South of the border down Tlaquepaque way

William M. Dowd photos

TLAQUEPAQUE, Jalisco, Mexico -- No, try again. It's pronounced tlock-ay-pock-ay.

Snug up against the southern boundary line of Guadalajara, this town of a half-million residents has been absorbed by the growth of its much larger neighbor, Mexico's second-largest city, yet retains its own identity as a center for artisan crafts and as the home of the colorful mariachi music tradition.

Its full name is San Pedro Tlaquepaque, so it's occasionally known as San Pedro. However, Tlaquepaque reflects the indigenous heritage of the area, while San Pedro reflects the Spanish influence. Thus, there's much more pride in using the longer name which comes from the native Nahuatl language phrase for "place above clay land."

From artists working at their easels to craftspeople spreading their wares on tables for passersby to see, to shops crammed with pottery, blown glass and silver and leather goods, to the Iguana Man who will let you take a picture with his partner for just 20 pesos (about $1.50 these days), Tlaquepaque is a feast for the eyes.

Fountains dot the landscape, not unusual in the Greater Guadalajara area which has more than 150 public fountains. Wrought iron fences, adobe and plaster building exteriors are dressed in various hues of golds, reds, blues, greens and earth tones. Cobblestone streets are commonplace, as are metal sculptures, many showing Aztec design influences.

Shopkeepers and street vendors alike vie politely for business from passers-by, a pleasant change from the sort of sales-by-attack antics often encountered in the Latin American world. Here, a more restrained demeanor make it possible to actually enjoy the many artisanal works on display as well as the sights and sounds.

Children of pre-school age help tend some of the crafts tables festooned with beadwork, silver baubles and other eye-catching items. Since education is compulsory for ages 6-12, only the younger kids go to work with a parent.

In addition to tight, winding streets filled with dining spots, cantinas and shops, Tlaquepaque has El Parián, a large plaza flanked by columned arcades. The main square in the city center is El Jardín ("The Garden"), which is home to two major churches, San Pedro (St. Peter) and El Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Solitude), as well as the Benito Juárez market, named for a revered Mexican president.

Bars and restaurants, such as the colorful and popular Adobe seen here, are usually busy from their 10 a.m. openings right through 8 p.m. closing time.

One of the most iconic things about Mexico is the mariachi influence on the music scene. Historians and musicologists differ over the precise origins of the musical and entertainment form that dates back several centuries, and, indeed, even about where the name comes from.

Modern mariachi performers, clad in tight-fitting traje de charros -- heavily embroidered waist-length jackets, and dark pants and large sombreros, still are claimed by the residents of Tlaquepaque as well as the rest of Jalisco state. A mariachi band usually consists of a wide range of musicians, with guitars, basses, trumpets and violins, playing ethnic and classical Mexican music.

Mariachi music has become so integral a part of Mexican life that it has been incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church's ritual of Mass, which further ingrains it in the life of a country in which 92% of the population is Catholic. It even has made its way into the art world, such as in this metal sculpture representation of a mariachi group:

A few other street scenes:

Mariachi History
Tlaquepaque and Tonala
Dowd's Guides

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