Humble Beginnings Don’t Hold Him Back!

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+ The Masculine Form (project in development)
Photos: @santiago_barreiro @insidenatgeo #insidenatgeo

Most every society worldwide seems to be suffering a breakdown in the social fabric these days, a rise in corruption and violence, a loss of the values that make individuals and our communities healthy.

Maestro Cuahutémoc Nájera—the director of Mexico’s National Ballet Company—and his wife, Maestra Carolina Rios, strongly believe in the power of dance to strengthen communities and build strong, healthy, disciplined and principled individuals. Luckily for us, they live here and see dance as a tool to secure a better future for Mazatlán and México. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The maestros shared with me a post by es+Cultura that I found to be extremely powerful, and I have translated it for you below:

“Seven years ago the priest told Aaron’s grandma, Magda, ‘get him out of that ballet; the kids there become gay.” To avoid conflict she agreed, though she never followed through, because her grandson’s dream was to be a dancer and she was going to support him.

Aaron de Jesús Márques is one of the talents discovered by a program (PROVER) that seeks to promote dance in the city of Córdoba, in the state of Veracruz, giving scholarships to boys from complex social contexts. If the boy has needs and the desire, they pay for his studies, transportation, equipment and food for eight years, eight hours a day. The low enrollment of men in the private academy of Martha Sahagún was the impulse for this project, which now has various generations promoting the talent and diversity of Veracruz.

When he was barely seven years old Aaron didn’t even know what ballet was, in fact, the term didn’t sound familiar, but when the opportunity presented itself he didn’t hesitate even a minute to run up to the teacher who conducted the auditions to show her his physical conditioning. Months later when he’d begun his training, he understood that what his body was really asking him for was to dance ballet, and now no one would get in his way.

Aaron lives with his grandmother, or better said, his mother, as that’s what he likes to call her. She raised him once his Dad died and his biological mother emigrated for a better life economically. Magda supported the family. She was responsible for feeding, taking care of and giving life to the dreams of her grandson. The career of a classical ballet dancer involves a lot of dedication and discipline; it is a family project and in most cases requires the moral support of a feminine head of the household.

Classical dance gave the boy a stylizing manner to move his body, it proposed a language in which it wasn’t necessary to use impact and force like so many other disciplines. Aaron dances to express himself without words, to liberate himself from the structure that questions, violates and judges masculine feelings.

The exercise of classical western dance has implicated from its beginnings situations of violation and exclusion, it has generated negative stereotypes against men who pursue this discipline as a way of life. The hegemonic precepts around what it means to “be a man” in Latin American culture tend to determine how ballet is seen as art. In this 21st century, respect for the male dancer still hasn’t penetrated deeply into society, where machismo and its prejudices only put pride in “manly” sports . With this line of reasoning, dance is habitually associated with femininity. In this sense, there are unequal conditions for dancers, with men playing subordinate roles. This conception brings with it endless social conflicts. Today’s man tries to feel, express and free himself from established obligations (to procreate, provide, protect). However, society insists on assigning gender roles when and where they should not be. Dance in and of itself should not divide, distinguish or bias.

Aaron and some of his colleagues, plus his teacher, will be here in Mazatlán on Sunday, 17th November, performing in the Angela Peralta Theater at 6:00 pm, along with principal dancers from Mexico’s two best ballet companies: Ballet de Monterrey and the National Bellas Artes. Get your tickets at the box office now or WhatsApp Carolina at 52-1-669-941-2550; the performance benefits DIF Mazatlán (local families in need).

In the video below, Maestro Nájera tells us a bit about Aaron’s terrific program in Cordoba, Veracruz, where for the past ten years street kids have been given a new lease on life and a future in professional dance through educational and dance scholarships with amazing results.

Carolina dedicates herself to teaching young students; she owns and runs a dance school up in the marina. In the video below, she talks to me about the ways she has witnessed dance helping her students to be stronger, healthier, with higher self esteem, more cooperative and disciplined, and her plans for programming in the public spaces of Mazatlán.

International Ballet Gala!

