Rubén ZAVALA RODRÍGUEZ
Birthplace: Aguascalientes, Ags., Mexico
scholarship holder of AMFPA since: 1988
Painting Method: Mouth painter
I was born on October 28, 1956 in Ojo de Agua de Crucitas, Municipality of Palo Alto, State of Aguascalientes. I was the ninth child of a large family of 13 siblings. My father’s name is Juan Zavala Reyes and my mother’s Crescenciana Rodríguez Segovia, both originals of the same place. We always travelled every year from Aguascalientes to Ocotlán Jalisco because of my father´s work. During the rainy season we were in Aguascalientes, and during the dry season in Ocotlán.
My childhood was like any other, with many friends to play marbles, spinning top, etc. There was never time to go to school since there was always something that kept you busy at home. Travelling from one place to the next did not allow much room for schooling. Since very young I would accompany my father to his work. When I was 9, I was accepted to work in the fields, to fertilize, pick the grass from the corn plants, wheat, corn and millet among other products in season.
At 12 I did not know how to read or write. So my childhood went by and my adolescence phase arrived in between games and small responsibilities given by my parents, up until I was 13. On September 25, 1969, I remember my father telling me to take food to my brothers that were working in the fields with Mr. Pedro Salcedo. I remember asking my mother, since very early, if the food was ready to take to my brothers and she would answer that it was too early. So finally the time came to take them their lunch.
Two of my cousins came with me: Roberto and Trino Pérez who were also taking some food to their brothers. We arrived to our destiny with no hassles. After they ate and we were returning home, we started playing in the water since it was the rainy season. I remember we had to pass by a wire fence so my cousins crossed the fence and then, when it was my turn, I touched some electric cables of 440 volts that were tied to the wire fence. I then felt that my right hand was stuck and tried to loosen it with my left hand but it was not possible. I don’t know how much time went by before I was able to get loose from the cables.
When I reacted from the impact, my cousins had left to find my brothers that were close by from the scene of this accident to let them know what had happened. I remember seeing a drainage canal and I leaned and I drank a lot of water because I was very thirsty. I then walked towards the road but I was not able to reach since I was feeling very tired to continue; so I sat on a rock by the side of the road. My two brothers and cousins found me there. I remember they put me in a station wagon and took me to the Red Cross in Ocotlán where I received minor attention. This happened on Thursday, September 25 and the next day I was transferred to the San Vicente Hospital close by. At noon time I was then transferred to the City of Guadalajara to the Civilian Hospital where I did not receive any medical attention since it was a week end. On Monday the 29, after almost four days, medical attention came too late. My upper extremities were invaded with gangrene and they had to amputate. I was in a coma for one week without knowing what was happening in my surroundings. Nevertheless, in my unconsciousness, I had a beautiful experience. I saw a man with dark skin at my side and I remember he said that I would not die. He was carrying a basket with some grass. My mother is very devoted to San Martín de Porras and it is possible that it could have been him.
For a moment, I also felt that my soul left my body and suddenly I saw doctors and nurses running around injecting my body and I felt at one point that I was in an unmatchable beautiful place, in a green field with white pigeons and, farther away I could see a very brilliant light that was inviting me in. Suddenly, I returned where my body was being treated and I was there for three months. All that time that I was hospitalized, my father was always there and my brothers would take turns. I was never left alone. I remember my mother would visit me every time she could and always would ask me how I was, and I always responded that I was fine.
Finally, the long awaited moment to leave the hospital arrived. It was right before Christmas and I was very happy to be returning home with my parents and my brothers and sisters to Cuitzéo Jalisco where we lived.
At home I was visited by my friends, family and some curious people who wanted to see how I was after hearing comments of the amputations of my upper limbs; I think they were regretting the loss more than I was. Thanks to God, my family and I were happy that I was home and we were together again. Time went by, recuperating little by little. My play friends never abandoned me and would always include me to play in some game that I could be a participant.
In 1970 we met Mrs. Guadalupe Cuellar that sewed for Mrs. Alicia, wife of Eng. Ulrich M. Sander who worked at the Celanese Mexican Company. Mrs. Guadalupe talked to the Engineer about my case and he wanted to meet me. We were introduced and he said he would find a way to try to help me with some prosthesis, and he spoke with Eng. Federico Ortíz Olivares that worked for the same company in the Coordination department in the City of Mexico. Both families went through the proper channels for my entry to the recuperation center in Tlanépantla, State of Mexico. What came after was not easy. The time to go to the rehabilitation center in the City of Mexico was here, and my father was advised of the day and time. I remember when Eng. Sander and his son came to pick up my father and me, arriving in the City of Mexico on Monday morning to the home of Eng. Federico Ortiz, Mrs. Herla Luna, his wife and children.
We stayed for a few days in this home while my entry to the center was processed. Once at the center, my father returned to Cuitzéo to my mother and brothers. When I was left alone I felt very sad and sometimes I would cry. I had never separated before from my family. So as time went by, I got used to my new environment with the attention of the center´s personnel and got used to it, even though I wanted to be with my parents.
The center had a few therapy exercise workshops since it is a place for people with different disabilities. They had rooms for women, men and children, which is where I was. After two months I was told I had to go to school and was asked what grade I was in my hometown. Somewhat embarrassed, I responded that I did not know how to read or write. The center had available primary and secondary schooling for the interns.
