Day of the Dead Mazatlán 2018

DSC_0057Mazatlán knows how to put on some of the best parties ever, and I say that with a lot of worldwide experience, not lightly. This year’s Day of the Dead alley parade or callejoneada did not disappoint. Visitors from the interior of the country, elsewhere in Latin America, north of the border and Europe all reported to me thoroughly enjoying themselves and the revelry that is Día de Muertos in our port.

The callejoneada this year was held on November 2nd instead of the traditional 1st, due to the changeover in city government. Thousands attended the annual festivities, which are some of the most exciting and participative in the country. The parade began at 8:30, and there were performances inside the Angela Peralta Theater, as there have been in other recent years.

The alley parade wound through downtown past several traditional altars, and included at least three bands, several dance groups, costumed stilt walkers, and mobile sculptures. As is traditional, families with children were in the majority. It’s my favorite part of this night: seeing multiple generational families in costume enjoying our city and one another!

The callejoneada returned to the Plazuela Machado where several stages were set up with live entertainment till the wee hours. There seemed to be a lower percentage of costumed revelers this year, but the hundreds who dressed upped the game and looked fantastic. Local makeup artists outdid themselves with creativity and color.

New this year was that the parade began at the Plaza República, winding the three blocks to the Machado and then beyond. It gave a bit more breathing room to the official participants before being bombarded with the thousands of spectators who joined in from the Plazuela.

Also new this year were official catrinas that were sponsored, namely, four or so of them sponsored by our beloved Venados baseball team. While they were gorgeous, and this was very cool, it added a commercial element to our traditional alley-winding that I found rather sad.

Sadder still was that for the first time in many years our local Pacífico brewery was apparently not a sponsor. Not only were there no kegs in sight, ruining a joyous local tradition of people handing up their cups, but Indio beer was served in cans, by gruff people lacking the usual joy! Finally, first we lost our traditional donkey cart, which was understandable, but this year we had tuk-tuks! How in the world is that traditional to this part of the world? The beer fiasco was perhaps the most epic fail of the evening, as complaints were heard far and wide over how kodo (cheap) the new administration was; the lines for Pacífico at the Kioskos went nearly around the block, with people choosing to purchase their beer.

Another disappointment was the fact that the organizers have discovered cheap Chinese imports from the likes of Waldo and Sanfri. We were treated to mass-produced skeleton Halloween costumes rather than the gorgeous handmade garments we are so used to, and numerous inflatable plastic decorations and cardboard skulls were to be seen on the stages and posts of the Plazuela, in contrast to the beautiful handmade papier maché artwork from our local art school. I pray this error will not be repeated. Mazatlán’s art scene deserves way better!

The callejoneada for Day of the Dead this year was more Carnaval-like, with dance troops performing routines that lent themselves more appropriate to Fat Tuesday than to Day of the Dead, and one of the wheeled calacas/skeletons lit with lights in a similar manner to a carroza/float in the Carnaval parade. As is usual we did have Carnavál royalty participate. I can vouch that those gorgeous women even look good dead! 😉

My favorite costume was that of my friend Linette: the death of Lady Liberty. While I hope and pray for my birth nation that it is not true, her costume rang too close to home; I appreciated its poignancy.


Every year we seem to attract more people to this incredible event. It has outgrown the Plaza Machado and especially this year spillover could be seen in Olas Altas and beyond. An important recommendation for next year is to raise the stages higher. With so many people it is nearly impossible for anyone beyond the second row of standing spectators to see what’s going on on stage.

Every restaurant in the Plaza and along the parade route seemed to be sold out. Our group stayed to cenar/eat a late dinner, and when we left about 1:30 am the Plaza was still full of energy. I so enjoy watching how vociferously death sings in the late evening on the Plazuela after the callejoneada.

Day of the Dead remains one of the highlights of Mazatlán’s local cultural scene. It is a jewel in Mexico’s holiday offerings; not the traditional celebrations of Oaxaca or Janitzio, but full of spirit and reflecting our local culture. It is my true hope that some of the missteps this year are due to the fact that the new administration just took over the day before and thus had little time to prepare.

