Written by Paloma Quevedo on July 23, 2020
The adventurous spirit of the huarache—unrelenting and implacable— lies within its roots. The huarache sandal is a pre-colonial slip-on that was worn by Meso-American civilizations far before any Spaniards set foot in Mexico. Despite the ages of forced assimilation from European cultures, civil wars, economic prosperity, and downfall, huarache sandals have remained on the feet of the people of Mexico for centuries. The endurance of the huarache, its ability to withstand the whirlwinds of time and change, has given it the edge of an adventure shoe.
The huarache’s first interesting uses were in the Mayan and Aztec civilizations of Mexico. Most commoners in those societies roamed around barefoot; even some soldiers were required to go into battle without shoes on. It was through climbing the ranks in the army that Aztec soldiers were allowed to wear sandals; the higher you ranked, the better and more beautiful your huarache sandal. A person could distinguish a soldier's rank by looking at their footwear as they ran into battle.
Centuries later, the huarache sandal had trickled down into every social class and was no longer solely reserved for the elite. During the Yaqui Wars, Yaqui Indian’s of Sonora fought to defend their land from the Spanish. Taking cues from their ancestors, they chose to wear huarache sandals to fight. The huarache’s leather sole protected them from the unforgiving desert ground, and the minimal material used for the straps was cheap enough for everyone to wear. When the Yaqui lost the wars, they kept their huarache sandals to work in labor camps when they were captured.
Fast forward another century; its 1930 and the Great Depression is seeping into Mexico from the U.S. The Mexican working class, along with the indigenous people of central Mexico, had to adjust to the lack of raw materials and rising poverty. Huarache sandals from this era were all made out of rubber from old tires. Leather was too expensive, and the huarache had to adapt to the struggles of the people. This rubber phase is a perfect example of how the huarache sandal can be repurposed for any person's needs; it reflects the resilience of this unique and comfortable shoe.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the huarache’s adventurous nature and its reputation as a unique and comfortable shoe began to stream into the mainstream media of the U.S. Jack Kerouac, in his semi-autobiographical book, On the Road, dresses his main character in Mexican huaraches as he walks down New York City alleys in the rain. In 1963, everyone was dancing along with The Beach Boys, signing: “If everybody had an ocean across the U.S.A. then everybody'd be surfin' like California-ey. You'd see 'em wearing their baggies, Huarache sandals too” (“Surfin USA”).
The adventurous spirit of the huarache lives on in the 21st century. The sandals have climbed up and down social classes and crossed borders, but most notably, they are still widely used by their indigenous creators. Christopher McDougall, in his famous book, Born to Run, chronicles how the Tarahumara Indians in Copper Canyon, Mexico, run super-human distances by wearing nothing but huaraches on their feet and beating out all of the competition—further proving that the huarache sandal is still the embodiment of freewheeling adventure and spunk.
The huarache sandal has evolved into a shoe of choice rather than pure necessity; it offers the functionality and freedom for those that choose to live their adventure on their terms. The huarache sandal is a comfortable shoe—an adventure shoe— whose physical form allows for total freedom of the foot and body, allowing you to move as your body is meant to move. A walk around the block with your dog can just as easily turn into a run if you spot a promising trail around the corner. A long hike can easily transition into a relaxing brunch with friends. When traveling in your huaraches, your adventure can begin as soon as you hop off the plane.
Just as the huarache, in a greater context, has defied foreign cultural norms and exercised the freedom to stick to the integrity of its function, it does the same in the individual context. This adventure shoe allows a person to similarly exercise the freedom to do things their way, letting their body and feet freely lead the way with comfort and their own unique style.