Mazatlán’s Famous Feminist: La Maya

dsc_0001.jpgMove over, Billy Jean King! While you are awesome, Mazatlán’s own Margarita Montes won 28 of her 33 professional boxing matches against men—and that was back in the 1920s! She is perhaps the only Sinaloan woman to be interviewed by Ripley himself for his Believe It or Not, and was also interviewed by the French magazine Liberation for her life as a feminist.

In an era when women were expected to be quiet, submissive and obedient, “La Maya,” as she was affectionately called, was anything but. Born with the need to achieve and be seen, she excelled in several sports and fought for women’s rights long before it was cool. The sixth of eight children of a poor farming family, La Maya was a baseball player (state champion pitcher in 1929), boxer (Pacific League champion), bullfighter, mechanic and pig hauler; she owned a traveling movie theater, a tortillería and a bicycle repair shop; and she was a wife, mother, grandmother and friend. Sadly, she died before I was able to meet her, in 2007. Last night, however, I saw her house and met the man who recorded her oral history back in 1997, when La Maya was 82 years old—local writer, photographer and Carnaval float designer, Alfonso (Poncho) Cornejo Galindo.

 

I recently read his booklet, and it is a fantastic story! The photos in this article are taken from that story, and the contents are a summary in English of the Spanish text, shared with all of you with Poncho’s permission.

Margarita got her nickname, “La Maya,” from her father because he hair always hung in her face as a child. In the book she narrates her own story. She tells us she was born in the small town near Mazatlán called Chilillos. Her father cut himself with a machete and came to a hospital in Mazatlán, where he decided to move the family, in 1917 or so. The children had never before seen cars. La Maya remembers her sister Pachita and her arriving into town at sunset on a burro. She played as a child amongst the corrals of cattle on Rosales street, where the PRI building now stands.

Poverty taught her that to win she had to fight hard, to stand out she had to overcome, and she especially wanted to overcome the condition of being a submissive, quiet, obedient woman. She tells us she was always very motivated to overcome the obstacle of the difference between the sexes.

La Maya only went to school through first grade. She learned to spell a bit, but there were so many kids that they had to work to eat. At 12 she started to work in the nixtamal mill of Mr. Xicotencatle del Valle.

She tells us she was a wild child. Her father tried to change her, but her destiny was decided. She had a fever inside motivating her to do something! They used pieces of canvas to make baseball mitts, and silk stockings to make the balls, which they then covered with a milky juice that hardened over the balls. The bat they  used was a tree branch, formed with a machete. She had a good arm and pitched very hard. She remembers that she was a sore loser who couldn’t stand losing. Strength, muscles and triumph were her goals.

dsc_0004.jpgDelfina worked with her at the mill and lived near the baseball stadium, where the Escuela Nautica is now. She insisted La Maya go with her to play baseball, but La Maya’s dad wouldn’t let her. She then invited a neighbor to go with her one afternoon, and they went without telling anyone. The team members loaned La Maya a real glove that fit so well, and a real ball that caressed her hand, unlike what they had in the barrio.

dsc_0003.jpgThey named La Maya pitcher on that very first day. It was the first time she felt she could be successful, break barriers, that her restlessness could serve a purpose. Don Julián Ibarra and El Güero Eliso were the team’s coaches. They went to talk to her Dad and talked him into letting La Maya play. Every Sunday the old stadium would fill up. Most of the spectators were train workers who came to watch the women. The stadium was made of wood. The catcher, Juana Lerma, asked La Maya to pitch softer, but she told her to go to hell and learn to catch.

One day La Maya told El Güero that she didn’t want to pitch anymore, because it tired her out and she had to work in the mill. He was smart and offered her ten pesos for every game she pitched, as long as she didn’t tell anyone else. Since her pay for her full-time job was seven pesos a week, her side job, which she enjoyed, provided a huge salary!

There were three women’s teams in that era: Cigarrera La Conquistadora, Molino del Valle, and Cervecería Díaz de León, La Maya’s team. They won the championship and got a silver cup donated by Casa Huerta, a local artesanías shop. That was 1928. To get into the stadium cost 30-50 centavos. La Maya recalls that was the year the women in England got the vote.

