After being bounced around for thirty minutes through the crowded streets of Mexico City in the back of an old Volkswagen taxi, the driver stopped in front of the National Palace, El Palacio Nacional. The immense city square, El Zocalo, hosted various Aztec dance troupes and large demonstrations about citizens’ rights. I jumped out, paid the driver, and inhaled the heavy smog, or as the Mexicans call it, La Contaminacion.
Charged with the electric energy emanating from the center of this ancient city, I knew my life was about to change.
I was excited to be spending a day in front of Diego Rivera’s La Historia de Mexico murals. After purchasing my ticket, I skipped over the large cement steps two at a time and then landed breathless on the second floor of the government offices once occupied by Spanish conquistadors. The entire balcony floor, covered with Rivera’s murals from the vaulted ceiling to the stone foundation, was everything I had imagined. Standing slack-jawed and wide-eyed, my senses imploded with the art and history of Mexico as I was transported back to the past.
I saw myself in every paint stroke, my destiny as clear as the giant pictures in front of me. I cut stalks of corn as tall as skyscrapers alongside my fellow Aztecs. I rowed a reed-woven canoe on clear canals to the majestic city of Tenochtitlan, the ancient Mexico City. My gold bracelets ensured an abundant trade of fresh produce, stone tools, embroidered clothing and caged birds. I stood among the masses and prayed to the sun and rain gods for life-preserving crops. My light skin turned bronze from the reflection of the crystalline waterways eventually covered by stone cathedrals built upon the spilled blood of Indian slaves.
Diego painted these murals in the 1930’s to teach the illiterate masses the truth about their oppressive history, which inspired me to write.
Hungry and exhausted, I sat on one of the broad cement steps to catch my breath. I allowed my thoughts to wander over my blessed life: The fourth grade Mexican children in California whom I taught; the college scholarship programme I developed for Latino high school students; the burning questions I had for how to honour my students’ Hispanic families.
And then, I heard his voice. ‘Jeaninne.’
I looked around for the origin of this whisper but it came from another time. Only a few people were left in the museum and the great halls echoed with my imagination.
‘Teach the children.’ Each word had its own emphasis.
‘Diego?’ I spoke to him in my mind. ‘Teach them what?’
‘You know, my child.’ Then, as quickly as I heard the words, his voice was gone.
I hailed another taxi and, moments later, I was snaking in and out of the multitudes clogging the streets, watching for my favourite sidewalk café on the outskirts of the city.
I ran from the cab to the only available table situated under a majestic Ficus tree. After ordering huevos rancheros and strong coffee, I pulled a worn journal and black pen from my woven backpack then let the words flow: ‘Manuel!’ Papa yells from the second story kitchen window of a rundown apartment building…
Manuel’s Murals, my love letter to Mexico, was born on that day fifteen years ago. The colourfully illustrated children’s book celebrates the importance of our ancestors and the glorious history of all cultures, the story I was destined to write.
Trust the stories you are meant to write, they are waiting in the wings of your destiny.
Featured Book: Manuel’s Murals by Jeaninne Escallier Kato
Manuel's Murals is about a passionate nine-year-old boy from Mexico City, who loves to paint murals like his hero, the legendary 20th century Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. He dreams of the day he will become as famous as Rivera so he can take care of his family and never have to watch his father clean other people’s buildings again. This desire takes Manuel on a journey where he gains a new appreciation for his own family through the important history of his brilliant culture. Manuel’s Murals was a finalist in the Children’s Picture Book: Softcover Fiction category of the 2012 USA Best Book Awards.
About Jeaninne Escallier Kato
Jeaninne Escallier Kato is a public school teacher who grew up in a multi-cultural, blended family in Southern California. Because of her mother’s Hispanic roots and her father’s French Indian blood, diverse cultures have always fascinated her. Manuel was born out of her love for Mexico. Diego Rivera’s voice continues to inspire her work.
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