Kudos to the maestros and artists who contributed! Mazatlán is incredibly blessed with your talents and generosity! Day of the Dead in Mazatlán, as Carnavál, is truly a festival of the people!



The Gringo Guide to Mexico

VOL 1 copy.R2.jpgBook Review: The Gringo Guide to Mexico, vol. II, by Murry E. Page
US$9.95 ebook, $17.95 paperback on Amazon as of  November 1, 2018
Link to volume 1

Many expats in Mazatlán are fans of Murry Page. I for one love his writing and used to regularly look forward to his blog posts. Murry would thoroughly research and write about a broad range of cultural and historical topics, from chile to Diego Rivera’s murals, tequila to organ grinders, and bullfighting to Carlos Slim. As he traveled through, lived in and learned more about Mexico, we were able to educate ourselves thanks to Murry and his noviaand collaborator, Linda Hull. I am eternally grateful to Murry and Linda because years ago they came to our house to interview and help our son when he was in the midst of a fundraising campaign to get himself to World Scout Jamboree in Sweden.

In November 2018 Murry plans to self publish two books, titled The Gringo Guide to Mexico: Its History, People and Culture. In them he assembles 56 editions of his Mazatlán Messenger column, The Page Turner, which he originally wrote over a five-year period. Murry has updated information where necessary to keep content current. He kindly shared with me a copy of volume 2 for review; it contains 160 pages and 28 chapters.

“… all of my writings have the purpose of providing foreign nationals living in México and those who hope to call México their home in the future, information that will make their life here more interesting and meaningful. It is hoped that those who read The Gringo Guide to México …will have a better understanding of the history, people, and culture of their new home.”
—page 4

If you were not able to read Murry’s work the first time around, and you are at all curious about this adopted country we call home, I highly recommend you get these books. And, if you did enjoy his columns the first time around, you may delight to read them all over again, remembering what you’d once read and since forgotten. While I learn something new every day, I am constantly saddened at the ignorance so many of us immigrants and seasonal visitors have about our host country. Are you aware of how Cinco de Mayo helped save the US from slavery? Why Pancho Villa is revered by some and hated by others, was first wanted by and later helped by the US government? And do you know the history of legal Mexican field labor up north, starting with the braceros?

It’s refreshing to read an engaging volume written by someone intelligent (retired lawyer), personable, and committed to the community—Murry dedicated 100% of the profits from his first book to Hospice Mazatlán and has served on the board of two local charitable organizations—on topics that pique our curiosity and are worthwhile knowing about in our daily lives. I love history, but I whither up in boredom reading a dry history book. These volumes are far from that—quick-reading and amusing, with personal reflections and anecdotes thrown in for good measure. I will admit to enjoying the columns more when they were spread out one every couple of weeks than in book form. As blog posts the facts and information were nice tapas, a fairly in-depth look at a topic that we could slowly savor. I would, therefore, recommend reading the book a chapter at a time, to more thoroughly relish the content. Discussing it with a partner or friends will let the facts settle in and stir further curiosity for learning.

Thank you, Murry, for being so generous with your passion for learning about Mexico, your time and your wonderful writing. Both books will be available in ebook (US$9.99 per volume) and paperback (US$17.95 per volume) on Amazon from November 1, 2018.

RIP/DEP Caballo Blanco


In my post about our Copper Canyon trip I mentioned the terrific book, Born to Run, which first introduced me to El Caballo Blanco, an enigmatic gringo distance runner who fell in love with the Raramurí people and their home. I just read that Micah True, aka Caballo Blanco, was found dead in Gila Cliff Dwellings in southwestern New Mexico. He had been missing for four days, and was 58 years old. He died doing what he loved: running.

While I never met Micah, I will say he has been an inspiration for me. His apparent commitment to and respect for the land, nature, the local people and their way of life, to cross-cultural partnerships or convivencia, was wonderful to witness.