She remembers participating in exhibition games in Hermosillo. And that one day El Güero Eliso bet her 50 pesos that she couldn’t ride the wild horse that grazed on the lot where they practiced baseball. She mounted the horse in one jump, and and proceeded to ride him calmly around the lot. El Güero didn’t realize she had learned how to ride while living in the country as a kid.

In 1931 La Maya still played baseball and was well know for her batting and pitching. She liked the fame, that she was important to people. One day some people told her about a boxer who was looking for someone in Mazatlán to fight. She’d always liked a challenge, so she got to thinking, “I’m good at baseball; how about boxing? What would happen if I put on the gloves?” She knew the boxer was training in Playa Sur, near the balnearios on Alemán. La Maya went to watch her; there were many spectators. “I can beat her,” she thought. She knew her muscular arms were strong, and decided to do it. She was ecstatic when the organizers said they’d pay her 150 pesos to fight! El Güero was her manager, and the promoter was Chano Gómez Llanos. She had a month to get ready and trained with Kid Milo, Mike Rubí, Benjamín Pérez, El Borrego Torres and Mike Herrera who helped her a lot.

 

In the days leading up to the fight everyone was talking about it; two women, boxing! The lady’s name was Josefina Coronado, and her manager was the Cuban Roberto Negro Molinet. She never expected the type of rival that La Maya would be. Tickets sold out for the fight in Teatro Rubio, today the Angela Peralta. She was nervous at first: three floors full of screaming people. The fight was four rounds and she felt she dominated; La Maya won by decision. The main fight of the evening was between Mike Herrera and Joe Conde, the Dandy of the Ring.

La Maya tells us that once the bantam weight champion, Raúl Talán, came to fight Joe, fresh from Japan where he’d been traveling. He watched her train, congratulated her, and gave her some gifts. They remained friends for years; she visited him in Mexico City when he was retired and wrote for El Nacional. He interviews La Maya several times. Joe Conde was her sparring partner. He was a fine boxer. Joe was a gentleman in and out of the ring. Elegantly dressed with a cane and bowler hat. It was the era of the famous Zurita-Casanova-Joe Conde triangle.

 

In 1931 La Maya traveled to Nogales to box, with permission from her employer, Mr. del Valle. Even though she went for three days, the trip ended up lasting three months. By then her brother Pepe was her manager. She was fighting men and winning by knockouts. She traveled to Tucson to fight and toured Nayarit.

La Maya remembers going to the mascarade ball for Carnaval in the As de Oros. Her  brother Pepe chaperoned her. Someone got into a fight with him, she jumped to defend him, and everyone said “a little masked lady” had knocked the guy out! It was quite the scandal.

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La Maya tells us she never looked for a fight. She traveled all over and made 150 pesos a fight touring Sonora, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Arizona, Baja California. She had 33 professional fights, five against women and 28 vs. men. She was the first woman boxer to fight against US American men and won the Pacific Coast Championship when she beat Josefina Coronado.

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In 1933 she had a boyfriend, the son of a German and a Mexican, a very handsome guy with whom she’d had a five-year relationship. It was hard for them, because she traveled a lot. One time at a bull fight the people asked La Maya to fight. He said he didn’t want to see her do it, but she did it anyway. She punched the bull several times to much applause.

 

Several days later General Juan Dominguez came to La Maya’s house to ask her to become a bullfighter. María Cobián was coming, nicknamed La Serranito, and he wanted her in the ring, too. “You have good legs to run if you have to.” They paraded in a convertible before the fight, accompanied by a banda sinaloense. The fight was in Plaza REA, where the Angel Flores school is now. They paid La Maya 250 pesos. But she tells us she was scared when the bull came out. People shouted at her to stick him with the banderillas. She got one in, but the other went into his butt. Her boyfriend was in the first row, applauding. That would be the last corrida that La Maya did formally, as she didn’t want to play with bulls anymore; they frightened her.

