Women Artists of Fishing

DSC_1702©

The fish scales remind me of flower petals. These bracelets look like leis.

Today I bought some gorgeous handmade jewelry at unbelievably good prices, and my purchase directly benefitted families in need in Mazatlán. This is not a story of charity but rather self-help—a terrific model of women-owned micro-business of the kind that development experts tell us builds strong and healthy communities.

Called Mujeres Artesanas de la Pesca, these twelve local women have officially registered as a cooperative of artisans dedicated to building better families, to personal development, social responsibility and environmental sustainability. They are a strong team of women who have experienced some of the worst that life has to offer yet remain hardworking and committed to helping their families and one another, as well as to growing their outreach and membership in support of our local economy. The day I visited, the women were bustling about, everyone working hard and shoulder to shoulder, so many projects at once that it was difficult to keep track. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We all know that Mazatlán is home to Mexico’s largest shrimping fleet, an industry that employs thousands. The shrimping season, however, can be as short as four months a year. How is a fisherman to sustain a family on four months of wages? Of course, they try to find another job during the off-season, but that is challenging.

A year and a half ago this group of fishermen’s wives joined one of ANSPAC Mazatlán’s classes on personal growth to learn skills and cultivate the confidence and connections to help provide for their families, including education and healthcare for their children. During the program the group developed the idea of making jewelry out of fish scales, and after completing graduation they ran with it.  They have beautiful earrings, bracelets, necklaces and keychains available for 50 to 200 pesos, though they are contemplating increasing their prices.

Their husbands’ employer, Operadora Maritima del Pacífico, set aside a storefront and workshop space for them. The women manage the enterprise themselves; Maribel is the manager and Chabelita is in charge of sales. Jessie is disabled and works from home. They’ve furnished their workspace and sales area themselves and purchased a coffee pot and water dispenser for the kitchen. The group has sold their jewelry at the cruise ship docks, the Aquarium, and the El Cid Bazaar. They are very excited that the State Secretary of Tourism has recently begun purchasing their items—local, socially responsible and eco-friendly handicrafts—for their incoming guests.

The women hope that their project will help discourage illegal fishing and over-fishing as well as encourage others to be more responsible in putting garbage in its place and limiting the use of plastics to protect the ocean and our environment. “The ocean is the heart of our planet,” is one of their sayings.

The company has also helped by bringing in experts to teach the women what they need to know. On the day I visited the shop, Gabriel Aguilar Tiznado, an engineer, was visiting for the second time. He is from Tepic, Nayarit. He first came to teach the women how to cure and dye the fish scales for use in jewelry. This time his task is three-fold:

  1. The women want to dye the fish scales silver and gold, in addition to the bright colors they are already producing.
  2. They want to learn to tan the fish skins into leather, and have already made wallets, keychains and earrings with a gorgeous texture and color.
  3. Perhaps most interesting of all, they are learning to extract collagen from the fish scales. Collagen is the most expensive substance made from fish, costing more than the meat itself, and has been found beneficial for skin, hair, joints, internal organs and, at certain stages of cancer, can be used to inhibit tumor growth.

Soon a Mazatlecan artist who resides in Guadalajara, Tusi Partida, who recently won an award for her artisanal leather shoes, will work with the women to teach them more skills. They are currently looking for a sewing machine and leather working tools, including manual stamps, to help them with this next phase of their project. Below are a few photos that I received of her work.

Working with the wives of their employees is something that Operadora Maritima del Pacífico sees as a social responsibility. They view their enterprise as a family and want to educate everyone from the captain of the boat to the fishermen to take care of our oceans and value them. According to the women, one of the biggest joys of their venture, in addition to the income and learning, is the friendship, the fact that they’ve learned to collaborate and support each other. “Too many women spend time pulling each other down. Here we pull each other up. We are in this together,” one of the ladies told me.

The women use fish skin that is cast off at the embarcadero and even some of the markets around town—tilapia, sole, mahi… Going forward they envision that a husband could get a panga and his wife and kids could make these handicrafts with what they catch, thus producing a family-owned business. In the meantime, they’re dedicated to finding more outlets for their products and to diversifying their product line.

