Cultures Grow on the Vine of Tradition

Carnaval de Mazatlán 2019 is the fifth anniversary of the death of our local legend, Maestro Rigo Lewis. Born on Valentine’s Day 1935, it was rather the fact that he was born as the Carnaval queen processed to her coronation that would define the reality of his life. He counted his age in queens rather than years.

Greg and I were privileged to count Maestro Rigo as a friend and visited him in his workshop every year. Rigo designed his very first float as a sophomore in high school (1960) when his art teacher, Nana Ramirez, had him build one for the Revolution Day parade. He was afraid of flying so never traveled the world, but instead he spent 54 years bringing the world to Mazatlán—who doesn’t remember his Doge’s Palace or Amazon jungle—via the design and production of our world-famous Carnaval floats in his signature baroque style with loads of flourishes and curly-cues finished in trademarked glitter blends and metallic foils. Beginning the following year he began designing many of the royal costumes as well. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The loss of Maestro Rigo in 2014 at age 78 sent Mazatlán into community mourning. Fortunately, his sister and nieces stepped up to ensure his floats for that year were finished and ready for the parade. This year the family is back, invited to create 13 floats from the over 2500 sketches that Rigo left behind. “My uncle left designs for 100 more Carnavals,” said his niece, Mariana Lewis.

That is how a group of housewives, out of love for their brother and uncle, have come to be Carnaval float designers. Each of them has memories of folding paper and working on floats from the time they were children, so the vocation is far from new to them. They are using Maestro Rigo’s designs and techniques in order to honor his legacy. Many of the same artists and laborers from his workshop have come back to help with this year’s floats. Rigo taught them, they know what they’re doing, and they work hard out of tribute to him. “I traveled to San Antonio in September with a very long list of things to buy. I kept checking back in with my mother, to make sure I was getting the right things, that I had everything,” one of the nieces told me.

The Lewis family is in charge of creating 13 floats, including the royal floats for both adult queens and most of the Floral Games section of the parade. The main royal float is called “The Light,” and symbolizes the pinnacle of the equinox. It is a Renaissance-style design, 15 meters tall (two meters less than Rigo’s tallest) and has four mythical lions along the sides. “Every queen always told Rigo that her float was the most beautiful ever,” her family recalls. Lori Lizárraga, last year’s queen, brought a photo of Rigo to the taller the morning I was there, as a thank you to the family. They promptly mounted it on top of the main float, at least while it’s there in the workshop. The float for the Queen of the Floral Games looks absolutely incredible to me. It is the castle of Chapultepec, right down to its black and white tiled floors and Maximiliano and Carlotta. The queen’s section will open with her jewels—diamonds, rubies, emeralds… Please note that CULTURA has asked that the press not show any photos of the floats prior to the big day; thus, you will see photos of details and elements only.

Everything in this workshop is handmade, mostly of papier maché. We noticed a few molds into which papier maché is placed to create baroque, filigree-style adornments. As with any Carnaval workshop, there was loads of glitter; though here, the mixes of colors are trademarked, and I’m told it’s not standard “glitter” but squares much larger than normal. “I was in Guadalajara with my daughter when the Químico called, asking me to come back to Mazatlán for a very important matter,” Rigo’s sister Ana told me. They have worked on the floats for four months, this past month here in their cramped, open-air workshop downtown. They were given a large covered workshop out in Urías, but were happy to find this one closer to home. Though, as it’s open air, they struggle with dust and wind; several of them had coughs and colds.

The floats are so tall, as was Rigo’s tradition, that they either fold down or telescope up so that they can make it out of the workshop and onto the street. “We are on schedule. We have many figures finished and stored in a safe, covered space, ready for final installation. We have lots of decorative pieces that still need to be mounted. We are doing well,” Mariana said.

This year people will not be allowed to dance in the streets, we were told. Due to the width of the royal floats, people will need to stand or sit in the bicycle lane and beyond, behind the barrier that will be set up.

The float for last year’s queen includes a giant crown that goes up top, and chinacos or Mexican Independence fighters who will be mounted above canons on the float. There will also be a volcano that erupts—confetti! It should be a lot of fun.

Parade 2019 looks to delight, as we have these blasts from the past, Jorge Osuna’s illuminated floats, and Ocean Rodriguez’ innovative, high-tech renditions. There is something for everyone. In closing, the Lewis family reminded me that Rigo always wanted a Carnaval museum. He bought land on which to build one before he died. They tell me they will announce plans for it next Valentine’s Day, his birthday, 2020.

