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

1.2 Coco
A portrait of Maria Salud Ramirez Caballero, known as Mama Coco, is pictured at her house in Santa Fe de la Laguna, Michoacan state, Mexico, on October 30, 2022. (Photos: AFP)
SANTA FÉ DE LA LAGUNA, Mexico — Tourists making a pilgrimage to a modest Mexican home during Day of the Dead festivities leave with no doubt: Mama Coco, the character of the Oscar-winning animated movie, used to live there.اضافة اعلان

“It looks a lot like her! When you look at the nose in the drawing and hers, 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 in “Coco”, winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2017, was a fictional character created by Pixar Animation Studios.

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

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

There, she bought fresh fish and sat soaking 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 her grandmother.

More than a year later came the premiere of “Coco”, inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival, which centers around the belief that the souls of the dead return on the night of November 1–2.

A woman put flowers on a grave at the cemetery where Maria Salud Ramirez Caballero, known as Mama Coco, is buried in Santa fe de la Laguna, Michoacan state, Mexico, on October 31, 2022.

Like the 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 that it was a product of its creators’ imagination.

‘Always happy’
Although Perez said she no longer wants to “get involved in that controversy”, the movie has transformed the Ramirez family’s life.

Mama Salud’s home became a place of pilgrimage for tourists who come to pay tribute to her, and perhaps buy souvenirs such as T-shirts, cups, piggy banks, key rings, and magnets.

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

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

Adorned with marigolds and candles, the family will lay out her favorite dinner — fish, beans, tortillas, and a Pepsi to drink.

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

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

It made the long journey 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 (did 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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