If you've spent any time in a Mexican household or restaurant, you've seen them: gorgeous, glossy calendars featuring lunar cycles, saint's days, a plug for a business and a striking image of Mexican mythology ranging from Aztec princesses to religious icons. These are calendarios, and they are so ubiquitous across the Mexican world that only in the past couple of years have scholars studied the artistry and ideology behind them.
Ultimately, Mexican calendars are just beautiful to see, and author Angela Villalba wisely allows images to dominate Mexican Calendar Girls, her stunning collection of vintage Mexican calendars from the 1930s through the 1960s. Not that words fail her: the book begins with a forward by famed Mexican essayist Carlos Monsivis on the virtues of what he calls "the most noticed and least recognizable of visual gifts." From here, Villalba bilingually recounts a brief but fascinating history of the calendario's evolution, weaving in the Aztecs, the Mexican Revolution and efforts by Mexican government officials to unite Mexicans under the banner of visual arts—not just the murals of Rivera and Siqueiros, but also the proletarian calendars. She sheds light on the major calendar makers (though unfortunately doesn't try to dig deeper and reveal the individual artists behind them), explains the different components of calendars to the uninitiated, and even offers suggestions on how to collect them.
Villalba's prose is smart, but after a couple of pages, the former Orange County resident turns it over to the gals: chicas on horseback, dancing, romanced by a charro, naked, dressed in regional costumes. What's remarkable about these calendars, as Villalba points out, is how the vast majority of the subjects are light-skinned with nary a suggestion of mestizo on their complexions. But Mexican Calendar Girls isn't the space to debate racial politics, just to admire their fruits.
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MEXICAN CALENDAR GIRLS BY ANGELA VILLALBA; CHRONICLE BOOKS. SOFTCOVER, 144 PAGES, $19.95.