This is the second in our series on the 2019 Carnaval de Mazatlán floats. The first, on Ocean Rodriguez, is here, and the third and final, on Jorge Osuna’s workshop, here.

Día de los Muertos, Mazatlán 2014

La Pareja: Together in life and death

La Pareja: Together in life and death

What a welcome home! The callejoneada (alley parade) this year for Day of the Dead in Mazatlán was the best ever, if I dare say so! It was a perfect evening weather-wise: clear skies highlighted by a gorgeous crescent moon, and warm weather that was cool enough for comfort. More people and especially more complete families participated, more dressed up, the beer flowed more freely and was better organized, and the main costumed characters were spectacular!

This year’s event was a tribute to Maestro Rigo Lewis, the long-time creator of our unbelievably gorgeous Carnavál carrozas/floats, so the callejoneada for Day of the Dead had a Carnavalesque air to it this year; it was a beautiful fusion of two local traditions for which Mazatlán has international fame. Kudos and thanks to CULTURA and to the Centro Municipal de Arte staff and students! By the way, I’ve been told we will STILL this year AND next year in the Carnavál parade will have carrozas designed by Maestro Rigo! His legacy lives on, thanks to his hard work and passion.

Click on any of the images below to see it larger or to view a slideshow.

I am sorry to have been so long away from this page, but after seven years it was wonderful to reconnect this summer with family and friends north of the border in a lengthier, more meaningful way. We were able to celebrate my aunt’s 80th birthday, be with my sister-cousin through surgery, and settle Danny into his dorm room and college life. For that I am ever grateful! Plus I had a month of work in Europe, where I met incredible people and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Of course we missed home, and our friends and family here, terribly.

Saturday night felt like our personal welcome home party, as we hugged loved ones everywhere we went. Funniest, to me, was how often I had to ask, “Who are you?” as the costumes were so excellent that they disguised identities quite effectively!

I can’t imagine not dancing in the parade with the live music, if one is able to do so, as it is just so much fun! There are, however, many people who line the route to watch and enjoy, as well as those who camp out at front-row-seats in bars and restaurants to watch the parade pass by.

Life in the Plaza Machado after the callejoneada was a sight to behold as well. I unfortunately can’t tell you anything about the event inside the theater, as though we waited in line at the Machado for about 90 minutes to get tickets, they ran out long before it was our turn.
We met one woman who was here in town to celebrate her 50th birthday, all the way from Washington DC with two of her best girlfriends. They obviously brought complete Day of the Dead costumes with them for their holiday! We saw store-bought costumes, handmade costumes, traditional and modern versions, and fortunately there were many of us who were still alive and un-costumed to enjoy the rest!
My absolute favorite moment of the evening, and there were so many awesome ones to choose from, was as the callejoneada entered the plazuela. Just in front of the theater, a group of young men started cheering loudly, dancing and jumping around. “Güero! “Güero!” they were shouting. As I turned around to see what all the happy commotion was about, I realized they were cheering on my partner, Greg. He was dancing happily, having been soaked with beer head to toe earlier in the evening.
CULTURA TV is going to stream it’s video of the callejoneada this Wednesday, November 5, at 5:00 pm local time. Be sure to check it out! There are many more aspects of Day of the Dead in Mazatlán; the callenjoneada is just one activity. This blog post can give you a broader idea for your trip. I know my favorites include making an altar to remember my departed family members and friends, as well as remembering them in Mass each year. We hope you’ll join us so we can dance with you all next year!

Carnavál Parade 2014


How in the world could we possibly top last year’s amazing Carnavál? The theme in 2013 was the movies. Everyone loves a good picture show, and last year’s parade most definitely made the most of that love! I figured there was no way anyone could top last year, so I was mentally prepared not to be sent over the moon by this year’s parade. NOT! Both 2014 Carnavál parades were incredible! The 34 floats, 23 dance troupes and 16 musical groups made for an absolutely fantastic nearly four hour event!

I love that we have two parades. For us, living here on the north end of the malecón, the first parade is an evening into night affair, making for a tremendous street party. The floats in the parade are all aglow, and the dancers are in party mode, grabbing us from our seats and cena on the curb to join in the merriment with them. The second parade, on Tuesday, has the floats lining up in front of our house from just after noon, ready for picture taking in the full light of day. The dancers and royalty come out about an hour before the parade, and it’s the most incredible photo opportunity of the entire year—dancers putting makeup on each other or rehearsing dance steps, bands warming up their instruments and tunes, people stretching, eating, laughing. I absolutely love both these events.