You can visit the Mujeres Artesanas de la Pesca shop between 9am and 1pm Monday through Saturday. It is located near the embarcadero to Stone Island—the one with the fish market, on the port side of the street right across from the Pemex station. The group’s name is on the sign out front.

V.I.D.A. Awards in Mazatlán

DSC_6493Jeweler to that stars as well as some of us mere mortal folk, Taxco-born Daniel Espinosa is Latin America’s most successful jewelry designer. He was in town today to honor nine Mazatlecan women with his VIDA Award (Values, Intelligence, Dedication, Attitude). Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow. 

The honorees were selected for the many positive changes they have made in local society. VIDA awards have also been given out in Veracruz, Chihuahua, Morelia, Toluca and Tampico—locations of a few of the 75 worldwide boutiques the brand has opened in its 22-year history.

Awardees are well known in our community; many of us are friends with several if not all of them. But, somehow, it would seem we either don’t realize the extent of these women’s achievements and hard work, or we just accept it as part and parcel of who they are. Listening to it summarized this morning filled my heart nearly to bursting. I was so proud of my girlfriends, acquaintances, and those I had the pleasure to meet for the first time this morning. 

Below is a list of the winners. Congratulations and thank you to each of you, for striving to make our Mazatlán a better place in which to live, and for bringing our community recognition on the world stage.

  1. Balbina Medrano: Award for Altruism. Balbina is one of the founders of the Food Bank of Mazatlán and is a member of the Mexican Association for Family Betterment (AMSIF).
  2. Karen Jonsson: Award for Altruism. Karen created the MAPA Foundation for people with mental illness, with homes in Mazatlán and Hermosillo.
  3. María Esther Juárez: Award for Altruism. Esther is a founder of ANSPAC Mazatlán and Separado No es Basura (recycling program), and President of the Lighthouse Patronato.
  4. Ana Belén López: Award for Arts. Ana Belén is the author of poetry books that have been translated into three languages and presented at various literary events.
  5. Itzel Manjarrez: Award for Sports. Itzel ranks among the top five women athletes in the world at the Olympic level. She is a sergeant in the army and air force of Mexico.
  6. Cynthia Cristina Angulo: Award for Business Leadership. Cynthia has a news show and is President of the Mazatlán Association of Executive Women.
  7. Karina Bárcena Vega: Award for Ecology and Philanthropy. Karina is the creator of HoliFest Mazatlán, on the board of the orphanage and awards yoga scholarships.
  8. Cristina Peña: Award for Philanthropy. Cristina is cofounder of Florecer and is currently working with Save the Children to build a safe house in Mazatlán.
  9. Tere Gallo: Award for Philanthropy. Teresa is a lifelong teacher and philanthropist as well as the former director of DIF Mazatlán (municipal family services). 

The ceremony took place in the event salon of Cimaco Gourmet; Cimaco carries Espinosa’s jewelry. Waiters passed a variety of breakfast canapés, coffee and mimosas. It was a very professionally orchestrated event. Those attending were treated to a terrific short video about the VIDA Award and the brand’s history; Espinosa gave a short presentation and then personally gave each winner one of the gorgeous custom-designed awards; and every woman attending was generously given a gorgeous memento as we left.

Pajaritos: A Mazatlecan Tradition

DSC_5515-PanoMazatlán has a decades-long tradition of fishing for and enjoying pajaritos; it is a highly anticipated and valued part of our local culture. We are not lucky enough to get them every year, but this May they are running! And big time!! Deliciousness AND a bonus income for the fishermen and resellers—who cannot love this? They’ve arrived with absolutely great timing, as well—just as UNESCO staff are in town to discuss Mazatlán becoming a Creative Gastronomic City.

During the very short season Playa Norte and the embarcadero for Stone Island turn into a madhouse of activity after dark, with hundreds of people showing up to comparison-shop this warm-water delicacy that’s also popular in Japan and Hawaii. People arrive with every kind of container imaginable: wash basins, buckets, bags, Tupperware… and the fishermen are more than happy to fill them up! People purchase bucket-loads of the savory little creatures to prepare for family and friends or to clean and resell. They are usually served pan fried with beans. You can buy some and take them to any palapa, or some restaurants, and they’ll fry them up for you and provide the fixings. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Like most anything in Mazatlán, this is a family affair: grandparents, kids… Smiles and  joking abound; everyone is happy. Entire extended families camp out on the malecón and the beach, watching the activity and enjoying the scene. It reminds me of festival season in Japan, and I love it! It’s a wee bit dangerous getting a nice camera and flash setup in amongst the boats, what with the tide coming in fast at our feet, causing the pangas to move every which way, the huge crowds of people pushing for the best catch and the fishermen grabbing at the bills flying their way.

