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Yucatecan video game designer, far from home, draws on his culture

Animator detected a lack of positive Mexican representation in media

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Augusto “Cuxo” Quijano Vázquez has long established himself in Canada, but his native Yucatan is present in the popular video games he designed.

A Yucatecan game designer living in Canada is the man behind “Guacamelee!,” a video game with a Maya touch.

The 33-year-old is behind “Guacamelee!,” “Guacamelee 2” and “Guacamelee! STCE.” All draw on Mexican and Mayan culture in their storylines and imagery.

He has created six games for Toronto-based DrinkBox, a small independent studio which is best known for Cuxo’s series of games.

“Guacamelee!” arises from his nostalgia for Mexico, reports Diario de Yucatan.

From Canada, Cuxo noticed how Mexico is portrayed abroad. Only bad news, such as the violent war on drugs, seems to make headlines.

“I realized that my reality as a Mexican was very different,” he says. “Nobody was showing the alebrijes (brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures), the food, color, texture, hospitality, families or fighters,” he says.

“Imagine the filter through which the world sees you is crafted by someone who wants you to vanish. By someone who is afraid you’ll take what’s theirs, someone who doesn’t send aid in hard times, someone who sees you as less than they are. When those people hear Latin American, they think of invaders, criminals, and helpless Western movie extras,” he writes in an essay about his work in Escapist Magazine.

“Why do I think of my grandmother’s mango tree while many others think of calamities?”

Then he proposed a game with a storyline that begins with a humble Mexican agave farmer, Juan Aguacate, who obtains a magic mask. The mask allows him to stop Carlos Calaca, a skeleton horseman from the world of the dead.

The story resonated in the studio and worked very well with other ideas that the team had, he says.

At DrinkBox, Cuxo is concept leader, which involves direction of animation and conceptual art, character design and narrative. A good part of his work includes the supervision of the games’ Mexican aspects.

“Guacamelee!” takes place in a fantastical version of Mexico, with giant alebrijes and talking chickens. 

“And I know how proud Mexicans are of our culture, so I have to supervise it so that it feels genuine, firsthand,” Cuxo said.

Growing up in Mérida has made it natural for Cuxo to bring a Mayan flair to the game.

The protagonist has Uay Chivo, the legendary Mayan half-beast, as a mentor. X’tabay, a female demon originating from Mayan legend, is also evoked.

“I’m very proud that “Guacamelee” and “Guacamelee 2″ grabbed a bit of the mainstream spotlight,” he continues in Escapist. “Every single character is a Mexican and there are a lot of them — good ones, bad ones, funny ones, sad ones, dumb ones, and smart ones.”

His creativity flowed without an agenda.

“When we were making those games, I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t think of the representation, or the social implications. I just wanted to draw luchadores. But maybe we should make an effort to start thinking about it.”

He encourages non-Mexican creators to draw on influences outside their own heritage.

“I know increased awareness of cultural appropriation has made it a risk to write characters that aren’t our own cultures, but I think it’s way riskier to avoid even trying,” he says.

The young man moved to Canada in the summer of 2005 to study animation. In 2009, he was hired by DrinkBox.

Asked if he visits Yucatan, he replies, “Not as often as I would like. I miss my family, going to the beach and especially the mucbipollos. Merida is a super city and it fills me with pride to have grown up there.”

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