A child’s view of the history of one of the oldest ‘ports’ or harbors on the West Coast of the Americas!
A people’s view of its own history is frequently best understood by taking a close look at its art–especially its public art. Mexico abounds with public art. Barra de Navidad’s surfaces are awash with that colorful tradition. As a matter of fact, Mexican Muralism is a national art movement which began in the 1920’s and remains viable all over contemporary Mexico. The basic purpose of the movement was social and political re-unification of the country after the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mural )
The tiny town of Barra Navidad in Jalisco is just one small rural example of Mexico’s muralist tradition with its series of paintings on Barra’s “Main Street” Veracruz. Whether you’re coming into Barra for the first time by car/bus from the highway or arrive by sea, if you walk the Barra’s main street to check-in with the Port Captain, you can’t miss it. A joint project by the children and young adults of Barra’s public schools, the mural art on Calle Veracruz provides a definitive statement of what the youth of Barra think and feel about themselves, their town, and their nation.
The first set of four paintings below (in linear historical order from right to left), as you enter Barra from the highway, were created by children at the Ignacio M. Altarmirano primary school (in collaboration with Alan Misael Solorio Rivera and Jose Luis Michel Corona).
As a retired teacher/ college professor, I love these because they are not subtle. In their own way. they are pure visual delights. Children draw/ paint what they know, see, and what impresses them about their immediate environment.
While I imagine that the rock petroglyphs (featured in the first painting on the right) were encouraged by the children’s adult collaborators, the rest of the artwork is mostly impressions of Barra, which the young ones view every day of their lives on their way to and from school.
Painting Three (third from the right above) represents part of Barra’s Centro District– restaurants, hotels like the landmark–Hotel Alondra, and the locally famous crucifix from the Catholic Church of San Antonio de Padua under the Protection of Cristo del Cyclone. It is a Christ figure whose arms are not nailed to the cross. It is very “non-traditional” for a reason.
The Christ figure’s arms are not raised, but hang next to his body. The explanation for this unusual configuration of the church’s crucifix lies with Hurricane Lily on September 1, 1971. Many of the people of Barra fled their homes and sought refuge in the Church. While they were gathered and praying in the church for a miracle to save their community, the Christ’s arms suddenly fell down to his sides and the storm abated. San Antonio’s congregation chose to keep the arms in that position in a perpetual commemoration of Barra’s special miracle.
This Fourth Section of the Altarmirano grade-school drawing ( enlarged above) is a montage of modern Barra images–its everyday life–its people’s existence in a contemporary world. A huge yellow sun rises in the east–the same glorious sun that shines in grade school children’s drawings all over the world. The main street two-lane thoroughfare (Calle Veracruz)–which dominates the flow of commercial and tourist land traffic in-and-out of Barra– is represented by the long flat- grey drawing of the street with a circle. There’s a swordfish (Sport Fishing), signs advertising the Feria del Pescado (the Fish Fair in February)–Artesania (local Pottery and Artists)–and the local, ever-present ubiquitous red and orange OXOX logo (Mexico’s version of a Quik-Rip Store chain–featuring lots of snacks, beer, and cigarettes). Finally on the painting, at the left-side at the base of the green mountains, there’s a child’s rendering of the port’s beautiful Merman and Mermaid Statute, which sits on a a representation of Barra Navidad’s rock seawall. (The statue is just now going back out to its rightful place on the actual seawall, after having been moved for repairs in the last few months. Russ took this picture of the statue and a workman while we were returning to Spiritus in a water taxi.)
Next to the grade school’s works is a set of murals that was executed by the students of the Secondary School and the Jalisco State College of Science and Technology. Note the utility meters in the picture. One of the characteristics of public murals, as a legitimate art form, is the harmonious incorporation of the architectural aspects of any given space. Well, since that part of the wall was already built with utility meters on it, what better space to announce the artwork of a Colegio de Cientificos y Tecnologicos?
The initial painting in this section of murals depicts the first inhabitants of the region as indigenous semi-nomadic descendents of the Nahua and Tamisada tribes, who settled along the banks of the lagoon and river that feeds it.
The next section, Los Conquistadores (below), holds the most fascination for me. I was intrigued by it the first time Russ and I ever sailed into Barra Navidad and walked up to the Port Captain’s office to register our boat, Spiritus. Well, now we’ve been here several months and I still stop to speculate about what I’m seeing and the statement–if any– which I think it makes.
The left side portrays the might of Spain with its armored soldiers, horses, and figureheads of authority– especially the larger drawing of Don Antonio de Mendoza, who was the first viceroy of Nueva España (New Spain/Mexico–1535-1550).
He is a fascinating figure in Mexico’s history. Mendoza was an extraordinary character who recognized the advantages of Barra Navidad as a port. On December 25, 1541, the little harbor received its present-day name “Barra Navidad” (Christmas Sandbar). A fully functional shipyard was build on its protected shores. From that shipyard came the boats comprising the fleet for the first Spanish expedition to the Philippines of Ruy Lopez (not to be confused with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, who appears later in another of the wall’s murals).
The right side of the mural depicts the Mexican civilization–its common people (merely faces in a crowd), plus chieftains or emissaries paying homage to the obvious representation of the conqueror Cortez as pictured on the tunic of the mural’s central figure, while the larger figurehead (in the upper right corner) wears a plated choker-type necklace representing Mexico’s gold.
But what interests me most is the central Indian figure itself–standing full-front, arms down, palms open (no weapons, neck exposed, chin and eyes raised)–clearly defenseless. Yet standing behind his back is the Church and the Military, the face in the Americas of the Spanish Empire–its Church’s robed arm lifts a cross, its military’s armored hand threatens lifts a sword. Its message to a native–profoundly simple. Submit, convert, or die.
