Rite of Passage


Rites of passage. What images does that phrase bring to mind? Masai warrior rituals? Debutante balls? Walkabouts? Bar mitzvahs? Uros Indian boys knitting hats so tightly that water won’t leak through? Menstruation? Graduation? Marriage?

We moved to Mazatlán four years ago. Since that time, Danny and I have attended church every Sunday. Same church each week. Same Mass each week. Same people we see there each week. Four years. I love Sunday Mass. Love to sing. Love communal prayer. Love the people we celebrate with each week.

During that time, we have gotten to know the priest. We greet the greeters: those women at the entrance handing out bulletins. We sit in the same pew, pretty much, every week, too. There are about three women who will sit in our pew and greet us. I like them. They help me feel human, not just gringa. There are lots of other people who will sit in our pew and act as if they’ve never seen us before, even though of course they have seen us every Sunday the past four years. And, there are loads of people who avoid sitting anywhere near us. Maybe they’re afraid we won’t speak Spanish, or know the rules, or…

Now, it’s a Catholic church, and anyone who knows Catholicism will tell you that good Catholics don’t fraternize at Sunday services (written tongue in cheek, but true). You come, you pray, you leave. No small talk. The priests basically have to order us to shake hands with the person beside us in the pew.

Well, a few weeks ago we had something going on in the morning, and we went to the Sunday evening service instead. Lo and behold, the altar guild lady asked me if I’d do the collection! Wow! A rite of passage! I had never been asked to take up the collection before. I was becoming a regular part of the parish after all!

But this was not “my” Mass. It was the evening Mass, which I rarely attend. It was a welcome invitation, for sure. Now, in the parish’s defense, I have made no effort to get involved in the church outside of Sunday Mass. My schedule right now doesn’t allow it, my preferences right now aren’t prioritizing it. There are people who attend our Mass that I know outside of church. They of course greet us.

Well, unwittingly this am, as Danny and I knelt in prayer before the service started, the altar guild/greeter lady at OUR service, our church, came to our pew, and asked us if we would be so kind as to take up the gifts! “Would you take up the wine, and your Mami take up the bread,” she asked Danny.

Wow! How cool is that!

As if that wasn’t cool enough, one of the “friendly” ladies sat down beside us. She actually KISSED me during the giving of the peace.

Four years, people, but we feel included. We have received our rite of passage.

I will say I attended church in Tokyo and in the US longer than we’ve been here, and was never ad-hoc included in this way.

Now the Episcopal Church, where Danny used to serve Mass every Sunday morning, and I was the greeter, that’s a different story… 🙂


Thanksgiving Day Gratitude for Danny’s School

This Thanksgiving, I am so very grateful for Danny’s school. There are downsides, as with anything, such as the large class size. But the upsides!

First came the study of world religions. Yes, this would seem to be tailor-made to make this mother happy. 🙂  A Xaverian Catholic school that teaches the major world religions. As I have helped Danny with his homework, we have discovered what I feel are a few inaccuracies or biases, but hey, he’s got me to help correct those 🙂 And, amazingly wonderfully, the teacher has been open to hearing what Danny has to say!

But today’s homework for his “ethics and values” class was a home run for the whole family! If you have any interest in Mexico at all, or in legal systems in general, you have GOT to see this movie! Called “Presunto Culpable,” it came out back in 2010, but somehow we missed it.

It is a documentary presented by a team of Mexican lawyers, about the Mexican system of “guilty until proven innocent.” The movie follows the story of one young man wrongly convicted of murder, and the saga he goes through to try and prove his innocence. The statistics that are presented in the movie are astounding, including the percentages of verdicts that are convictions (95%) and the percentage of convictions with no physical evidence (92%).

As if the movie weren’t powerful and thought-provoking on its own, the kids were put into pairs and told to summarize the movie in one-half to one page. They were then asked a series of really deep, reflective, valuable questions about democracy, human rights, and the personal traits that make for success. As with any film, I found those who take issue with it. Slant Magazine goes so far as to call it unethical.

Many of you who read this are dynamite educators. Bless your souls. I am very, very grateful this holiday that my son is benefitting from some dynamite teachers and a powerful curriculum, and grateful that throughout his life, each of his schools has benefitted him in wonderful ways! Thanks to the teachers who inspire our children!!!!!

Islamic and Arabic Influences on Mazatleco Spanish


One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about how living here in Mazatlán has changed me over the past three years is in my vocabulary and manner of expression.

“When are you leaving on your business trip?” a friend asks me in Spanish. My “normal,” pre-Mazatlán response would have been, “I’m leaving late Sunday morning.”

