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‘Real’ Mama Coco honored on Mexico’s Day of the Dead

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Tourists pose for a picture at the home of Maria Salud Ramirez, believed by her family to be the inspiration for the animated movie character "Mama Coco"

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Tourists pose for a photo at the home of Maria Salud Ramirez, considered by her family to be the inspiration for the animated film character ‘Mama Coco’ – Copyright AFP Marcos Pin

Jean Luis Arcé

Tourists on a pilgrimage to a modest Mexican home during Day of the Dead festivities leave no doubt: Mama Coco, the character from the Oscar-winning animated film, lived there.

“It looks a lot like him! When you look at the nose in the drawing and his, the shape of the face and the hair, or the wheelchair, it’s too much of a coincidence,” said Spanish tourist Paula Colmenero, 52.

The sweet old woman from “Coco,” winner of the 2017 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, was a fictional character created by Pixar Animation Studios.

But her good-natured smile, narrowed eyes and braided white hair were also notable features of Maria Salud Ramirez, who died on October 16 at the age of 109.

Mama Salud, as she was known locally, is remembered as an independent, talkative woman who regularly visited the town square of Santa Fe de la Laguna, home to members of the indigenous Purepecha group.

There she bought fresh fish and sat down to soak up the atmosphere, said Patricia Perez, 38, one of her granddaughters.

One afternoon, residents of the lakeside town in Michoacan state went to tell Perez that visitors were taking pictures of his grandmother.

More than a year later saw the premiere of “Coco”, inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead festival, which focuses on the belief that the souls of the dead return on the night of November 1-2.

Like tourists, Perez is certain: “It was based on her, on her image,” she said.

Pixar has always denied that Mama Coco was based on anyone in real life and said it was a figment of its creators’ imaginations.

– ‘Always happy’ –

Although Perez said she no longer wanted to “get involved in this controversy”, the film transformed the lives of the Ramirez family.

Mama Salud’s house has become a place of pilgrimage for tourists who come to pay their respects, and perhaps buy souvenirs such as t-shirts, mugs, piggy banks, key rings and magnets.

Colmenero, visiting with her husband and two daughters, praised the family’s efforts to earn money from Mama Salud’s fame because “it’s very clear that they copied her.”

As in the final sequence of the film, this year Mama Salud is only present in the photographs placed by the family on her wheelchair and the altar they prepared to receive her spirit on the Day of the Dead.

Adorned with marigolds and candles, the family will prepare their favorite dinner – fish, beans, tortillas and a Pepsi to drink.

Allowing visitors to continue visiting her home after her death is what Mama Salud would have wanted, Perez said.

“She always wanted to receive people. She was always happy. That’s why we decided to keep the doors open,” she said.

The long trip was worth it for 36-year-old South Korean tourist Taehyun Kim, who said “Coco” was one of his favorite movies.

“I quit my job, and my wife (too), and came here to see Mama Coco,” he said.

For Mexicans, the world-famous grandmother is a source of national pride.

“Thank you Mama Coco for representing our culture with dignity,” wrote one visitor.

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