The Tlaloc T-Shirt


All of this began with a t-shirt.

The summer of 1995 spaced between my junior and senior college years, when courses on shamanic and Eastern religions were giving me bold colors to repaint my world.

My family was vacationing with my father's brother in Mexico City. My father and uncle Tío's families had planned a day's journey to Cuernavaca, but I had other priorities, namely the National Museum of Anthropology. I was also coming of the age when I could travel solo in places of such inexhaustible breadth as the capital. I was grateful that my relatives at last respected that. Tío loaned me a house key in case I returned before everyone else did.

This was my first visit to the museum in over four years, and I was unsure how long until my next. Armed with my mother's camcorder, I experimented with techniques to capture the elaborate narratives in the halls' reconstructed murals and flamboyant reliefs. At home we had the newest technology in digital video conversion. And what to do with it? I could make amazing monitor wallpapers with these Maya paintings and Aztec sculptures, in brilliant 640 x 480 resolution! Perhaps I could even put them on that new "internet" everyone was starting to talk about. Let's make movies, then.

For much of that clear day, I was at the museum, including my obligatory cappuccino break. Even with the more than thirty minutes I had filmed from the various halls, I sought a more ... tangible memento, so I ended the visit at the souvenir shop.

There I saw a rather nondescript t-shirt, white with a front photograph of the rain god sculpture near the museum entrance—the pool beneath and all other elements removed to focus on the figure alone. Beneath the sculpture: "Tlaloc, Rain God, Mexica Culture." Mexican t-shirts often amusingly confuse the civilizations they try to represent.

Wouldn't it be cool if this image of Tlaloc, on such an inconspicuous t-shirt, could still draw the rains? I bought this shirt to test my intriguing question.

I returned to Tío's house in the late afternoon, and the housekeeper let me in. Intellectually, physically, and emotionally spent, I lay on the mattress spread across the center of my cousin's bedroom. The families hadn't returned yet, so I had the luxury of a silent nap ahead. I donned the new shirt and took the mattress.

The deafening rattle of thunder and copious waves of rain woke me an hour later. Was it indeed caused by the shirt? Had I woken an ancient god?

Had the rains come this once with my wearing of the shirt, I would have left it a memorable coincidence. However, their recurrent conjunction in the following years became more correlation than coincidence. And it made me contemplate how else I could engage with the Aztec gods ... or should.