After living here a few years now, however, my “normal, living-in-Mazatlán” response tends to be either: “Primero Diós (God permitting), I’ll leave late Sunday morning;” “Si Diós quiere (God willing), I’ll leave late Sunday morning;” or “Dios mediante, I’ll leave late Sunday morning.”

BIG difference to me, in both my worldview (more fatalistic/less control and structure) as well as in my phrasing. I find myself talking like this in Spanish all the time now, without thinking about it, whereas I would never before have said that. It is of course because I hear the people around me talking like that every day.

And I don’t just talk like this in Spanish; I find myself saying things like this more and more often in English as well. I’ve had some interesting feedback when saying things like this in English, especially when talking to Europeans. “What does God have to do with it?” or “Religion sure has taken on a major role in your life, Dianne.” A response in which I sense a bit of distrust, dislike or caution. This response, like any behavior, reflects a worldview, one in which it is not the custom to refer to God in this way, one in which spiritual beliefs are private matters, and in which recently there has been significant backlash to immigration and Islamization. In our local context, such phrasing doesn’t necessarily seem particularly religious; it’s just how many people speak.

To avoid such misinterpretation, I sometimes find myself avoiding references to God, which at this point requires purposeful choice. Alternatively I say something like, “The plan is to leave late Saturday morning,” or “My plane reservation is for a late Saturday morning departure.” Both of these phrasings feel much more cumbersome to me, they are not natural, yet they feel better than the “old” phrasing: “I’ll leave late Saturday morning.” That’s hard for me to say now. It feels too arrogant, too mechanistic. Things happen; things change. “The plan is to leave…” feels more truthful. More respectful. Less arrogant.

Most Mexicans will say that this sort of fatalistic or God-fearing phrasing originates in Catholicism. I am confident that Catholicism is part of the reason, and a devout belief surely encourages such thinking and expression. But the people who use such expressions are not limited to Catholics, nor church-goers. I’ve been to many Catholic countries where I don’t hear people referencing fate and God with every other sentence. Honestly, I believe this sort of phrasing in Mexican Spanish originated or was at least an influence of the Moors in Spain. They brought Islam and Arabic phrases to Spain (inshallah in Arabic, which became ojala in Spanish), and this mentality and phrasing have survived, thrived, and are alive and in frequent use in modern day on the west coast of Mexico. Such an outlook may resonate with indigenous Mexican beliefs and worldviews as well; of that I am unsure.

Another frequent local expression is the response to “How are you?” In high school Spanish classes I learned that the correct response is, “Bien, gracias. ¿Y tú? More often than not, people here will respond with, “Gracias a Diós, aquí ando” (Thanks to God, here I am); “Sigo de pie” (I am still alive); or “Echándole ganas” (I’m doing my best/giving it my all). These expressions, in my feeling for and understanding of them, infer a gratitude for life, a desire to express joy and gratitude and not to complain despite the huge economic hardships people have experienced in recent years. These are also expressions I find myself saying all the time, and ones I sense also originate from Islamic beliefs. It is amazing to me how what happened centuries ago on another continent affects so strongly how we express ourselves today. Or, you may say, it’s all Catholicism. 🙂


Via Crucis/Climb to Calvary (up the hill to El Faro)

We were very, very fortunate today to be able to join a group of terrific young Mazatlecos, climbing up the hill to the lighthouse. It was a warm, clear, glorious day, with flowers in full spring bloom.

A few weeks ago a gentleman named Pepe Zataraín had commented on our blog, telling us about PAJUMA Mazatlán (Pascua Juveníl de Mazatlán) and inviting Danny to join him. We joined their Facebook group, and from there we ended up at the blog of the Diocesís de Mazatlán, which is written by Father Francisco Javier Huizar Ibarra. At this blog we saw that there was a Vía Crucis at 1:00 today, Saturday. We were not sure what to expect: a costumed reenactment, a lot of older ladies from the Diocese climbing El Faro hill? We were curious, so, we dropped Danny off for his Scout event at the Red Cross Hospital and Greg and I went over to the lighthouse, not quite knowing what to expect.

We arrived about 12:40, and took a seat at the foot of the path. We climbed up the path a bit and found a hand-painted canvas: the first Station of the Cross. That was reassuring. We walked up to find a second, and then back down to wait for others to arrive. Two separate groups of young people showed up, gathered around the coconut seller and the taco cart, and we figured they were there for the Via Crucis. But there was no priest, no apparent adult leader. Hmmm… Then, about 1:30 or so, down the hill come walking (and sweating) our neighbor Judith with Father Francisco. They had been hanging the canvases and setting things up for our journey. They both seemed very pleased to see us, and eager to have us join the group. Judith was especially happy to see that I had brought a camera, so I primarily do this blog so quickly for her.