A while later she saw her boyfriend in the theater with another girl. For the first time in her life she was hit with disillusion; it was like a knockout. She broke off their relationship right then and there; La Maya’s blood would never mix with German blood.

DSC_0018In 1939 La Maya married José Valdez Alvarez. He was a stevedore on the docks. They saved enough money together to buy a cargo truck that they used for hauling. They had three sons: José, Alejandro and Efraín, but the youngest would be the only one to survive. At the time the book was published Efraín was married with three kids, her grandchildren Efraín, Alfonso and Alicia Margarita.

In 1948 La Maya returned to work in the mill but because the pay was so low she decided to also open a bicycle repair shop. Pepe her brother helped her. They rented bikes for 40 cents an hour. She came and went on bike from El Venadillo every day, which kept her legs in good shape. She would race to Villa Unión on bike sometimes, always against guys.

After tiring of bicycles she put in a tortillería, and then changed that for a mechanic’s shop. When she sold that Mr. Valeri Saracco paid her with a Studebaker. With that she started to haul pigs; people were impressed with how easily she lifted them into the truck.

La Maya always worked hard and could learn how to do anything. She had lots of victories and triumphs. She believed she led the way for many women athletes, especially on the Pacific Coast. She was good at weight lifting and all sports, and wonders if perhaps she could have gone to the Olympics.

dsc_0009.jpgLa Maya tells us of the satisfaction she felt appearing in several magazines, including Ripley’s Believe it or not. On March 11, 1988, the reporter Michell Chemin from the French magazine Liberation‘s sport section published an article on La Maya.

She closes the booklet by saying that, “Now, at 92 years of age, with my physical and mental abilities intact, I look back on my life with nostalgia and feel I was born in the wrong era.”

Now you know a bit of the story of La Maya. Please pass it on; we shouldn’t let this woman’s legacy die out!

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Of Friends and Transitions

Living overseas seems to bring with it a mobile and transitory lifestyle of a caliber foreign to those who steward the home traditions. We become accustomed to a series of pronounced and frequent life transitions. In Tokyo foreign friends would transfer to assignments in other exotic locations every three to five years. It makes it nice for traveling, a privilege to be able to stay with friends around the world, but their departures leave huge holes in our lives. In Mazatlán there seems to be a frequent seven to ten year cycle to expat life, with beloved friends moving to the interior of the country or back home, closer to grandkids, so they can be an integral part of those children’s lives.

Transitions are a normal part of life; I know this. Life is comprised of cycles; I know and believe this from the depths of my heart. Yet dealing constructively with transitions is the reason I made a career as an interculturalist oh so many decades ago. I am not good at them. They hurt. Things change. They can even change for the better, open new doors and windows for which we’ll forever be grateful. But, they involve change nonetheless. Someone “moves our cheese.”

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Our friend Janet Blaser

Right now I’m dealing with the wonderful new cycle of a dear friend who has done so very much for Mazatlán during her life here—astoundingly so, in my opinion. I admire her greatly and love her dearly. Janet Blaser started and has run M! Magazine, that terrific English-language monthly we are fortunate to have seasonally. As part of that endeavor, she’s thrown some of the best parties the expat community has had over the past decade, in some of the most unique venues in town. Janet also was the visionary and founder of the Farmer’s Market, our local organic produce market, which has played a crucial role in transforming the reality of food and restaurant offerings in Mazatlán. She pretty much single-handedly organized our Women’s March Mazatlán last January, bringing together nearly 500 locals and expats so that we could be “on the map” and have our voices heard with the rest of the world as Trump took office. Personally, she’s always ready with an alternative viewpoint, a contradictory opinion, the inside scoop on goings-on around town, and a good belly laugh. I will miss that.

She is so ready for her new life cycle. She’s rented a darling home with a killer view in Nayarit (the state south of Sinaloa), and has it fully furnished in her mind. She has a two-minute walk to a quiet and incredibly scenic little beach; it’s going to rock. She’s already made her first new friends, who share her passions for organic, sustainable living and surfing. She is excited about the new projects she’ll now have time and energy to work on, which will take her new places mentally, emotionally and physically. All is good. I’m thrilled for her. It’s full of growth and wisdom; it’s right. Click on any photo to view it larger or see a slideshow.