To me the very best thing about Carnavál Internacional de Mazatlán is that it’s a family affair. Nearly every family in town has a member who’s been Carnavál royalty, even if it’s a cousin or aunt, and nearly every Patasalada has danced in Carnavál at some point in his or her life. Royalty celebrate their silver and golden anniversaries, and what a joy it is to see them relive the original thrill, often accompanied by their children! Young children and grandparents dance in the parade, even though it’s such a long route. Several years ago I had a good friend from Mexico City who just hated Carnavál. She thought it was low class and tacky. What she hated most were what she called the beauty contests—that young people were taught to value superficial beauty rather than brains or talent. While I tend to agree with her about beauty contests in general, and I am very much saddened by the shadow cast over the voting for Queen of Carnavál the past few years and hopeful the process will become more transparent, the fact is that Carnavál is a festival of the people. It is much, much, MUCH more than a beauty pageant, involving literature, poetry and painting competitions, concerts galore, fireworks, a food festival, bullfight, several “manifestations” or pre-Carnavál energy-building events, the pomp and circumstance of the coronations, the parades and, of course, the huge street party in Olas Altas for six nights straight. Mazatlán has over a month’s worth of Carnavál-related events, and there’s enough variety to please everyone. Click on any photo below to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Kids rule at the parade. Most of the dancers and musicians are teenagers, children or young adults, joining their friends from dance class, gymnastics, or school. They’ve worked for months to raise money for costumes and props, and have rehearsed their hearts out. They are eager to burst with joy and energy during that first parade. Then, by the second parade on Tuesday, they transform into relaxed, experienced parade marchers, more confident of themselves and the crowd around them.

The other star of the parades is the setting—the route goes along the malecón, south to north on Sunday, then north to south on Tuesday, with a clear view out to the ocean and the islands of our bay, the glittering lights of downtown, and the changing colored lights of Valentino’s on the northern end.

So, what made 2014 stand out for me? The most notable difference for me was the crowds! Usually people set out their chairs the night before the big day, but this year was unreal. There were solid chairs from one end of the parade route to the other, and it was reported that over 800,000 people—twice the population of the city—turned out to watch the first parade! We had three families that did not join our party because they couldn’t get through the crowd to get to us! It was a-m-a-z-i-n-g! The mayor tested out a bleacher system which seemed very popular with those wanting a seat at the last minute, but that met with huge pushback from those opposed to selling seats along the malecón. While I’d love to see seats and space continue to be free of charge, something obviously has to give if the crowds keep growing like they are. I’m sure we had many more spectators this year who joined us from Durango, Zacatecas and beyond, thanks to the new highway.

Last year you’ll remember that CULTURA invited a special group from Brazil to join us. They were scantily clad and a huge hit. I believe that is perhaps what influenced another change that we noticed this year: much sexier costumes, and many more scantily clad dancers. Several of the floats had hired models dancing on them, fortunately including scantily clad men as well as women, so everyone could enjoy. I noticed quite a few of the kids’ dance groups had sexier-than-usual garb, also. Perhaps that was in keeping with this year’s theme, Piel del Mar or “Skin of the Sea.”

My personal favorite float this year was the Venetian float that Francisco Igartúa made for Marcela I, Queen of the Floral Games. It transported all of us to the Palazzo Ducale, complete with a couple of gondola rides, and beautifully honored the style that Maestro Rigo Lewis established for royal carriages of Carnavál these past 50 years.

Queen Lorena’s float was also incredible, representing Rio. It was begun by Maestro Rigo himself, and finished up by his family after his death. Suzset, the Child Queen’s float was also made by Maestro Rigo and the Lewis family, representing New Orleans. Maestro Jorge González Neri had a huge hit with the King of Joy, Adolfo Blanco’s, exuberant and colorful Cuban float. You can definitely see the different styles of the floats’ creators!

There were so many terrific floats, and also the LED-lit cars that we’ve grown to love these past few years. At least four continents were represented this year: the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. It was all definitely a feast for the senses!

Here are a few final pics of some of the dancers in this year’s parade. I hope you enjoyed it all as much as we did!

The past couple of year’s I’ve put together a video of Carnavál. This year, Mahatma Millan has already put together such a terrific one, that I figured I don’t need to bother. Let me share with you his terrific work:

Today is Ash Wednesday; Lent begins. Time to rest, reflect and recenter, after the exuberance and sleep deprival of the past week! Please, share with us your favorite part of Carnavál, in the comments below.

See you all next year!