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.

Street View: Carnavál de Mazatlán 2013, Desfile Principal

35. Velociraptors

The mechanical triceratops in the parade this year.
Photo © John Matzick, an award-winning local photographer. Used with permission.

We are blessed with wonderful friends, but somehow we have a lot more friends every year at Carnavál. Everyone we haven’t seen in months suddenly calls and wonders how we’re doing. Why? Coincidence, we’re sure, that we live on the parade route. And thank goodness, because what a terrific annual party it makes! We are blessed to have friends who are willing to make incredible homemade botanas to share, and then hike in with them because the street is closed, to join us for the fiesta.

This year was even better than usual. The theme of Carnavál was just so much fun: La Linterna Mágica, the magic of the movies. There were over 39 floats, loads of marching bands, and dozens of dance troupes. We screamed and danced till we dropped!

Below is the movie I made of the main parade this year. Thank you for watching and sharing the one I made last year; I hope you’ll enjoy this one as well. While all the floats were outstanding, and we are loving this tradition of three nights of parades, Greg’s and my favorite float this year was E.T. The Extraterrestrial. The float itself was incredible, and the kids on their bikes (lit up with 9 volt batteries taped to the frames) were just incredible.

Other family favorites were the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. We talked with the young man from Monofaber (DF) as he put the finishing touches on them. I have now forgotten his name (please contact me if you read this!), but he is so incredibly talented! He was responsible and wouldn’t let me take photos because it was before Carnavál and he didn’t want to ruin the excitement. But he had designed the mechanics for the functioning mouth, as well as designed and executed the body, teeth, etc. for VERY realistic looking and functioning velociraptors! They were powered by humans, much like a life-sized puppet. Extremely cool. Watch the movie and you’ll see one in action about halfway through.

Below is a slideshow of most of the floats in the parade (I’m missing The Little Mermaid; I have video but no photos). Involved in Carnavál since 1961, Maestro Rigoberto Lewis designed and supervised the making of the Carrozas Reales or royal floats, as he has for decades. I was heartbroken to speak with him this year and have him tell me that this, Carnavál 2013, would be his last! You can see his unique and incredibly luxurious, gorgeous float-making style in the photos below. Carnavál de Mazatlán without Maestro Rigo???!!! No!!!! He told me he had two wishes that he would love for me to pass on to our readers:

  1. Please get CULTURA and the city to remove the overhead wires so that the floats can be as tall as needed and not be impeded. While the north gate from Olas Altas and the stop light at Playa Norte are both removed to allow passage of the parade, this year, there were even wires holding up the monigotes that blocked the parade route.
  2. Please secure some real, indoor talleres or workshops for the making of the floats. Readers of this blog know that Maestro Rigo’s taller is small, old, and dark, and Maestro Neri’s taller is open air.

Come on, Mazatlecos, surely we can help make these wishes happen for Maestro Rigo, and take Carnavál to the next level!

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We hope to see you at this community-wide event next year! Carnavál Internacional de Mazatlán is scheduled to be held February 27 to March 5, 2014.