And she is doing it right. With a month before she actually moves, Janet has already cleaned many things out, packed up a bunch of stuff, and advertised for a garage sale. This way her apartment reminds her on a daily basis of the excitement of her new life, and helps her deal with the reality of the shift. She’s smart and wise. Damn her. 😉

What a gift to be that type of person, one who leaves a place better than when she entered it. A new owner is now the custodian of M!; the growers themselves are now in charge of the organic market. Good karma for beginning a new cycle.

Godspeed, my dear. We will be visiting you very soon. Know you will be missed, by so many, in deep ways. And know we are all rooting for your joy. Thank you for moving my cheese, even though I hate it. Life is change, it is a journey, it’s all about transition. Darn it.

The Clock Whisperer

dsc_0984Gabriel Alfonso Gamez Zuñiga is Mazatlán’s resident clock whisperer, an incredibly talented, personable guy who is the last of a dying breed—the keeper of knowledge and skill that is nearing extinction.

People from throughout the municipio and surrounding communities ask Gabriel to work his magic on their timepieces. He does so with everything from the most expensive, bejeweled wristwatches— Chopard, Piaget, Rolex—to the brass mechanisms of antique wooden clocks and high-tech GPS-enabled dive watches. He also sells clocks and watches on commission. Click on any photo to enlarge or view a slideshow.

The son of clockmaker Alfonso Gamez, who learned his craft via a correspondence course with Swiss-based Vaucher, went on to train five different apprentices over a 60-plus year career, and was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as Mexico’s best clockmaker, Gabriel grew up sweeping floors amidst the hairspring levers, count wheel trains, chiming movements and recoil escapements on his father’s workbench. He tells me he loves challenges in his work, “the more difficult the better.” He approaches his craft as problem solving: “it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.” What he hates is boredom.

Gabriel is the last of his father’s apprentices still in business; he has been repairing clocks and watches for over fifty years—the longest in Mazatlán. Most of those decades he worked just up the street from his current location on the corner of Canizales and Rosales downtown. During that time he has seen clocks trend from the mechanical to electrical, quartz, chronographic, digital and back again. “Life is circular; everything old becomes new again. Now is the perfect time for my skills, because the old is in fashion again,” he tells me.

Gabriel is so humble that he refuses to call himself a relojero or clockmaker, but says he “only repairs” watches and clocks. Everyone else raves about how gifted he is. On any given day he also repairs lights, computerized car keys; you name it, Gabriel fixes pretty much whatever his beloved customers bring in. His shop is constantly bustling: several people at the counter, cars pulling up to drop off or pick up merchandise. When Gabriel needs time to focus on a project, he has to roll down the doors of his shop and refuse to answer the knocks or the phone. When he tries to take a day off people come to his home for assistance!

The demand for his skills is obvious. We live in an age that is hyper-vigilant of time—it blinks on our cell phones, dashboards, microwaves, computers and televisions. Over a billion watches are sold each year—we have more need than ever for clock makers and repairers. Despite that fact, Gabriel tells me young people just aren’t interested in learning his trade, and only a handful of clock repairers remain in Mazatlán; their “heyday” was in the 60s and 70s when there were dozens of shops in town. Gabriel is very social, so in addition to the steady flow of customers through his shop, there are usually at least one or two people just visiting.

Sprawled across Gabriel’s workbench are hundreds of movements, wheels, rods, and springs, yet our clock whisperer knows exactly what parts he has where. He buys his parts from the Central de Funitura, the clock market in Guadalajara. He has a magnet attached to the end of a pole to help him find and pick up any small, dropped parts, and another magnet in his pocket to capture pieces he might put there.

Relojes Gámez is open Monday through Friday Clock 9:30am to 1:30pm and 4:00-7:00pm, and on Saturdays 9:30am to 1:00pm, on the corner of Canizales and Rosales, telephone 985-5620.

