The brilliant author James Michener once said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” I have to say I agree with him.
As someone who has spent quite a lot of time in the past and present traveling (work and pleasure) it is important to do so with an open mind. I embrace the people and their culture. The food…that goes without saying. Trying different dishes is always a highlight for me (us). Outstanding Arabian food at a magnificent food truck in Ajijic was an amazing experience but that’s another story.
One of the most important celebrations in Mexico is Dios de los Muertos, the day of the dead. I live daily with ‘the day of the dead’ so spending several days with this celebration occurring day and night, is not something I was looking forward to. I’ll blame it on the face painting (skulls). My mind was changed by an artist who grew up in Ajijic. I have never met him but have immense respect for him. His name is Efren Gonzalez.
Someday I hope to meet him. I don’t say this lightly, his work truly opened my eyes and my mind. I embraced something I never thought I would.
While walking down the street, I glanced into a locked yard and I saw these clay plaques. Of course I cried, it was so moving. We continued down the street and I gasped when I saw this.
The entire building was made up of these incredible personalized bas-relief clay plaques.
At that point, I knew I had to find out more about this building. Obviously, I knew the plaques were personalized but who were these people?
I approached a young man who was walking by after he smiled and said “buenas tardes.” I adore how everyone smiles and greets you, whether they know you or not. I asked him about the building and what adorns it. His answer was a game changer for me. He smiled and said, “This mural was created by local artist Efren Gonzalez to honor the people of Ajijic who have passed on. The building is The Marcos Castellanos School. By having this on a school you are teaching kids from a young age that this is a beautiful thing, something to cherish and not fear. Our culture embraces death and the celebration of the dead. A metal plaque with a candle is inserted in each hole. The candles are lit Nov 1st and 2nd in celebration. You must come see it at night. It is Heavenly.”
By this time I was “ugly crying” and he hugged me. I explained why I was crying…the two year anniversary was the following day. I also shared that this was one of the most beautiful things I have seen. We hugged again and he continued down the street.
I continued to “ugly cry” but I was so grateful that my eyes and mind had been opened. Yes, I am an old dog (63) but I am an old dog with a very open mind. Thank you Senor Gonzalez.