I recently spent an intriguing afternoon with Ajijic artist Jesus Lopez Vega. I have always admired his art, I am fortunate to own one of his works, and I am always curious to know what he is up to next.
When I first walked into Jesus’ studio, he was etching a commissioned piece on an aluminium plate. He explained that he likes to work with a variety of media. While Jesus is a prolific and highly in demand artist, he shared that his “spare time” passion is to study the history and legends of the Lake Chapala area. He practically danced across his studio floor to pull out a series of rare books about the history of this area, and excitedly opened these books to show me different sections of text and illustration that fascinated him.
Jesus explained that his inspiration for learning about these stories originated from the oral history he heard as a young boy from his grandmother and other community elders. He said many Mexicans in the community know these stories through the oral history of their families and friends, but that the link to these stories is becoming less common.
Jesus talked about an abandoned tribal area (Teopatzin) in the nearby mountains that he found as a teenager with his brother Antonio and a couple friends. The Teoayotzin Sacred Turtle Rock was rescued from that area and is now commemorated along the Ajijic malecón for the public to enjoy. For indigenous cultures, the turtle represents a relationship to the cosmos and renewal of life. Even the original Nahuatl meaning of Ajijic (Axixique or Axixic) is “The Place Where the Water Springs Forth,” and legend tells of a sacred goddess of the lake.
For some people, history and legends are merely the stuff of dusty books and museums. Jesus feels, however, that it is essential for Mexicans and expats of Ajijic to understand and appreciate these stories because they are the sources of this community and he believes they are energetically alive. To not know these sources is to not know what makes Ajijic a vibrant and unique place, which can sometimes lead to unfavorable community and development choices.
Jesus has begun to write and illustrate on fine German paper the Pre-Columbian and Christian foundation stories of Ajijic and the lakeside area. As I looked at nearly 20 original pages of these stories that Jesus sprawled out in front of me, I felt he was creating important treasure maps for us to more deeply understand and value the past.
Jesus has a phenomenal project idea for a stone carved mural that would depict the legends and history of this area from Pre-Columbian times through the Christian foundations that began in 1531. And he has ideas for a living museum in Ajijic that would help to preserve the legends, history, and artefacts of this area, so that present and future generations can better appreciate the beauty and sacred in which we live as a community. Jesus intends to apply for grants to help make these projects possible, and support from patrons who recognize the importance of these cultural projects will likely be needed as well.
There will be a 500-year anniversary of Ajijic in 2031 that will recognize the Franciscan Christian foundations of this community. Jesus hopes that, in addition to many festivities, this can be a magnificent celebration of major new art projects, a living museum, and other enduring commemorations.
There are many towns and cities in the world that have become so homogenized, commercialized, and franchised that they now sadly look alike. Ajijic is at that precarious crossroads where growth, unregulated development, and transitional populations can obscure knowledge and appreciation of cultural identity.
Ajijic has historically been known as an artist community, and the cultural identity of Ajijic will always depend on the thriving of the arts to communicate cultural identity and to help shape the future in ways that add value, excitement, and meaning. It is therefore important that residents of Ajijic recognize that this is a unique place that should never be taken for granted, and that we need to collectively be responsible guardians of the past, present, and future.
As I left Jesus’ studio from an afternoon full of legends and core values, I thought about that Teoayotzin Sacred Turtle Rock in the Ajijic malecón and how it represents our past ,and how it also represents our future through renewal of life. Hopefully this will be a community that chooses a different path than many communities in the world that have lost their way because they became indifferent and complacent about their cultural connections.
I know Jesus and many others are committed to Ajijic being an extraordinary place that respects and courageously embraces the richness and diversity of its culture, and that further inspires a flourishing of the arts to help people of all ages and backgrounds to value and celebrate a vibrant community now and for the future.