Descanse en paz, Caballo Blanco.


Ferrusquilla: "That statue of a composer…"

Mazatlán is privileged to have a strong and vibrant expatriate community, many of whom volunteer long hours to help make our city a better place in which to live. Many in the foreign resident community have of course grown up and lived most of our lives elsewhere. We love our adopted home, but we often lack basic “cultural literacy” about our adopted homeland. I put myself in that category, of course. Every day, many times a day, I learn something new. It’s part of why I love living here.

Last week, I noticed the below comment on one of the local expat discussion groups:

“It is located across the Malecon between two statues: the Deer, Mazatlan’s symbol; and a Sinaloa composer holding his guitar and sombrero.”

The note surprised me, because I figured everyone who lives here knows our beloved Ferrusquilla! But, of course, we don’t “all” know anything; we all have different pieces of information. I see Don Ferrusquilla once in a while, dining around town or taking a walk, and I loved his INCREDIBLE acceptance speech at the Premios Oye! last month (drag the play bar to 6:46 to skip the homage and hear the original poem he wrote just for the occasion, full of love for our fair city).

But, of course, we all hold differing pieces of knowledge, so I thought I’d share a bit of what I know about this “Sinaloa composer holding his guitar and sombrero” in the statue. Maestro José Angel Espinoza Aragón, “Ferrusquilla,” is a national cultural icon, famous throughout all of Latin America and Spain, and one of the greatest orgullos of Mazatlán. The United Nations awarded him the the Medal of Peace in 1976, the University of Sinaloa presented him with an honorary doctorate just a few years ago, in 2008, and he’s received many other distinguished awards during his career.

His “master work” is the composition “Echame a mí la culpa,” sung by most every well-known Spanish-language singer (here it’s sung by Amalia Mendoza, “La Tariacuri;” or this one sung by Javier Solís). The song inspired a Spanish movie of the same name, and decades later (in 1980) was still so popular that it won “song of the year” in Spain, as sung by Englishman Albert Hammond. Ferrusquilla has acted in 80 motion pictures alongside actors that expats will recognize such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Dean Martin, Boris Karloff, Richard Burton, Anthony Quinn, Brigitte Bardot, and Robert Mitchum, and has composed, to the best of my research, 97 songs.

José Angel Espinoza Aragón was born in Choix, Sinaloa on October 2, 1919. After his mother died his father moved the family to El Guayabo and then Los Mochis, where his father remarried. In 1935, after finishing junior high, his family sent José to study in Mazatlán. In 1937 he got on a train headed to Mexico City, to study medicine, but life didn’t quite work out according to plan.

According to one interview, in 1938 the young José was working a side-job at a radio station, one that broadcasted the popular late-afternoon children’s show “Fifirafas el Valoroso.” The role of “Captain Ferrusquilla” on the show was originally played by the head technician, Carlos Contel, brother of the station manager. After Carlos’ brother told him to choose whether to be a voice actor or a technician, the show was left without a Ferrusquilla. José had the good fortune to be present in the studio when the director, panicked, asked around for a male who could read the part. Thus, by fate, the “man of a thousand voices” with the nickname “Ferrusquilla” was born.

Ferrusquilla fell in love with the female lead of the radio show, Blanca Estela (María Blanca Estela Pavón Vasconcelos). According to this same interview, the two lived in New York for a year, dubbing the voices of actors such as Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor, and Mickey Rooney. Blanca died tragically in a plane accident in 1949. After her death Ferrusquilla decided to commit himself to music, and composed his first song in 1951.

Ferrusquilla married and had two daughters with Sonya Stransky Echeverría in the 1950s (the marriage lasted five years). He tragically lost another loved one, his daughter Vindia, in a car accident in Mexico City in 2008. His daughter Angélica is a successful actress. He has said that his daughters have been the joy of his life.

