If there’s one truth about the world which is perceptible to us on a daily basis, it’s that the living planet, and our human experience of it, is full of differences and perpetual change. For inexplicable reasons, many languages developed over history instead of just one; peoples evolved genetically and socially, coalescing into self-identifying groups with named villages, city-states, nations.
And sprung from this mysterious primordial ether of homo sapiens sapiens, new customs, and ritualized traditions long-developed into the thousands of idiosyncratic cultures across the modern world. This evolved paradox of human separateness is what constitutes the humanness that ties the many together into one: our differences create our sameness and unite us.
These 40 photos were taken over the last seven years of around 40 blocks square blocks in Ajijic, Mexico, a mountain pueblo united by its long-standing and ever-evolving set of traditions, customs, fiestas, parades, and celebrations of all kinds.
As an American who’s lived in this village for the past seven years, I still find myself bewildered by the varied and always unpredictable ways that a single people –- a single pueblo -– can collectively express itself through something as intangible and unifying as shared tradition and culture. Mexico itself is a country with dozens of ethnic groups. Its unique traditions probably number into the several thousand. Though each custom celebrated here is still uniquely Mexican, each of our cultural quirks shows that together we toil in the same moments which forge the human condition: laughter, love, tears, aspiration, and dignity. This living connection with the past which many cultures are still clinging to is one of the truths which leads people to a better understanding of themselves, their neighbors and how they fit into the world around them.
Kids pretend to be living marionettes while riding on the back of a moving float during the wacky 2015 New Year’s Day Parade in Ajijic, Mexico. The New Year’s Day parade is a newer addition to the town’s many annual fiestas and religious processions. This one is a bit different as it’s often a hodgepodge of various contemporary and traditional themes from Mexico and abroad. For sale as a fine art print A group of masked zayacos waits to enter Ajijic’s town bullring during one of the many pre-Carnaval fiestas. For sale as a fine art print Xui Ocelot Gomez Hernandez performs El Niño Dormido (the Dance of the Sleeping Child) with his daughter, Maya, in Ajijic. The dance is a traditional Mexican ballet folklórico from the state of Chiapas which starts off with the female dancer trying to wake up her dance partner from a siesta. A girl sleeps in the back of a truck while her parents sell palmas in front of San Andrés Church in Ajijic on Palm Sunday 2017. Two children dressed as heroes of the Mexican Revolution dance together in the street during the 2014 Revolution Day desfíle. For sale as a fine art print Concheros dance in front of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary on the Ajijic plaza. The Aztec dancers accompany an image of Saint Sebastian to the church in an afternoon procession each January 20. Ismael Sánchez kisses the brim of his hat and says a prayer after entering his home on Calle Galeana in Ajijic. I met Ismael one day in 2010 while out taking photographs around Ajijic. Ismael‘s volcanic stone molcajete, which today is still an important tool for preparing salsas in many households. Antonieta Galán finishes the ends of a wool carpet from Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca. Antonieta moved to Ajijic a few years ago from Teotitlán, which is world-famous for its treadle-loom rugs. Kids dressed as Mexican revolutionary heroes always enthusiastically play the part during the annual Revolution Day parade in Ajijic. Kids watch the rodeo unfold in the bullring during the Carnival-time events in Ajijic. A silhouetted cowboy carefully coils his reata before roping a horse on the Day of the Cowboy in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. For sale as a fine art print Jacqui Gómez, an escaramuza cowgirl, rides her dancing horse across Lake Chapala off the shore of Ajijic. For sale as a fine art print The first lighting of a new Day of the Dead tradition in Ajijic, started in 2016 by local artist Efrén Gonzalez. An older man in a Mexican wrestling mask rides on the tail of a New Year’s Day float while a musical group plays behind him. “Churro” wears a Mexican wrestling mask while performing as the joker during the 2016 Carnaval festivities in Ajijic, Mexico. Girls dressed as adelitas march in the Revolution Day parade in Ajijic. A man dressed as a zayaca lifts his dress suggestively during the 2016 Fiesta of San Sebastián, a January holiday that comes a few weeks before the town starts its Carnival celebrations. The fiesta marks the first appearance of the zayacos in the calendar year. For sale as a fine art print A group of pre-Hispanic dancers takes part in a procession for Our Lady of the Rosary in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. Aztec dancers often form an essential part of important Catholic processions 500 years after the Spanish first arrived to conquer the country. Gaby Gucho, the queen of the Ajijic Charros Association, during the 2016 Independence Day parade in Ajijic. A woman holds a sprig of rosemary before the 2012 Palm Sunday procession passes by in Ajijic. A worker stands guard next to a spinning wheel on a fireworks castle during the fiestas patronales for Saint Sebastian in Ajijic, Mexico. Most towns and cities have their own patron saint and virgin, who are honored each year with multi-day fiestas. Ajijic’s patron saint is San Sebastián and his fiesta lasts 11 days. The Virgin of the Rosary celebration lasts the entire month of October. A worker re-sets into motion one of the fireworks castle’s moving parts during one of the 10 p.m. shows for the fiestas patronales for Saint Sebastian in Ajijic. Ecaramuza charras escort an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe as it’s carried through the streets of Ajijic on the Virgin of Guadalupe day 2016. A little cowboy wipes the sleep from his eyes during a morning service on el Día del Charro. The charro, or cowboy, is still an important part of everyday life for some people in the pueblo. And Mexico has its own national holiday for the charro, held September 13. Cowboys prepare a bull for riding during Carnival in Ajijic. For sale as a fine art print A cowboy recovers from a painful fall after getting bucked from a bull during a jaripeo rodeo in Ajijic. A large streetside altar for friends and family on the Day of the Dead, with fresh fruit, beer and tequila, plates of cooked meat, marigolds and other offerings. Read about all the common offerings left on a Day of the Dead altar. The dress of a Mexican ballet folklórico dancer blurs together during a performance in Ajijic. Mexico has dozens of regional folk dances which have survived since their pre-Hispanic origin and today they’re performed by dedicated dancers who are conscious of preserving lost traditions. The dress in this photo is a style typical from the region of Jalisco. Two men go net fishing during sunset at Lake Chapala, Mexico, off the shore of the Ajijic malecón. For sale as a fine art print A brother and sister improvise and play in a puddle with boats they made out of fallen leaves after a brief afternoon thunderstorm hit the plaza in Ajijic, Mexico. One of the qualities that separates many kids who live in a place like the United States from, say, a place like Mexico is the ability, and at times the necessity, of creating games out of practical everyday items or found objects, such as pesos, rocks or these leaf boats, as shown in the photo. Palo Encebado