We all gathered by the coconut seller’s at the base of the hill for a commencement prayer and a song. One young man had a battery-powered acoustic guitar, and Father Francisco had a battery-powered microphone with speaker. Immediately we felt blessed, as Fr. Francisco’s prayers were so topical and practical: promoting peace in society, strengthening our families, treating others with dignity and respect. We began with an Act of Contrition.

Regardless of your religion, or (this is for you, Eric) even if you feel religion is the root of most all evil, it was a sacred journey in which we were able to join. It was also a peek into a side of society and culture here that is not as visible as I would like: the people in our community who are constantly behind the scenes doing good. Not as sensational as violence, but definitely more constructive.

We began our climb. It turns out this was an event for the team of young adults that organizes and conducts the PAJUMA. They had hand-painted the Stations of the Cross the previous week. Members of the group took turns reading the prayers at each Station. After each Station’s prayer Father Francisco gave us a short sermon, which were all quite powerful. Then we would repeat the pattern of saying several prayers: the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Hail Holy Queen. Then between Stations we meditated as we walked.

Station #1: Jesus is Condemned to Death
This station was positioned inside the archway, at the first turn in the path. Basically we were overlooking the water treatment facility, but also Olas Altas rocks and the port. For those of you who have not climbed to the lighthouse before, I trust my photo log will give you an idea of the climb, from near sea level to high on the hill overlooking the city.

Station #2: Jesus is Given his Cross
In this photo you can see on the right that the ocean is getting a little farther away…

Station #3: Jesus Falls the First Time
The paintings the young people had done were simple but quite powerful, I felt. It felt so good to be making this journey with young adults who were so passionate, and who we know will be devoting a week of their lives to teaching younger kids during Semana Santa in the stadium. If you have children and you are going to be here during Holy Week, be sure to sign your kids up to attend!

Station #4:  Jesus Meets His Mother
Here the short sermon was about how we treat our parents, and how that is the fundamental relationship in society. The idea that if we maintain the strength of families it echoes out in waves strengthening the rest of society.

Many of the cactuses were in full bloom, and their green contrasted so beautifully with the blue of the ocean. It was definitely an afternoon filled with awe and wonder.

Station #5:  Simon of Cyrene Carries the Cross
Here the short sermon was about how we help others; when do we take it upon ourselves to do what is not required of us, to reach out and love others, show them mercy?

Station #6:  Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
Building on the idea of random acts of kindness, we reflected on when we reach out to wipe the brow of another, to lessen or ease their load.

Station #7: Jesus Falls the Second Time
You can see how the vegetation has changed, indicating the change in elevation already. We started with cactus, and now we see trees.

Station #8: Jesus Meets the Daughters of Jerusalem

Station #9: Jesus Falls the Third Time

Station #10: Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

Station #11: Crucifixion: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

Station #12: Jesus Dies on the Cross

The climb gets steeper and steeper. In most places it’s just dirt with rocks peeking through, but in a few of the steeper places there are stairs, or cement, and thankfully a rock wall beside you against the drop off.

Station #13: Jesus’ body is removed from the cross (Deposition or Lamentation)

Station #14: Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense. We entered the upper gate, nearing the lighthouse proper. As we walked into the open space where the view is so beautiful, we saw an incredibly gorgeous sight: a very large handcarved and painted crucifix, mounted looking over our city of Mazatlán.

For this Station we celebrated the Eucharist. It was such an honor and a thrill to be able to celebrate a Mass in the open air, and particularly on such a gorgeous day, with a spectacular view, in the presence of so many incredible young people. An added bonus for us was that as we waited at the top a few minutes for Fr. Francisco to finish preparing for Mass, our friend Trini showed up. It seems she climbs the lighthouse every week for exercise and relaxation. So, she was able to join in the Mass as well. There were quite a few tourists at the top, and one young boy about seven who was just fascinated with everything going on.

The first reading.

The second reading.

The Gospel.

The sign of the peace.

Palm Sunday/Domingo de Ramos

You know we absolutely love living here in Mazatlán. Every day we learn something new or are surprised by something we hadn’t yet seen. Well, today is Palm Sunday. Entering mass this morning, the little plaza in front of the church was filled with vendors selling braided palm fronds. What a joyful surprise!

We are very much enjoying the noise, the screaming, the music, going on outside our front window. Lots of traffic, lots of people on the beach, hopefully means lots of money into our local economy. I trust that amidst the craziness of the Easter season you are able to reflect on and experience the holiness and sacredness as well.