By the way, the statue of Ferrusquilla, on the malecón in Olas Altas, made by artist Carlos Espino, was unveiled in time for Ferrusquilla’s birthday, in October of 2007.

Fellow foreign residents of Mazatlán: let’s all, proudly, be sure to call this landmark the “statue of Ferrusquilla”!!!! And, Mazatlecos and fans of Ferrusquilla: please teach all of us more about this incredible gentleman, sharing your life memories of the legacy he’s given us!

Note/Update: Jackie Peterson wrote an article on Ferrusquilla in the Pacific Pearl last year. Somehow I missed seeing it, but you can check it out here. And one of my friends has given me the Maestro’s number and asked me to give Ferrusquilla a call, to let him know about this post, so I will do that as well.

Update #2, March 5th: I met Maestro Ferrusquilla tonight. What a great man! He told me that in his younger years, he played for a year with Banda El Recodo, in the Cruz Lizarraga days, before he went to Mexico City and did the radio show. Cool trivia! He is a really nice and VERY interesting man and his English is GREAT! It felt very good to finally get up the courage to talk to him, and to have the honor of finally meeting him.

Cultural Differences that my USA/Japanese Self has Experienced in Mazatlán

What are some of the major cultural differences I’ve experienced over the four years I’ve lived in Mazatlán? Surely, as an interculturalist, I should have some insight.

Too often, of course, our professions don’t serve us well in our personal lives; we don’t practice what we preach: the handyman’s home goes untended, the cobbler’s kids don’t have shoes. I trust that’s not blatantly true for me.
First, some qualifiers:

  • The below are gross generalizations. Everything is situational: for every truth the opposite is also true, in a different context or manner.
  • Observations often if not usually tell us more about the observer than about the observed. My perspective is as a USA-born person of a certain age, with a decade-plus of life experience in Japan. That is my bias or starting point.
  • I love differences, and the process of trying to figure out how to navigate new situations. Thus, my thoughts below are not intended to insult (every culture has different styles and habits, as does every person), but rather to explore and try to understand. I am still very much learning and would welcome your insights/teachings. Thanks.

No worries/I belong here: Come into a class or meeting late, even when it has two minutes remaining, and sit down, conveniently, in the end chair, expecting everyone who is already seated to shift their seats (rather than waiting for the class to finish and the next to begin). Push through, nearly pushing someone out of the way, even if the person pushing is a host or retail store employee and the person being pushed is a customer. It’s not rude or inconsiderate; it seems to be a mentality of “we all belong here.”

What’s really cool, in the situations described above, is that people also have a “live and let live” attitude, they lack the “get offended” gene: they move out of the way, they don’t mind a bit of a push; they expect it and allow that the other person has the right to do whatever s/he is doing. As with anything, there are limits….

Another example would be friends who invite themselves over to your house; they miss you. You prepare for their arrival, cooking up a storm, and then they never show. They don’t call, they don’t apologize. It’s the classic “plan ahead/control/honor obligations” mentality vs. a “be spontaneous/life happens” cultural divide, along with a “follow the rules/be polite” (wait to go until invited) vs. “relationship-first/take action” (I want to see her so let’s do it) gap. Plus the fact that my local friends here don’t expect me to fuss or “host” them the way I like to. Or maybe your friends do call, at the last minute, to explain they can’t come. Maybe you see them a few days later, and you ask them what happened. Huh? When? Oh, yeah; something came up. No offense is given, no offense is taken.

Even though in the situations above Mexicans may seem to lack consideration, in other contexts they absolutely demonstrate consideration: Many people remember amazing detail about your life, and the next time they see you they ask, if you had injured your knee even slightly, “How’s your knee?” Or they kindly remember that in passing you had mentioned your son was going camping, and they ask, “How was your son’s campout?” I know that I myself often forget such details. In this regard the communication style seems so considerate, so detail-specific, and reminds me of Japan. And there is definitely an expectation that I remember the same details: where they plan to go on Christmas break, who they will visit, etc. On that score I too often come up short.

