Photograph by Trudi Blom
Photograph by Trudi Blom

The pathway is lined with green, clear and amber liquor bottles also turned upside-down and embedded in the earth. Later we were to learn that most of these were mezcal bottles that Frans had knocked back, often with his friend the muralist Diego Rivera, and that Trudi blamed mezcal for Frans’ death.

Ramon took us to the archive room.  The room was filled with blue steel boxes that contain the negatives of over 50,000 photos shot by Trudi Blom. There are also dated flip books with small prints of each photo. We were given one that said “Santiago 1974.” We thumbed through it and discovered that the photo is part of a series. In other photos we see the same men taking part in a religious procession in the dusty streets of Santiago.  There are two almost identical photos of the man in the cloak. However in one, his companions are clearly mugging faces for the camera, their state of drunkenness apparent.

Ramon tells us that the man in the cloak was perhaps a mayordomo, one charged with washing and changing the clothing of the statues of saints in the churches, that the other men were probably alferes – his helpers. By the time Trudi shot the ultimate photo of the procession, our photo, the ceremony was over and the men were drunk on posh, the potent local corn and cane liquor. Perhaps the mayordomo was even mocking the pose of the saints.

Before we left we made another loop through the rooms of Na Bolom looking at photographs of a world that is almost no longer.

Two days later, after we arrived back in Antigua, I call Yepes.  I get his answering machine. Music Plays. It is the opening of a live version of Jimmy Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile, an implosion of piercing notes and industrial chords.  Then there is a beep.  I email Yepes and inquire about his painting and its relation to the photo. The reply I receive is cryptic yet perfect. It is a picture of a painting titled Soy Ilegal-Bullet Proof based on the same photo taken by Trudi Blom in 1974. It is in color, and this time only the man in the hat and cloak is represented. The likeness of Keith Richards is gone. Blazoned on the front of the man’s cloak is the Virgin of Guadalupe, his bullet proof shield.

Returning to my Tequila Bar I pondered the power of the paintings by Yepes. The layering of time and contradictions; and of quiet yet screaming symbolism in the work which tells multiple stories that are one story: Soy Ilegal, tu eres Ilegal y nosotros somos Ilegales.

I am Ilegal. You are Ilegal. We are Ilegal.

I think about how the indigenous of Chiapas, have in effect been made outlaws in their own land; of how Mexicans have been made outlaws in the United States; how any of us who protest the current insane polices in the United States are suspect.

I think about how the Virgin of Guadalupe was used to Christianize Mexico; how she also became the symbol for independence when Hidalgo’s mestizo-indigenous army attacked Guanajuato; how when Emeliano Zapata’s peasant troops penetrated Mexico City they carried Guadalupan banners.

I think about how foreigners now entering the US are fingerprinted and how the new US passports have computer chips in them so we can be more closely monitored.

I think about a quote I read beneath one of Trudi Blom’s photos: “We ride to the airfield at El Real without a shade tree for five hours where I once knew gorgeous high forest.”

I think about the power of the graffiti art I saw in Mexico a year ago; art that stood up to the oppressive government in Oaxaca; I think about how this and a bottle of mezcal led me to Yepes and his work.

I think about how we are all increasingly secondary to profit, whether we live in the vanishing rainforest or the increasingly polluted city.

I think about resurrection and redemption and know the battle is not lost.

I pour myself another drink.  Soy Ilegal.

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About the Author

John Rexer, the founder and editor of La Cuadra Magazine, expatriated himself from Los Estados about 12 years ago because he couldn't stand seeing his city, New York, lobotomized by the metastasizing sameness of WalMart America and didn't have a pillow large enough to Chief Bromden the place out of it's misery. After knocking around Mexico for a while he landed in Antigua, Guatemala - broke but certain about the decision to stay out of the States. Without much of a backup plan he opened Café No Sé (with a rusty credit card) on a residential street, in this sleepy, third-world, colonial town with the intention of creating the best bar in the known universe. For those of you who've been through Antigua, you know he succeeded. Primary mission accomplished, a few years later John started "creatively transporting" mezcal from Oaxaca into Guatemala with the intention of creating a multi-national company that would deliver the finest agave spirits to the citizenry of the world. That company, Ilegal Mezcal, is currently selling its booze around the globe. La Cuadra Magazine, an idea hatched a decade ago in a booze fueled bitch session with current Editor-in-Chief, Mike Tallon, is actually just the first step in larger plan to develop a publishing company that will create a genius literary movement in this new century in much the same way that Ferlinghetti's City Lights project launched the Beat Movement of the 1950s. Writ short, his aspirations are as big as his liver. Or, as Mike has noted on a number of occasions, John Rexer puts the "messy" back in "Messianic."