The first day of classes finally arrived. The teacher was young and did not pay much attention to us since her boyfriend would come to visit her in the mornings and she would go out to talk with him in the hallway. After about a week later, I told the chief nurse about this. Almost a year went by and, as I was hanging out and looking at the different workshops, I stopped at one where a group of people were painting. The teacher came up to me and asked me if I would be interested in learning to paint. I remember I was very excited and told her, “yes”. She then asked me how I would hold the paintbrush and I answered: “with my mouth since I know how to write holding the pencil with my mouth”. She said it was okay and she asked me to attend the class the following Tuesday at 10 A.M. to start.
I returned to my room and told my peers and Nurse Irma that I would be attending the painting classes. They were all very pleased and congratulated me on this new activity I was about to start.
I returned to Cuitzéo Jalisco with my parents and brothers in 1971. I entered the primary school called Niños Héroes; I took a test and was approved for the fourth grade. I passed and was accepted to fourth grade. My classmates did not see me as weird because I wrote with a pencil in my mouth. They were all great classmates but I did not have a teacher for painting classes. I did not dwell on this issue and continued painting without a teacher. I finished my primary school in 1974.
In July of that year I processed my paperwork to enter secondary school in Ocotlán, about two and a half kilometers from Cuitzéo. The school’s name is Benito Juárez, directed and owned by Mr. Raúl Topete Gómez, a fine person.
The time to start the new school, new classmates and new teachers was here. There was a teacher for each subject. When I got to my classroom I did not see any familiar faces. I went in as though I belonged and found a seat without stopping to greet anyone. After, a classmate came over to ask if I needed any help and I said no thanks, and that I would let him know if I did.
The first day of class the teacher did a roll call and when our name was called we would stand up to say “present”. When the teacher was done he said he would do dictation, and then he looked at me and asked, “And you, with what will you write?” I responded, “With my mouth”. Everyone then watched how I took a pen with my mouth and started writing. I later heard whispers that I could indeed write while the teacher continuously would ask me if he should continue dictating and I would answer yes. At the end of the class, some classmates came over to see how my writing was and others came to congratulate me and offer their help. This was my first day of secondary school and, with no other novelty, the first year went by. I continued studying and painting with no teacher. Sometimes I would erase or throw out some of the work I did not like, and I would start all over again.
A few months later, Engineer Sánder recommended me with Mr. Jesús Barajas Sandoval that also worked at the Celanese Company. He invited me to his home to give me some guidance with drawing and painting since he had studied in the School of Plastic Arts in the City of Guadalajara. So I took classes at his house and he taught me how to classify the cold from the hot colors and how to mix them to obtain secondary colors.
My knowledge was expanding and, with time, I acquired more practice and improved my technique. I also became more confident with my secondary studies. So the school year went by between painting and studying and also offering artistic education classes to my group classmates. By the end of the school year I would decide on the grades of each one, and I did a fairly good job with all of them.
Towards the middle of the school year some students approached me to invite me to paint a mural in the auditorium of the school, which was titled “the eye of wisdom”. It included human figures, trees, geometric figures, books and roads that guided you to an eye located at the center of the mural.
So my third year of secondary school concluded and some classmates did not continue on, others matriculated in technical schools and others like me continued on to preparatory.
This part of my life would not have been possible without the support of a great woman that was always pending to my physical needs, and an unconditional love that only a mother can give. She always waited for me before school, made sure my clothes and I were presentable and clean, always there showing me her love. There was nothing impossible that she could not achieve. These words I am writing come from of my heart and am grateful to God and my mother, who shall always be by my side as a great friend, and whom I will always be proud to present to my friends and the whole world…there is no other mother like mine.
The date to enter preparatory college arrived and this had to be done in the City of Guadalajara, which was incorporated to the University of Guadalajara. I went on to the third semester of preparatory studies and I continued painting. One day I went to the House of Culture close to the school and I was very surprised to learn that they offered classes in drawing and painting with teacher Marcos Iñiguez Romero for painting, and teacher José Luis Martínez, for drawing.
Soon after I got there they asked me what I did and I told them I was in preparatory school, I also painted some, and that I had taken mouth painting classes with Jesús Barajas. They then invited me to become part of the group. I then started to participate in collective exhibitions; this happened in 1978. I continued studying my college preparatory studies as well as painting, participating in exhibitions in the same House of Culture in Ocotlán and in the states of Michoacán and Jalisco where we had cultural exchanges, since the house of culture in Ocotlán is affiliated to the Plastic Arts in Jalisco.
So my student life continued and when I could, I would attend painting classes at the House of Culture, participating in collective exhibitions with my classmates and teachers.
I finished preparatory school and matriculated in the Engineering Faculty at the University of Guadalajara in the same city of Guadalajara Jalisco. With much hard work and dedication, I graduated as an Electro-Mechanical Engineer.
In November 1987 I met the late Mr. José Moreno, a mouth painter, who shared information about his membership in the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. When he saw my work he said it was of good quality and suggested I apply for membership, and that he would give me the instructions on how to proceed. I acted immediately sending in my application and 5 pieces of my art work.
In March of 1988, Mr. José Moreno came to visit me in Cuitzéo to give me the news that I had qualified and had been accepted as a scholarship grantee. I was very happy to have become a member of the Association and it was a blessing for me. From that moment I started experiencing a greater peace and more time to paint.
In December of 1998 I married Bertha Neri Martínez who has been a great woman and companion in my life, and I am very grateful to God for meeting her and for her willingness to share her life with mine.
I was able to work in my career as a professional from 1990 – 1998 at the Celanese Mexicana, S.A. de C.V. company in Ocotlán Jalisco. After 1998 I was able to concentrate full time to painting and improve my techniques and quality of my work.
I currently have an art workshop in my home which allows me to transmit my knowledge to other people, disabled or not.
In this manner I have been able to take advantage of the opportunities that life offers us to increase our self esteem and our love for others.