Pajaritos are ballyhoos, also called flying halfbeaks or spipefish (heporhamphus in the hemiramphidae family), closely related to the needlefish. In Mazatlecan dialect they are called pajaritos because they “fly” at up to 37 mph/60 kph, gliding over the surface of the water for quite a distance! As nearby as Teacapán they are called differently: guaris. They skim the surface of the water, jumping up and out frequently in shallower surf. They have large scales that end up completely covering the fishermen: hair, face, appendages, clothing. Their eyes and nostrils are at the top of the head and their upper jaw is mobile—well adapted to surface dwelling. Sadly, loads of their eggs seem to be scooped up as they are caught, as you can see in the photos.

Pajaritos lay their eggs all over the waters around Cerro de Chivos and other islands in our bay: that pungent smell really carries! They have an elongated, narrow jaw filled with sharp teeth. When young the pajaritos feed on plankton and algae, and as they grow eat smaller fish. They are a migratory fish that run along the Pacific coast from Santa Ana, California to Costa Rica.

The season usually lasts a few days or, if we’re lucky, weeks, so be sure not to miss out. Between 2012 and 2016 there were no pajaritos, attributed to over-fishing and contamination. This year, fortunately, there seems to be a bumper harvest, with between 500 kg and two tons sold each evening here in town! They are caught near the islands in our bay as well as near the coastline—in calm waters, primarily at night. Pajaritos are attracted by light, so it’s easy for us landlubbers to spot the pajarito fishermen out in our bay with their bright lights and hand nets. Some nights I’ve seen as many as 50 pangas surrounding the islands! During the day I’ve seen the fish out in the bay; their jumping makes it look like the ocean is boiling. It’s great work for our local fishermen, as they can fill their boats in just a couple of hours, and last night, as most nights, their haul sells out in a matter of minutes.


Monday night the fish were selling for 40 pesos per kilogram (60-80 fish), though that varies according to the number of boats at the dock with fish and the number of buyers (basic supply and demand). The fishermen charged 200-250 pesos per cubeta, depending on the size of the bucket. Cleaned pajaritos were being sold on the malecón, ready to fry up, for 100 pesos/kg (weight is prior to cleaning), though that also varies depending on the night and the vendor.

This valued local tradition will hopefully continue for many more decades. It will require, however, fishing limits to preserve the species, as well as adequate water treatment. Let’s all work towards that and, in the meantime, be sure to enjoy the spectacle and a great meal!

Paris, Milan, New York… Mazatlán

DSC_4470©
Thursday evening, 16 May, Olas Altas was transformed into a unique urban art scene, with laser lights, hip-hop dancers, flame jugglers and hula hoopers gyrating to the pulsating rhythms of techno music. The main event was an open-air fashion show with a runway that ran the entire length of Olas Altas from Puerto Viejo to the Shrimp Bucket! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.


The “Street Art Fashion Show” was a sight unlike anything Mazatlán has ever seen! Our traditional, iconic Hotel Belmar and La Fonda de Chalio glowed hip and happening as clients rejoiced at their free view of the 450 peso fundraising event. The aim of the evening was to raise money for DIF Mazatlán’s “Corazón Eterno,” an assistance home for elderly adults who have been abandoned by their families. Fashion designer Edgar Ponce originated the idea and brought it to fruition with the help of the municipality, local celebrities, fashionistas, chefs and altruists.


The event opened with a two-hour cocktail during sunset, with ceviches and other canapés provided by Agatha and Vittore restaurants. Golden hour glowed as waiters served both drinks and eats to those attending, who were seated on couches, easy chairs, bar-style tables and picnic-style tables along the malecón. The paparazzi had a field day following Mayor Luis Guillermo Benítez Torres; the President of DIF Mazatlán, Gabriela Peña Chico; Roberto Rodríguez Lizárraga, director general of DIF Mazatlán; and Marsol Quiñonez, new director of Cultura Mazatlán.


