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'Culture brings communities together': Passionate Valley artist, cultural activist talks about passing on tradition

Zarco Guerrero was “fascinated with the mask” during a trip to Mexico and it became his way of bringing culture and tradition to Arizona.

PHOENIX — There are many ways to pass traditions to younger generations. 

For Zarco Guerrero, a Valley artist, the masks have been the best way to bring some Mexican celebrations to Arizona. 

Guerrero was inspired by his father, who was a painter and lover of Mexican traditions and history. 

Guerrero's original interest wasn't the mask. 

“My first interest was in painting portraits," Guerrero said. 

"I eventually got into portrait sculpture and I had an ideal of studying sculpture and doing sculptor of famous people as well as ordinary people. I just loved the face and human expression."

Guerrero spent five years in Mexico, where he originally had the idea of studying sculpture and painting but fell in love with the mask.

“My first inspiration were Mexican masks. The more you learn you want to learn; I became fascinated with Japanese masks and before I knew it, I went to Japan to study the making of the Japanese mask," said Guerrero.

With the knowledge he had gained while studying masks and now making them himself, he decided to bring that fusion of cultures to the Valley.

“I took it upon myself to be that person, to make masks. And to bring that power of the mask, the power to transform, to my community back here in Arizona," he added.

EN ESPAÑOL: ‘La celebración de nuestra cultura es todos los días’: Artista de Phoenix habla sobre su pasión por las máscaras

One of the most popular celebrations is el Día de los Muertos. Guerrero and his wife Carmen have been putting the event together for decades.

“We use what’s called la Calaca mask, the painted skeleton face in Mexico. So, that’s where I first applied my masks here in the Valley, first to Día de los Muertos, then working with local theater companies," Guerrero explained.

Due to the pandemic, Mikiztli, the Día de los Muertos celebration, will take place virtually this year on Oct. 25.

Zarco and Carmen decided to take it a step further: They created a nonprofit, Cultural Coalition, with the purpose of teaching younger generations and promoting Mexican culture.

RELATED: Gigantic skeletons come out of a street in Mexico City for Día de los Muertos

Even though Guerrero feels proud of his culture, he said he wants diversity and cultural unity.

“I like to say that I’m fiercely proud of my culture and my heritage, Chicano-Mexicano, I’ll like to live in a world that’s full of diverse cultures, languages, cuisines, music, dance styles, these things enrich our lives and I think brings us together as a community, that’s what we want to do.”