The next offering celebrates the famous natural pearls of Barra’s lagoon, which were recognized and used by the Indians of the region as as their source of “dinero” money for commercial purposes.
The Expeditcion mural (below) depicts Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s historic voyage to the Philippines (1564), and again the port of Barra Navidad plays a central role. Twenty three years after the voyage of Ruy Lopez, another Lopez set out across the Pacific and headed toward the Philippines. Miguel Lopez de Legazpi was commissioned by Viceroy Luis de Velasquez (1550-1564) to open up trade routes to the the Spice Islands. According to the Duyfken 1606 Replica web site, “Cloves, nutmeg and mace grew only on a few small volcanic islands of the Moluccas; now the Maluku Province, which is part of the nation of Indonesia.” http://www.duyfken.com/original/spice-islands
Accompanied by Friar Andres de Urdaneta ( a famous Spanish navigator), Lopez started having his ships built in the Barra Navidad shipyard in 1557. According to the mural, on the 21st of November,1564, the ships sailed out of Port Barra Navidad; they included the Capitania (carrying Legazpi and Urdaneta), the galleons San Pedro and San Pablo, and the “flat-bottomed” tenders San Juan and San Lucas with a complement of 380 men. Their destination: The Philippines. Their mission: Discover a return route. (The discovery route was of enormous importance because the original 1541 expedition of Ruy Lopez never returned to Mexico).
Once in the Philippines and his conquest of Manila complete, Legazpi sent Urdaneta back to search for a return route to Mexico. After a voyage of 130 days, the trip and its mission successful, Urdaneta’s ship dropped anchor in the Port of Acapulco on October 25, 1565.
According to the Wikipedia, “Legazpi and Urdaneta’s expedition to the Philippines effectively created the trans-Pacific Manila galleon trade, in which silver mined from Mexico and Potosi was exchanged for Chinese silk, porcelain, spices, and other goods precious to Europe at the time. The trade route formed an important commercial link between Europe and East Asia, while heavily financing the Spanish Empire.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miguel_L%C3%B3pez_de_Legazpi
PIRATES !!!! What story of the Spanish Main would be complete without pirates?
Well, Barra Navidad had its share of pirates and their plundering. The wording on the mural reads “Boats full of riches attracted pirates like the Englishman Thomas Cavendish. In 1587, Cavendish burned the shipyard of Barra and the boats. Miraculously, the enormous cross [on the right-hand side of the picture] of the shipyard survived.”
To be honest, Cavendish didn’t look a thing like the “Long John Silver” stereotype of the mural. Sir Thomas Cavendish (1560-1592) actually cut a rather dashing figure as a politician, privateer, and English gentleman. He gained most of his fortune raiding Spanish ports and ships all the way from Mexico to the Philippines on two separate raiding voyages. (Turns out that he was a much more successful pirate than than he ever was as a member of Parliament.)
The conquest of Mexico-coupled with the conquest of the Philippines and the successful establishment of the “Spice Island’s” trade route by Miguel Lopez–made Spain the richest nation in Europe, and kept it the richest and most powerful for more than a half a century. England and the rest of Europe wanted a piece of the action. In Barra Navidad, Cavendish is considered a pirate. as is Sir Francis Drake–who also roamed these waters as a pirate/privateer. Drake is celebrated as one of England’s saviors during the failed invasion by Spanish Armada in 1588). One nation’s villain frequently is touted as another country’s hero. Such is the nature of any nation’s patriotic historical perspective.
LA REVOLUCION 1910-1917 The wording on the panel below reads “After the liberation of Mexico from the Spanish in 1821, the citizenry rebelled against the Mexican dictatorship, the exploitation of workers,displacement of small land holders by the wealthy, and corrupt elections. The new Constitution assured social rights and land reform.” These words are echoed underneath the drawing of the Mexican flag with the battle cry of the Revolution :Tierra y Libertad! Land and Liberty! The flag is pictured with the famed personages of Pancho Villa (revolutionary leader of Northern Mexico) and Emiliano Zapata (whose followers remain in the field of battle to this day in south Mexico’s states); in between the two (on a white field) is displayed the Seal of the United Mexican States (“a Mexican Golden Eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus devouring a snake” from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Seal_of_Mexico).
Women carrying guns and wearing leather bandoleras of bullets across their chests also play a prominent role in the mural’s composition. Mexican women were not only active supporters of the Revolution of 1910, but actual combatants and called “soldaderas”, including many serving as officers. Their participation in the revolutionary “Cause” proved a milestone for Women’s Rights in Mexico. ( http://iscmexicanrevolution.weebly.com/las-soldaderas–women-role.html )
If you look closely, you can see in the smoke of the train engine filled with the faces of the common men and women of the revolution. The trains tied the states of Mexico together and entire armies and peasant rebels moved across the nation using the train system.
And, finally, below is a new work, a “work-in-progress” celebrating the life-giving role of the ocean, the bay, and the lagoon for the people of Barra Navidad. From the solitary fisherman tossing his net out in the lagoon to the commercial trawlers scouring the coastline for catches of tuna, Barra is a community wedded to the sea, Its very existence depends on water–salt and fresh. The tourists who come here (Mexicans and foreigners), the sportsmen, the giant motor boats with laughing fun-loving vacationers may spend money; but, they always move on. But, as long as the sea and the lagoon and the river that feeds it remain, they will return again and again, season after season, year after year, decade after decade, perhaps century after century.
The enduring message of Barra Navidad’s muralsl? Viva Mexico! Viva Barra de Navidad! Bienvenidos!