Promptly at 9:00 pm access was opened to the chair-lined runway area in the street—nearly everyone was able to have a front row seat! María Daniela and her Laser Sound—electronic dance music by DJ Emilio Acevedo and singer María Daniela Azpiazu—made a special appearance. Daniela appeared high up on the stage in front of Puerto Viejo, while Emilio worked his magic just beneath her. The models entered the runway from street level beneath both of them. Each model seemed to take to the runway several times, modeling at least two different outfits and showing them to us a couple of times each.


Over seventy of Ponce’s designs were showcased; runway models included Perla Beltrán—Nuestra Belleza México and Miss Mundo Top Model, and Aranza Molina, Reina Hispanoamericana 2018. The Queens of Carnaval and the Floral Games 2019, Karla Rivas y Yamileth Zataráin, were also present. The models first came out wearing sunglasses and huge smiles in bright red lipstick. As they changed the hip-hop dancers performed on the runway, before a second round of clothing was modeled.

Highlights of the show were a joyous young lady in a wheelchair and a beautiful young woman with Downs’ Syndrome, girlfriend of the young man sitting next to me. Amidst the evening’s thin and fair-skinned models, the public was overjoyed to welcome a bit of reality to the catwalk. While I don’t know Edgar, my guess is this may be his first major fashion event, though I was told he’s designed Carnaval gowns. We enjoyed his designs, and it was a terrific event; this guy has a future!


The Street Fashion Show generated 200,000 pesos for the aged care facility, and concluded with a fireworks show after Edgar walked the runway. I would estimate that about 500 people attended the event. There was room for many, many more; nearly a third of the seats remained empty, as the event sadly seemed quite poorly publicized.

 

Mazatlán’s Largest Employer and World Leader

mostazaLovers of fresh seafood enjoy living in Mazatlán. We can go down to the boats or visit the pescaderías and be blessed to eat fresh fish nearly every day of the year. The only downside can be that what is available depends, of course, on what was caught that day.

There is a new market in town, however, that ensures that we can always have fresh tuna on hand to use as sashimi, in a tasty ceviche, or to sear as steaks for unexpected company. A month or so ago Greg and I happened into Dolores Market at Rafael Buelna #20 (between Valentino’s and Soriana on the south side of the road) to check it out. There we found flash-frozen-on-the-boat, sashimi-grade tuna at very good prices, tuna pre-cut for ceviche, minced tuna to use for meatballs or paté (or pre-made paté that is delicious), tuna pre-made with veggies on kabobs, pre-formed tuna burgers, canned tuna premixed with seasoning and veggies for an on-the-go lunch, as well as tuna chorizo and ham. I am glad to have Dolores Market so close to our house, as it provides me an easy way to make a healthy and beautiful meal in just a few minutes! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Then, out of the blue, a book club friend called to say he’d taken on a new job in charge of Dolores Markets and would love to have us tour the production facility to see what it was all about. It turns out that Dolores Market is part of our local and world-class Pinsa group, owned by Leovi Carranza (PezAzteca, Tamara Trucking, ProNova, Estrella del Mar). Pinsa, founded in 1990, is Mazatlán’s biggest employer with over 4000 team members, and one of the world’s most important tuna plants. Their brands include Mexico’s best-selling tuna brand, Dolores, MazAtún, El Dorado, Portola and Brunswick. They produce over two million cans of tuna per day! The market on Rafael Buelna opened in 2016, though the original store in Parque Bonfil (the commercial fishing port) has served Pinsa employees and the public for five years. There are also Dolores Markets in Monterrey, Guadalajara and Culiacán, with plans for major expansion.

