Ⓒ Rodrigo Gaya 2004 - 2019
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Basel With Angeles

When cancer tries to take you identity, put on a fancy dress and allow your inner beauty to flourish.

Photos, Text, & Video by Rodrigo Gaya

'Im just Angeles', she says humbly responding to a stranger who walked up to her admiringly. Someone recognized her from the 20 ft portrait painted by Abstrak, in Miami's posh Design District, and showered her with compliments.

 

Beside her portrait are the words, 'One Day at A Time.' Of course, in the fight against breast cancer, it's easier said than done.

The cancer itself, then the chemotherapy & raditation treatments begin to destroy your life as a flamenco dancer, artist, fashionista, & social influencer. The feminin ideals of having long hair, healthy libido, & strong body begin to shed. Turning identity into

source of shame and sadness, one day at a time becomes the only survival tactic.

Although a strange presence when you first come across one, they're clearly a symbol of the town. Showcased throughout the mountain-side town, you are as likely as I was, to come across a Chinelo standing tall over your shoulder.

Depicted in murals, refrigerator magnets, and countless other iterations, are masked characters in pot-shaped hats with feathers, beads depicting ancient warriors, wearing full black tunics, gloves, and a eerie life-like meshed mask with blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and a pointy beard.

"The requirement for the Chinelo is simple, when the band plays, they must dance." - Edith Salazar

Lead by the township's flag bearer, each of the surrounding towns, bring their band, Chinelos, and townspeople, all asked to dance as long as the band is playing.

Jumping up and down, shaking of the hips is required. Sometimes for as long as 5 minutes, leading to some sweaty Chinelos.  To overcome the intense heat, they protect themselves by covering up in cloths under their tunics and hats, and sweating.

Ask most tourists - visiting for 'tacos pre-hispanicos y micheladas', who these symbolic characters are, you'll mostly get "Oh that's the Chinelo. But, I don't know much else."

This is where Edith Salazar comes in. Daughter of a traditional Chinelo outfit maker, she's lived many 'brincos'. Taking part as a Chinelo herself as a child, helping make the outfits, and now as an informal Tepoztlan/Chinelo guide.

I met her standing next to a tall, silent Chinelo at the doorstep of the local theater in the town's center. She's the first interview in the upcoming video.

With her classic Morelense accent, she guides us through the Chinelo experience, customs, & traditions she's learned.

Later in the video below, you'll meet Fernando Ortiz, a modern-day legacy holder. Chinelo to the core, next to where you'll find his passion for Star Wars. With an outfit designed with the film in mind,  he's a great example of how ever-evolving a cultural tradition really is.

-RGV

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