Mazatleco builds California Missions out of toothpicks

He has built thousands of figures as occupational therapy, and now he wants to donate them to a museum

When more than a decade ago, Mexican Sergio de Alba Luna Perez came on vacation to the United States and visited the San Diego de Alcalá Mission, he was fascinated to the extent that when he returned to Mexico, he decided to build it based on toothpicks.

But he was so inspired by the San Diego Mission that he left long, and without ever having seen the rest of the missions built by the Spanish Franciscans along the California coast, he began to build the 21 missions.

“We went to Mass at the San Diego Mission Basilica, but first we visited the museum that has the replicas of all the missions in California. At that moment, I came up with the idea of ​​making them on wooden sticks. It was like a challenge, ”Sergio acknowledges.

To know the rest of the missions, of which nine are attributed to Friar Junipero Serra, Sergio relied on the images and photographs he found on the Internet.

I like to make series of stick figures; and the San Diego Mission was a very open door that invited me to create with sticks the rest of the California missions that are in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities, ”he says. 

Doing the 21 missions in California took a few months. “At that time I spent a season with my daughter who lives in Tijuana, and I practically dedicated myself full time to building them because I had a lot of free time,” he says.

Sergio is 81 years old. He was born and lives in Mazatlan, Sinaloa in northern Mexico. He is an agronomist. Most of his productive life, he worked at the Rural Bank of Mexico. After retiring 30 years ago, he dedicated himself to advising Sinaloa producers in the avocado planting. 

It was when he was establishing orchards in Culiacán that he discovered a liver abscess product of his love of eating raw clams.

I was prescribed a lot of bed and rest. I went to the garden of one of the farmers I worked for, and asked for colors to entertain me. I painted a little house as God made me understand. The owner came, and told me ‘this drawing is like what a very famous lady who paints as a small child does. Disillusioned, I stopped drawing immediately, ”he talks.

But that was not all. He did not give up. He needed to find something to pass the time, he remembered his abilities during childhood.

“When I was a child, I really liked geometry. He made the cube and the triangle on cardboard, ”he says.

In the Superior School of Agriculture Hermanos Escobar of Ciudad Juárez where he went to the university, he had made a small cardboard house. “The teacher liked it so much that he asked me to leave it for the following classes. Well, I said when I was sick, I will do what I was doing. My dad had owned a motel, and I started doing it on cardboard, ”he recalls.

Sergio did not imagine that he was about to discover a great passion that would keep his mind and hands occupied.

“Of the first things I did with chopsticks were four little houses. I put some furniture on some of them, ”he says.

Hence there was no one to stop him. “ I got stung. I would be about 50 years old when I started building with chopsticks, ”he says.

However, he says that after recovering from the liver disease he suffered, he returned to work, and it was not until two years later that he resumed the creation of figures with spicy no longer to leave them.

Then he began to make carts, trains, bicycles, wheels of fortune. He created all the complements of a freight train station, but also built boats, airplanes, cabins of the old West, and a wide variety of figures. 

“Each of my little houses is different. There is no equal. The size, the roof, the doors or windows are different, ”he says.

He has also created almost all the basilicas of Mexico, starting with the Cathedral of his beloved Mazatlan, and that of almost all the Sinaloan peoples. But he has also done the Cathedral of Morelia, Guadalajara and Mexico City.

“I keep building cathedrals because I have a huge field there,” he admits.

But is it expensive to build spicy figures? We ask. “I use flat sticks, not round ones. Also abatelenguas (a palette used by doctors to lower the tongue and examine the throat). The problem is that I no longer get them in Mexico. I only find them Chinese in the Northgate stores in California. I have a daughter who lives in Tijuana, and another in Escondido. They buy them for me. Each box costs a dollar. From a little box with 750 chopsticks, I get two little houses, ”he says.

In addition to the spicy and abatelenguas, depending on the figure you want to create, use round spicy, skewer sticks and those used for Asian food.

Sergio says that he began to paste his creations with resistol, but later found a wood glue called Sigma. “It’s more effective and cheaper,” he says.

Talk that your method is to first stick the sticks, then decide what you want to build, draw it on planks, and get to work.

Over the years, Sergio has accumulated much expertise for the construction of his figures, although he admits that he has had his stumbling blocks. “In my beginnings, I wanted to build a roller coaster. As I did not like how it was, I destroyed it. Now that I have more experience, I will try again, ”he says.

In his retirement years, Sergio found in the creation of figures with toothpicks, a great passion that requires hands, mind, but above all a good vision.


“It helped me with a magnifying glass, and sometimes I have to cut the chopsticks by the eye of a good bucket (pure calculation),” he says.

And doesn’t your hand shake with age? … “If it shakes me, but I already have a hand,” he says laughing.

In addition to caring for his wife, who suffers from osteoporosis, Sergio passes him between the garden and the chopsticks. “Creating figures has helped me and I really enjoy it. It is a true occupational therapy. When I start building, I don’t think about anything else, ”he says.

He has created more than 3,000 figures that he keeps with jealous care in boxes, but it is striking that he has never sold one .

I have given some, but I have never sold them. I want to donate them to a museum. I would also like to teach other older adults to make these figures, ”says this Mexican who at his age, remains very active, enjoys full health and a completely lucid mind.

His greatest satisfaction, he accepts, is to see his works finished, and show them to his family, friends, and children of his friends.

Source: la opinion

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