Our beloved Mazatlán is not only home to México’s largest tuna fleet—Pinsa has 26 tuna fishing boats and is certified “Dolphin Safe”—it’s also home to our adopted country’s largest and most state-of-the-art tuna processing and packaging facility—Pinsa Congelados. Greg and I were fortunate to tour this factory and felt very proud to learn that Mazatlecos have built, run and work in such a world-class facility resplendent with certifications: Global STD/SQF System, Socially Responsible Company, ESR, HACCP, GMP, Clean Industry, FDA… They have Ministry of Health certification to export to the European Community, the USA and Canada, and elsewhere worldwide. They wouldn’t let me take photos inside the factory, so the pics below are from the offices, and an official video below shows the production line.

Our economic diversity is part of what makes Mazatlán such a terrific place to live. We all see the fish packing, canning and processing facilities in Parque Bonfil as we drive to and from the airport. Touring, however, was quite an eye-opening experience. I worked for years in the semiconductor and food industries, so am very familiar with cleanliness and sanitation standards. Pinsa takes these to a new level. Greg and I were both instructed to empty our pockets, remove any makeup or hair products, as well as any jewelry—like airport security on steroids. We then put on freshly-washed (at the on-site laundry) white sweatshirts and sweatpants, white rubber boots (also freshly sanitized), a hair net, fabric face mask and a full burka-like hood—with only openings for the eyes. We looked like snowmen or players in some futuristic, sci-fi version of Arabian Nights. Sadly, photo taking was prohibited, so you are spared from seeing the evidence, but the video below will show you the garb, the factory and the process. The warm clothes help workers because the warmest area of the plant is 10 degrees C/50 degrees F.

Upon entering the 17,000 square meter plant we had to clean our already clean boots—lifting our legs up into motorized boot brushes moistened with sanitizer-filled water. A guard checked our entry badges, ensured our pockets were empty, and sent us through a metal detector.

We entered onto a long hallway, with numerous swinging doors leading to rooms on the left and the right. The left side of the hallway is the “natural” side, where tuna fish flash-frozen on the boat are cut up and packaged for sale. The right side is the “mejorado” or “improved” side, where tuna is injected with salt to cure and give it color before being processed and packaged. We stepped into a pool of sanitizer each time we entered or left a new room, and we wore rubber gloves.

On the left side, tuna fish are first sorted by size—60 kg and up, 40-50 kg, 20-30 kg—into large bins in a room kept at -9 degrees C/-4 degrees F. In the second room the heads and tails are cut off the frozen whole fish. Next, they are cut into quarters, removing the spine and entrails and leaving two stomach quarters and two back quarters. Finally, the skin is removed. Workers stand with knives along conveyer belts to remove any remaining blemishes. Quarters go through x-rays to be sure no foreign material is inside the fish; the machine ejects any piece of fish in which metal is detected. Vacuum sealing is automated: stomach quarters are shorter and packed right on the conveyer belts; back quarters are longer and are packed into vacuum-sealed bags on a separate line.

From here the tuna flesh takes different routes. Some is destined to be cut into medallions/steaks. The leftover pieces will be shaped with a knife, packaged as “pieces” and sold at a cheaper price, but still perfect for sashimi or searing. Smaller or irregular pieces are cubed for kabobs, cut up ceviche-size, or minced for burgers and sausage. At each stage the fish pieces are meticulously weighed and inspected. The skin, entrails and odd pieces go to the flour mill, also run by Pinsa, to make pet food.

On the right side, the “improved” tuna rooms, the frozen quarters are injected with the salt solution to cure them and give them a nice rich color. As the quarters travel around conveyer belts the excess saltwater runs off and into a tank for recycling. Next is a room with huge thawing space, where the tuna quarters are left for a couple of days to cure.  The plant processes over 66 tons of fish—including 27,000 tuna medallions—on every shift; up to 240 tons per month! The cold storage facilities are huge.

The plant is amazingly clean. Nothing is on the floor, anywhere. We saw many lines in full production, and several on pause while workers ate lunch. All were spotlessly clean. I cannot believe that fish processing can be clean and not smelly!

Locally,  Dolores Markets has plans to branch out before Semana Santa to offer fresh food cooked to order in addition to their retail products. So, while listening to banda and side-stepping the crowds, there might not be carne asada on the grill, but fresh tuna steaks courtesy of Dolores Tuna. Qué rico!!!! Their website is full of recipes (in Spanish), so for those of you who love to cook—or just eat good, healthy food—be sure to check it out!