Talented and dedicated tradespeople are one of the joys of living in Mazatlán. Here we are fortunate to be able to have shoes, pots and pans, electronics or clocks repaired expertly and at a reasonable price. Every year, however, it becomes more difficult to find these quality-driven artisans; the world has changed, and people no longer want to spend years apprenticing to learn a trade. It makes me all the more grateful to know Gabriel and endorse his work, as he has helped us with more than a few watches. If you know anyone seeking a much-needed and rewarding trade, I’d urge them to contact Gabriel!

Do You Love Maestro López Saenz, Too?

P1100159 - Version 2 Do you love internationally renowned Maestro Antonio López Saenz’ work? We are so blessed to have such a talented artist who is a native Mazatleco. You’ll remember that back in September the Maestro told us he would be issuing canvas prints very soon. Today was the official launch of an exhibit of those prints in the Museo de Arte, although Victor Manuel, his nephew and agent, and the Maestro have had the prints on sale for some weeks now. The giclee prints are incredibly high quality, printed on canvas with original signatures. The color really pops, and at first glance you don’t even realize that they are prints. I am so excited to finally be able to afford a López Saenz for our home (an approximately 15″ x 25″ print costs 2800 pesos)!

The exhibit officially opened a little after 5:00 this afternoon. The Maestro arrived on time, and spent a few minutes hugging and greeting his fans. Then the Mayor arrived, and after a big more mingling, a few very short speeches were given and the red tape was cut. The event was extremely well attended. It was difficult even to get to see some of the artwork, and definitely not easy to move in the galleries! There was also a reception in the patio area of the museum, with wine and snacks. Below are some event photos, and a video of the opening ceremony as well.

The exhibit, “Todo López Saenz,” is well worth seeing. It will continue at the Museum of Art all through February and March, 2014, and from there will travel to Culiacán, Los Mochis, El Fuerte, Guadalajara and San Francisco (California). If you are interested in purchasing some of the works, contact Victor Manuel López de la Paz (in Spanish) at 6691-47-0582. And please tell him Dianne and Greg sent you.

Adventures in “La Comer”

Expats here call it “Mega.” Most of the locals I know call it “La Comer” or “Comercial Mexicana.” Either way, to me it’s a pretty boring place. I’m not a big shopper, I prefer the mercados to the supermarkets, and when there’s not a lot of variety in the offerings (fresh, local-grown or caught, unique), well, suffice it to say, Mega is not my favorite place in town.

So, we went grocery shopping there today, and we actually had a bit of excitement!

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First of all, we met one of my favorite painters, Maestro Antonio López Saenz. I’ve heard him speak several times, but until today I’d never met him. What a friendly, kind and gentle soul he seemed to be! Soft-spoken, warm, and hospitable. We spoke right there between the epazote and cilantro. I was finally able to make my request, which I’ve hoped for for several years now.

“Please, maestro, might you paint a painting of our malecón as the biggest gymnasium in the world? You know how every Mazatleco uses it: running, roller blading, walking, yoga, pushups, sit-ups, bicycling? It’s perhaps the world’s longest oceanside promenade, and it’s a popular free gym for so many. It would be a gorgeous painting! It would really capture the Mazatlán of today.”

He told me how the original malecón is really just the Olas Altas portion, and that this longer part down towards “La Comer” is all new. Then he and his colleague Victor shared some really exciting news!

From December of this year the Maestro will be issuing canvas prints of his paintings! He wants them to be affordable and accessible! Woo hoo! Can’t wait to possibly have a replica of a López Saenz on our walls! Bravo!

And, the excitement in La Comer didn’t stop there. Maybe I just haven’t been looking closely enough, but I saw several interesting looking products. Rather unbelievable that they were there, actually. These included sushi rice, sushi roll wrappers (soy paper), and sesame seeds in bright “rainbow” colors (yuk—artificial dyes, but fun). Slideshow below:

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Back in the dairy case, they are carrying wine sorbets, and even one that is flan-flavored!

Just when you thought supermarket shopping couldn’t get any more boring! 😉