Cynthia Alberto remembers her grandmother lighting wood in a fire pit outside her home to cook meals when she was a child. The kitchen was detached from the main house, without access to an electric stove. Food, and beans in particular, was a central part of her upbringing. Favorite dishes included Munggo, a traditional Filipino dish made with Mung beans, and Halo-Halo with candied garbanzo beans for dessert. She was raised by her grandparents in Manila after her parents moved to the US in search of financial opportunity. Five years later, at the age of 13, her parents’ plan was realized and Cynthia and her siblings made the trip overseas. Sadly, just three years after the move, her father died of a heart-attack and Cynthia found herself in another transition, having to take care of her brothers and sister, while her mother held down two jobs and she maintained school work at night.
Fresh in a new country, Cynthia remembers feeling distinctly out of place. “I was called names. Told to go back to where I came from…” She wanted to blend in, lose her accent, and sound more American. “There was a lot of denial of what I looked like.” She took a straight path and studied Computer Science before landing a job on Wall Street, working for Merrill Lynch - following her accountant Mother’s footsteps and her own version of the American Dream. It didn’t take long, however, for Cynthia to realize sitting at a desk job in the financial district wasn’t fueling her spirit.
While walking through the East Village in the early 80s, she saw an ad for the Village Voice and applied for a job as an Advertising Coordinator. She landed the role, left Merrill, and found herself smack in the middle of the Village counterculture - this was the East Village of Basquiat, Bowie, and David Byrne. Cynthia was immersed in it all. She moved to St. Marks Street in the heart of the Village - planting the seed for her own creative exploration.
When asked about the choices she’s made in her life, Cynthia says she “follows intuition.” She doesn’t worry about what’s to come, a gift unto itself. And so, Cynthia next found herself following love and her soon-to-be husband to California for a different type of free-spirited adventure. She traded in the punk rocker scene for surf hang-outs and a fiat convertible.
She started to paint. She had no inkling of any creative talent, but followed her gut and picked up a brush. Never having attended art school, she had a hard time calling herself an artist back then, even though she was wildly prolific and could hardly contain her creative expression. When her gallerist husband decided to head off to Japan to open a space, she stayed behind, remaining in California for a couple of years before finding her way back to the Village Voice in New York once again.
Once settled in the city, Cynthia continued to paint. A pivotal moment came when she won the Pollack-Krasner Grant in 1995 which enabled her to leave her job and focus exclusively on her art. She also found new love, remarried, and had two children, Kaya and Marcus. Soon after her daughter’s first birthday, she returned to school, enrolling in The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). When Cynthia didn’t choose a major, the school assigned one for her: Weaving. “I was an accidental weaver,” laughs Cynthia. “It happened by luck.” While Cynthia attributes her fate to chance, there’s something to be said for someone who is so open to experience and possibilities without any preconceived notions of what she can or cannot do.
"I was an accidental weaver. It happened by luck."
As a young mother, Cynthia ultimately put her creative interests on the back-burner while raising her kids. But when her second marriage dissolved, she founded Weaving Hand - a space for her to immerse herself in the craft she loved, find safe space for her children, and heal herself and her fragmented family. “Opening the studio healed me and my kids.” Cynthia started not only creating again, but also discovered her love of teaching. “When I’m teaching - that’s healing for me.” She opened the studio to individuals with disabilities and set up her “healing arts” practice. She also started taking wasted material and was a pioneer in zero-waste weaving.
Weaving also connected her back to her Filipino roots, a part of her identity that’s playing an increasingly important role. “Weaving is a global artwork. Every culture has their own weaving traditions. This opened me up to going back and reclaiming where I came from.”
Now, Cynthia spends much of her time in artist residencies and doing large scale public “activation” programs. Her work has appeared in the Cooper-Hewitt. She’s created wall-hangings for world-renowned restaurants like Noma in Copenhagen, the Ace Hotel in Manhattan and the Whyte in Brooklyn. She’s mingled with celebrities, spearheaded public community weaving sessions with 300 + participants - the latest of which will decorate the High Line here in New York. At the same time, she can be found in her Park Slope studio teaching students with disabilities and celebrating this art form that’s grounding and inclusive. Regardless of where she roams, Cynthia is uniquely herself. “What I’ve learned is you have to be grounded with yourself. You take that grounding wherever you go. You take your roots…you’re not rocking.”
When asked what’s next, she smiles vaguely. Cynthia’s not one for premeditation, rather allowing things to unfold as they will. “Everything’s organic. Everything’s intuitive. You navigate…I have an intuitive feeling that everything will be fine. It will all work out.”
Inspired by Cynthia and Filipino Munggo recipes, we’ve created a vegan stew substituting lentils for traditional mung beans. You can find that dish here.
Learn more about Cynthia and Weaving Hand.
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