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News > Latin America

Mexico: Homeless Create Fantastical Creature in Alebrije Parade

  • Alebrijes are carried by their creators in the parade every year, as here in October 2009, Mexico City.

    Alebrijes are carried by their creators in the parade every year, as here in October 2009, Mexico City. | Photo: EFE

Published 6 October 2018

People living in Aquiles Serdan Square will take part in the event with their 'Street Nahual.'

Mexico City is preparing for its 12th Monumental Alebrijes Competition and Parade, to take place on October 20, and homeless people are working on their own creation to participate.


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The event is organized annually by Mexico City’s Museum of Popular Culture, which teamed up with the Assistance and Social Integration Institute (IASIS) to coordinate the ‘Street Nahual’ activity.

The creators are people living at the Aquiles Serdan Square in the historic center of the city, under the guidance of a visual artist, who says he’s confident in their creative abilities.

A press release published by the Government of Mexico City quotes a man called Abraham, who lives at the square, thanking the authorities for the activity.

“You make us feel like we’re still worth something,” said Abraham.

Jesus Gonzalez Schmal, general coordinator of the historic center’s authorities, said the activity aims to make available social and cultural alternatives for reintegration that also work as a mean of expression.

“We want this project to be an incentive so they can re-emerge as conscious people and express to others and the community their complexes, without reservations,” said Gonzalez, “because they also can contribute to do objects with a beauty recognized by all.”

The 'Street Nahual' team working. Photo | Government of Mexico City

One of IASIS responsibilities is to provide homeless people the possibility for a better life by offering them shelter, food, addiction treatment and new opportunities.

According to Mexico City’s Social Development Secretary (Sedesol), IASIS’ parent institution, there were 6,754 homeless people in 2017, of which 2,400 slept at public or private shelters. Half live in the city's historic center.

The head of Sedesol, Jose Ramon Amieva, said the homeless population has grown about 20 percent in just one year, according to estimates by their census taking into account mobility, composition and dynamics of street populations.

People from Reborn Foundation, a rehabilitation clinic that works mostly with teenagers on probation, are also participating.

Walther Boelsterly Urrutia, director of the museum, said these people must be given the opportunity.

“I believe that when a project like this is developed, when they’re taken into account, when somehow they’re given freedom to create their ideas, we give them the opportunity to little by little include them in a production process, which will give them long-term satisfaction and may help them changing their lives,” he said.

A small Alebrije paper mache sculpture in the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Photo | 
Michelle Pemberton

The Street Nahual will parade alongside alebrijes from Zocalo, the city’s main square, to the Independence Angel landmark and finally to Aquiles Serdan Square.

The name of the creature is inspired in the nahual, a Nahuatl word that could mean ‘hidden, disguise’ but also ‘to speak,’ and refers to people that have the ability to take the form of the animal, as well as their spirit animal.

Pedro’s Vision

Alebrijes are a handcraft creatures made of paper mache, clay, cardboard and other materiales, often mixing characterics of different animals portrayed in magical and colorful ways.

The story says that in 1936, Pedro Linares Lopez, a craftsman who used to do piñatas and figures of Judas in La Merced, the city’s iconic market, was suffering from high fever and fell unconscious.

There are different versions of what followed next, but some of them even say his family thought he was dead.

While he was unconscious, he visited a beautiful forest where he saw a winged donkey, a rooster with bull horns and a lion with a dog head yelling “Alebrijes!” A man then pointed the way out of the place and he woke up in his own funeral.

When he was healthy again, he started doing the figures that are now recognized as one of Mexico’s most beautiful cultural heritages, with crafts people recreating them throughout the country.

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