Niñají Comic: Indigenous values for a modern world

By Ellie Stevens

Have you ever stopped to look at the girl selling you flowers in the jardín central? What if someone told you she was a princess? This is the premise of Isis Rodríguez’ and Alfonso López’ Niñají Comic.

Art
Opening of the Niñají Gallery
Fri, Apr 29, 5–7pm
Niñají Gallery
Callejón del Palmar 13
415 121 0329

The comic was inspired by the Oaxacan legend of Donají, a pre-Hispanic princess assassinated in a war between the Mixtecs and the Zapotecs. But rather than ending in death, Niñají (Neen Yah Hee) is a story of resurrection. The comic, produced here in San Miguel, tells the story of a shaman’s daughter who dies and reawakens 500 years later in a modern Mexico drained of color. To survive in this black and white world, Niñají relies on values she learned from her father.

“I wanted to honor my indigenous ancestors and give them a space beyond what they get in traditional history,” says López, the writer for five issues. The son of a history professor, López learned early that pre-Hispanic nations get relegated to the dustbin of traditional Mexican history, not to mention of contemporary Mexican society. “To take a prehispanic princess and resurrect her as a flower vendor is historical, for that girl you see selling flowers could be the descendent of indigenous aristocracy,” says López. “In my opinion, they are the members of society that we should respect most, because they remind us of our history.”

Isis Rodríguez, the illustrator, who studied under the direction of Walt Disney animators, grew up in the US in a bicultural Mexican-Puerto Rican family, witnessing cultural differences inherent in being a mestiza. After she discovered the Aztec concept of nepantla, meaning a literal and cultural crossroads, she embarked on an eight-year investigation in Mexico to reinterpet nepantla through Niñají comics.

“The place that Niñají is born is called ‘Nepantla,’ and when she’s resurrected, ‘Nepantla’ becomes a symbolic place where people overcome life’s obstacles to achieve their dreams,” says Rodríguez. “The comic is about transformation.”

One of the comic’s most intriguing characters is Jimmy Smith, a retired US expat. After a lifetime spent in fast-paced, black and white corporate America, he gives up his Jaguar for a burro and retires to the Mexican campo. With Niñají’s help, he embraces indigenous values such as simplicity and humility, regaining his lost color and earning himself the nickname “Gringuígena” (a gringo who practices indígena values) from Niñají and her friends.

 

The reinvention of identity based on indigenous values is especially important for modern Mexico, where historical currents are bringing together more nationalities than ever before.

Niñají offers us a vision of a transformed Mexico—a transformed San Miguel: a San Miguel where the flower vendors stand up straighter, and the expats learn from them; a San Miguel where we forge new identities, accepting with open arms the bundles of color offered us.

The grand opening of the Niñají Gallery will be Friday, April 29, from 5pm to 7pm at Callejón del Palmar 13, Centro. For more information, call 415 121 0329.

 

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