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You do NOT want to miss this incredible benefit performance by the principal dancers of the best ballet companies in Mexico! Dancers will join us from the Ballet de Monterrey, the Compañía Nacional de Danza de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, the Escuela Superior de Música y Danza in Monterrey as well as from the renowned Fomento Artístico Cordobés. The gala will benefit DIF Mazatlán — families in need in our municipality and take place on Sunday, November 17 at 6:00 pm in the Angela Peralta Theater; the promotional video is below.

Now, let me tell you the story behind this terrific event; Mazatlán is so incredibly lucky. Carolina Rios, originally from Culiacán, has a ballet school here in the marina (Carolina Rios Ballet). A talented and experienced dancer in her own right, it turns out she is married to Cuahutémoc Nájera Ruiz, the National Dance Coordinator and former principal dancer of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes! The couple frequently travels to Sinaloa, of course; they fell in love with Mazatlán and decided to raise their daughter here. Sounds a lot like our family!

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Caro Rios

So, Carolina moved here three years ago to prepare the way for the family, but Cuahutémoc keeps getting promoted, and, well, hasn’t been able to fully make the move yet (he will be here on Monday for a press conference about the gala).

Despite her busy schedule with their five-year-old and her dance academy, Caro is very passionate about promoting cultural events in Sinaloa. So, she’s called on her friends, including Marta Sahagún Morales from Fomento Artístico Cordobés, and Diana Farias Ortegón, Director of the Escuela Superior de Música y Danza de Monterrey, both of whom said they’d love to bring their dancers to Mazatlán and support any cultural effort here that Carolina has planned. God bless good friends! She invites you to the event in the video below.

Dancers from other companies were also happy to join in. The gala will include four dancers from Bellas Artes (Ana Elisa Mena, Roberto Rodríguez, Valeria Mariaud and Argenis Montalvo) and two Cuban dancers from Ballet de Monterrey (Daniela Favelo and Jonhal Fernández). The performance will include international classics as well as some contemporary choreography.

The gala will include a musical interlude with an aria sung by Mazatlecan mezzosoprano Daniela Rico Coppel, and piano played by Lorenzo Sendra Galván Duque, an autistic child prodigy from Guadalajara. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow. The complete and incredibly impressive program for the event is:

Introduction
Choreography by Carolina Rios • Music by Ludwig van Beethoven • Interpreted by Ana Elisa Mena and students of Carolina Rios Ballet

Bohemian Rhapsody
Choreography by Josué Rebollo • Music by Queen • Interpreted by Jorge Emilio Peña, Engel Pérez , Aron de Jesús, Jesús Martín Rivera, Braulio Fernández, Alec Reyes, Roberto Cobos, Armando Villa and David Pérez, students of Fomento Artístico Cordobés • Directed by Martha Sahagún

Don Quijote “Pas de deux from Act IV with Kitri and Basilio”
Choreography by Marius Petipa • Music by Ludwig Minkus • Interpreted by Valeria Mariaud and Argenis Montalvo

Planimetría del Movimiento
Choreography by Irina Marcano • Interpreted by Ana Elisa Mena and Roberto Rodríguez

La Esmeralda “Pas de deux of Diane and Actéon”
Choreography by Agripina Vaganova • Music by Riccardo Drigo and Cesare Pugni • Interpreted by Daniela Favelo and Jonhal Fernández

Musical Interlude
Daniela Rico Coppel / Mezzosprano • Lorenzo Sendra Galván Duque / Piano

Intermission (10 Minutos)

Swan Lake “Pas de deux of the White Swan”
Choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov • Music by Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky • Interpreted by Valeria Mariaud and Argenis Montalvo

Giselle “Adagio from Act II”
Choreography by Jean Coralli y Jules Perrot • Music by Adolphe Adam • Interpreted by Ana Elisa Mena and Roberto Rodríguez

La Bayadére “The Kingdom of the Shades”
Daniela Favelo and Jonhal Fernández • Music by Ludwig Minkus • Students of the Escuela Superior de Música y Danza de Monterrey

Get your tickets now at the Angela Peralta box office or by sending Caro a WhatsApp (+52-1-669-941-2550) and paying via PayPal. This looks to be the most exciting event to take place in Mazatlán in quite some time. Help me get the word out and let’s fill the Angela Peralta to capacity!

Women Artists of Fishing

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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!