Culture of caution: This is not a culture of trust, but rather, in gross generalization, distrust. People seem to expect you, as a buyer, to make sure the item is in good condition before receiving it, to make sure someone has done a good job if they are working for you. There seems to be little assumption of someone having done well. Even when it’s a very good friend who has done something for you, there is an expectation that you will inspect whatever it is and make sure it is done exactly to your liking. Sooo different from my Japanese-self mentality that this one has taken a whole lot of learning.

Negotiation/complaining: This was also a huge learning for me very early on in living here, because we were buying so many things (furniture, appliances, curtains) and contracting so many services (installs of ceiling fans, painting). I had to learn to voice concern or complaint, to negotiate price and timing. My US and Japanese styles absolutely did not work. I needed to be more assertive than I was used to, while also more social/convivial. There was a fine line: hold the negotiation and discussion of complaint tight, pointed, but with a big smile, a quick laugh, an obvious respect for the other person in wording. Much more firm, repetitive and persistent than I was used to. It felt rude to me, especially because I had heard Mexicans were indirect. This aspect of communication felt very direct, overly pushy, but with a nice veneer of a smile, polite language, and relationship-building phrases interspersed throughout. And lots of repetition and rewording.

Lack of thank yous: People in Asia or Europe often say the US is an “I love you” or “cheerleader” culture, with (often-empty) verbal professions of love, apology, thanks, encouragement. So I am obviously biased. But one of the surprises here for me was I’d give a gift, and the person would seem to like it, but would not express appreciation. Maybe admiration for the gift, or acknowledgement in some way. But I would be expecting thanks. The same for invitations to parties, paying for a meal, etc. The words “thank you” are not nearly so common here in my experience, and I wonder if they don’t add distance, a formality between people at the friend level? That sincere feelings don’t require a formulaic response. There is a similar lack of apologies here. Though that is one of my complaints in the USA as well. When a service person makes a mistake, or a vendor doesn’t meet a commitment, they so rarely take responsibility or apologize for the inconvenience. Again, probably my Japanese-influenced expectation. Whether in the US or in Mexico, my propensity to apologize tends to be seen as lacking in self esteem, when very often it is the exact opposite.

Bright side or enjoyment in the face of hardship: This is perhaps the characteristic that I most love and admire in my Mexican friends. They can be so graceful under pressure. We have friends whose house was built by someone they’ve known their whole lives, incorrectly. The roof leaks. The friend always, sort of, helps them fix it, but it’s never really fixed. They’ve now lived with a leaky house for four years. But they never yell, they never express the heightened emotion or frustration I would expect. When the roof starts leaking again they call the builder and start the process of fixing the leak, over and over again. The patience and tolerance is amazing.

This last fall we had horrible flooding in Mazatlán. Over 51 areas of town were inundated with dirty water, killing two children and destroying many homes and lots of furnishings. People worked all week to clean out the water, mud, and muck, and to dry their things. I saw tears, but I also saw lots of laughter. One family of friends, in the midst of their panic while the flood waters rushed into their home, ran out into the street, hugged one another and smiled for their daughter’s camera, yelling “Happy anniversary!” Definitely an admirable way to respond to something you have little control over. I want to learn more of this dignity and empowerment in the face of adversity!

One of the biggest challenges for me adjusting to life here has been that I CRAVE more cultural informants. I was spoiled: living in Japan for so many years, I was blessed with cultural informants and guides; Japanese loved to teach gaijin about Japanese culture. Even when I lived in Spain, I found loads of people who were more than happy to educate me on a daily basis. That has not at all been my experience here in Mexico. My local Mazatleco informants usually disagree with one another about the most simple things, and they are usually very reticent to “teach,” possibly because they just don’t “see,” that they have a culture, though they are very proud of it nonetheless. This place is not so self-reflexive as the one I spent so many years in in Asia. So, I have the “opportunity” to blunder through things and learn by doing a lot more. 🙂

I welcome your thoughts and insights! Enjoy the day!