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"My whole life has been dedicated to ceramics of different kinds. Today I have my own family and I've taught them all I know. We have our workshop in our home."
"I'm Jose de Jesus Delgado Navarro, born July 4, 1956 in a small town in Jalisco. I craft traditional masks in leather and clay, especially tastoan masks.
"The tastoan masks are part of an ancestral tradition known as the battle on Ixtepetl Hill. On March 25, 1530, the Spanish arrived to evangelize what was then the Kingdom of Tonallan, governed by Queen Cihualpilli. But a bloody battle broke out and lasted for almost four hours. The Spaniards, feeling they were losing, invoked Saint James, the patron of Spain. They defeated the Tlatoani warriors, and James became the patron saint of our town. The dance of the tastoanes represents this battle, and the masks are very unique.
"My family crafted ceramic tiles and my father also made masks for the pastorelas, or plays that reenact the Christmas story. He also crafted nahuales, which I found very strange. The nahual is the other self, the animal we first see when we are born, usually depicted with an animal body and a human face. Sadly, my father died when I was only seven.
"My mother remarried, and my stepfather taught me to help clean the pottery and fire it. He was also a ceramist.
"I spent my childhood in a very poor neighborhood. I didn't have many friends because my stepfather was very tough with me and I had to work. I'd go to the hills to bring down firewood with a burro, and when he went to the clay banks, I'd help him dig it and bring it back home.
"There weren't many opportunities for education and we didn't have much money, so I couldn't go to school. I studied through the second grade and learned to read and write, and I also attended night school for a while.
"I remember when I was nine, I wanted to make a mask for the celebration of the Holy Cross, and I wanted to portray the dancer known as El Negro. To make the mold, I used the face of a boy who was the same age. I made a 'tortilla' of clay and molded it to his face, and this became my first ceramic mold. I crafted the mask from the mold, but my stepfather didn't approve of making masks and he broke it. Although I was just a boy, I was terribly hurt; I cried and cried over the broken mask. But I continued to make them with that same mold.
"When I was ten, I did dance for the fiesta and, with my face covered, I bumped into one of the other boys. Our masks broke, and I cried over that, too. The dance wasn't even over but I had to go back home with the broken pieces of my mask. I cried so much my mother got fed up and spanked me.
"Because my family worked in ceramics, I got the idea to craft different artistic pieces and, little by little, I became involved with the world of art and entered my work in several contests. The truth is, my whole life has been dedicated to ceramics of different kinds. Today I have my own family and I've taught them all I know. We have our workshop in our home and each one of us has different obligations, but we all cooperate. The materials are 100 percent natural and our technique is polychrome ceramics painted by hand.
"My greatest challenge in life has been getting over my father's death when I was so young and also my stepfather's abuse. Another challenge has been getting ahead without an education. I've continued learning and acquired experience my whole life, and this has led me to feel as capable as anyone. Today, I'm recognized in our town as a promoter of culture.
"I've made masks all my life and have exhibited them in different Mexico venues, including the City Museum of Guadalajara and the Legislative Palace in Mexico City. In 2000, I won first place for my masks and also the maximum award for distinguished artisans and promoters of Tonala — the Premio Cihualpilli.
"I enjoy taking walks, and organizing and participating in dances for traditional festivals such as the Tastoanes, the Little Old Men, the braiding of the palms on Palm Sunday, the fiestas of Saint John the Baptist, and the Holy Cross.
"I'd describe my art as traditional as it is inspired by the tastoan tradition, one of our oldest traditions that reflects our origins and our identity. This is a part of our lives, it is in our blood. Each of my masks holds a piece my being and all my love for our way of life.
"This is something I wrote and dedicate to all the tastoan dancers with each presentation. 'The true essence of a tastoan is to die fighting to the call of aixca quema, which arises from the depths of our hearts and flows into the unconscious of those who have forgotten their roots to remind them that the exorbitant indigenous world still exists. With it, we are all infected with the pride of our culture. Aixca quema!'"
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