Tourists pose for a picture at the home of Maria Salud Ramirez, believed by her family to be the inspiration for the animated movie character "Mama Coco" / © AFP
Tourists making a pilgrimage to a modest Mexican home during Day of the Dead festivities leave with no doubt: Mama Coco, the character of the Oscar-winning animated movie, used to live there.
"It looks a lot like her! When you look at the nose in the drawing and hers, the shape of the face and the hair, or the wheelchair, it's too much of a coincidence," said Spanish tourist Paula Colmenero, 52.
The sweet old woman in "Coco," winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2017, was a fictional character created by Pixar Animation Studios.
But her good-natured smile, squinting eyes and braided white hair were also notable features of Maria Salud Ramirez, who died on October 16 aged 109.
Mama Salud, as she was known locally, is remembered as being an independent and talkative woman who regularly visited the town square in Santa Fe de la Laguna, home to members of the Purepecha Indigenous group.
Souvenirs on sale in Santa Fe de la Laguna, the hometown of the Mexican woman thought to have inspired "Mama Coco" / © AFP
There she bought fresh fish and sat soaking up the atmosphere, said Patricia Perez, 38, one of her granddaughters.
One afternoon, residents of the lakeside town in Michoacan state went to tell Perez that visitors were taking pictures of her grandmother.
More than a year later came the premiere of "Coco," inspired by Mexico's Day of the Dead festival, which centers around the belief that the souls of the dead return on the night of November 1-2.
Like the tourists, Perez is certain: "It was based on her, on her image," she said.
Pixar has always denied that Mama Coco was based on anyone in real life and said that it was a product of its creators' imagination.
- 'Always happy' -
Maria Salud Ramirez is now only present in the photographs placed on her wheelchair and the altar that her family has prepared to receive her spirit on the Day of the Dead / © AFP
Although Perez said she no longer wants to "get involved in that controversy," the movie has transformed the Ramirez family's life.
Mama Salud's home became a place of pilgrimage for tourists who come to pay tribute to her, and perhaps buy souvenirs such as T-shirts, cups, piggy banks, key rings and magnets.
Colmenero, visiting with her husband and two daughters, welcomed the family's efforts to earn some money from Mama Salud's fame since "it is very clear that they have copied her."
As in the film's final sequence, this year Mama Salud is only present in the photographs placed by the family on her wheelchair and the altar that they have prepared to receive her spirit on the Day of the Dead.
Adorned with marigolds and candles, the family will lay out her favorite dinner -- fish, beans, tortillas and a Pepsi to drink.
Relatives of Maria Salud Ramirez prepare an altar in her honor for Mexico's Day of the Dead festival / © AFP
Allowing visitors to continue to visit her home after her death is what Mama Salud would have wanted, said Perez.
"She always wanted to receive people. She was always happy. That's why we decided to keep the doors open," she said.
It made the long journey worth it for 36-year-old South Korean tourist Taehyun Kim, who said "Coco" was one of his favorite movies.
"I quit my job, and my wife (did too), and came here to see Mama Coco," he said.
For Mexicans, the world-famous grandmother is a source of national pride.
"Thank you Mama Coco for representing our culture with dignity," wrote one visitor.