. She together with her siblings Ada Hernandez Vale and Mokay Hernandez Vale worked with other lacemakers to keep the awareness of mundillo alive. I was fortunate to spend time with them while researching lacemaking in Moca, and Malen made it especially possible as I stayed in her home in barrio Pueblo and in Rocha. She had a distinctive, scratchy voice, and was a feisty personality, a lot of heart in a small package. As her son, Julio Enrique Rivera said, she was a fire in life and is now a light in heaven.

Malen Hernandez Vale demonstrating mundillo at the Museo del Mundillo Puertorriqueno, Moca, P.R. Photo: Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, 2008.
What Malen shared with me was her passion for lace, and her stories of learning from her mother Julia Vale Mendez (1906-1991). She showed me her mundillo, made sometime in the 1940s, filled with dried banana leaves wrapped around a wooden core beneath the fabric that held the pins for making lace. She also donated some of her work, among them, a dress decorated with mundillo to the Museo Labadie in Aceitunas, known as the Palacete de los Moreau, named after the hacienda featured in Enrique Laguerre’s 1939 novel, La llamarada. At the Museo del Mundillo, back in 2005, Malen would come down from Rocha and help out with groups, giving impromptu demonstrations when the need arose. Julio brought her to town when the Festival de Mundillo was held, a massive gathering where people reconnected and celebrated their efforts to put lace on the map.

Malen with the mueble she learned on, 2006. Photo: E. Fernandez-Sacco
She was among the four children of Benito S. Hernandez Hernandez (1909-1980) and Julia Vale Mendez (1906-1991), and is my third cousin via the Vale line, there are likely more connections. Benito is remembered as the 'Sepultero de Moca' and worked making the concrete pantheons in the Cementerio Muncipal, a number of which you can still see with their chains alongside the perimeter in the cemetery. After Julia's death, Benito married Ulla's sister, Generosa.

Malen Hernandez Vale, Moca 1950. Photo: E. Fernandez-Sacco

Like many Puerto Ricans of the 1950s, Malen moved to New York and lived in Brooklyn. Her paths crossed with my aunt Maria, who was in Mrs. Perez’ class with her in Moca as a child. Although my aunt didn’t recognize her at first, Malen told her that they were cousins and that she knew her from the town. From then they visited each other until Malen returned to Puerto Rico. I was fortunate to know her, and will miss her deeply.  She was married to Julio Enrique ‘Ulla’ Rivera Gonzalez and had two children, Julio and Nicky, who survive her. She will be buried tomorrow in Cementerio Las Sauces in Moca.