Maria Dilia Davila Rios of Colombia, left, weaves a hat as her daughter, Lida Isabel Hernandez Davila, 13, does the same at the 45th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall. (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Since she was a little girl, Lida Isabel Hernandez Davila would say to her mother, “Mommy, how great it would be to go to the United States!”

It seemed like an impossible dream. Lida, who just turned 13, lives in a little town called Aguadas, set amid the mountains of Colombia. Aguadas is very pretty, but very remote. It’s called “the city of mists,” because the fresh, springlike climate produces clouds low to the ground.

Neither Lida’s family nor anyone they know had ever ventured far from Aguadas.

One day, researchers from the Colombian government and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington visited Aguadas. They were amazed to discover that Lida has an unusual skill. As taught by her mother, Lida weaves beautiful hats in the special style of Aguadas.

The researchers invited Lida and her mother to join the 100 Colombian artists and craftspeople who participated in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which ended Monday.

Lida took her first airplane trip. “I felt a hole in my stomach when it took off and when it landed,” she said.

First impressions of D.C.

Lida and her mother, Maria Dilia Davila Rios, sat on low stools on the Mall, showing visitors how they weave. She answered questions from people curious after her life and her craft. A translator was there, since Lida speaks Spanish, although she is studying English in school. On the day we met her, she had not yet seen much of Washington, but so far, she was impressed.

“It’s very beautiful, very well organized and very big,” she said.

She said she felt proud to give Americans a glimpse of Aguadas. “It’s very good that people admire the work someone does, and get to know who someone is and the tradition of the town,” she said.

Lida’s only tools are her nimble fingers. She weaves hats from the fine strands of the leaf of the iraca palm. The ivory-colored hats with black bands are soft and light, and are worn by stylish men.

The weaving tradition is handed down from mothers to daughters. About 350 weavers belong to the Aguadas Artisans Cooperative. The cooperative sells the hats and has a Web site, www.aguadasartesanal.
com. (Always ask a parent before going online.)

What Lida’s life is like

School comes first for Lida. She is in eighth grade. On a typical day she is in class from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., then does an hour or two of homework. After homework, she weaves until about 7 p.m.

It takes Lida about 15 days to finish one hat. Selling hats helps support the family and pays for Lida’s school uniforms and books.

Her father works as a farmer, cattle handler or in construction, depending on what work is available. She has a brother who is 21 and a sister who is 6. “What I like to do most in the house is listen to music and tease my little sister, who is very mischievous,” Lida said.

When she grows up, Lida wants to be an actress. Maria says it’s all right if Lida doesn’t become a weaver. She hopes Lida finds “a career and a great triumph in life.”

Weaving is a dependable tradition that Lida will always have to fall back on, Maria adds, and thanks to weaving, the girl’s dream of seeing the United States came true.

— David Montgomery