How is Mazatlán Dealing with Ayotzinapa?


I’ve had quite a few friends and colleagues ask me how the reaction has been here in Mazatlán to the horrifying and heartbreaking Ayotzinapa events. I tell them that everyone here that I talk with is outraged, but, sadly in my opinion, not much is being done about it. I have told them disappointedly that we on the west coast are a long way away, both geographically and psychologically. I tell them about one march that was held here, but that it seemed to me to be like so many other peace marches…no real public engagement and nothing very meaningful other than, perhaps, to those who participated.

I was so happy, therefore, to be proven wrong in the Plazuela on Saturday night. God bless the students—they are not giving up! They will hold another march this Thursday, November 20, from 4:00 pm. Please put it in your calendars! Gather in front of the Palacio Municipal in the Plaza República, and we will march towards UAS. Thursday there is a call for people nationwide to wear black, in memory of the lost students, so I assume we will wear black in the march as well. Once we arrive there, the students will hold a cultural festival in the library, in memory of their departed fellow students. The festival will include live music, theater and dance.

The students were letting people know about this march amidst the happy revelry in the Plazuela on a Saturday night—amidst the live music, dancing and dining, during the world premiere of the Angela Peralta opera. And they were doing it in a most magnificent way! I’m sure many of you saw it, and perhaps, as I did, participated. The students had hung out photos of the kidnapped (and supposedly murdered) students, with brief biographies. They had white paper and markers ready to hand to anyone who wanted to express themselves. Some pictures below; click to enlarge or view a slideshow.

And express they did! The outrage, the disgust, and the hurt were palpable. The resulting display was heart-wrenching and powerful. It was gratifying to me to see Mazatlecos make their voices heard. I pray it has influenced even a few more people to become more civically engaged, and help to make our beloved, adopted home the best it can be. We all need to say “no” to corruption, north and south of the border. Honesty, respect and responsibility begin with each of us.

I hope to see you Thursday!


On Keeping Traditions Traditional



Photo of Omar Castro around taken 1992 in Mochicahui, Sinaloa, Mexico

¡Feliz Día del Niño! Happy Children’s Day! April 30, 2014, Children’s Day here in Mexico.

The photo above is of a new friend of ours whom I greatly admire, Omar Castro. In this photo he looks to be about five years old. It was one of the first times he danced with his father in El KONTI, and the photo is taken in the central plaza of Mochicahui, in front of the church.

If you follow this blog, you know we had the pleasure of fulfilling my dream and attending KONTI this year. A week or so after that, I spent some time with a nationally renowned photographer and a well-known international journalist. As Greg and I were talking to them about our recent trip to Mochicahui for these Yoreme Mayo festivities, they were both bemoaning that EL KONTI had become too modernized, too watered down. They lamented the misfortune that some Fariseos now wear masks representing Disney characters, or metal leggings rather than traditional leggings made of  dried cocoons. They advocated that ceremonial leaders should be stricter: insist that participants only wear traditional dress, and that they follow the Catholic-native rituals more closely.

Normally, I would strongly agree with this point of view. I am an interculturalist; I am strongly in favor of preserving cultural traditions. So, my initial response to these two gentlemen was to explain that Omar and other Yoreme leaders are  doing their very best to educate their communities about these centuries-old traditions—explaining many of the points that are in my KONTI blog post. I so admire Omar and the other community leaders for their efforts to preserve the traditions.

But, I was torn. I also reminded my two meal-mates that the real tradition of KONTI is, of course, pre-Hispanic—and thus, pre-Catholicism. If we were to preserve traditions without change, there would surely be no crucifixes, no stations of the cross, no Spanish language prayers, no churches, and no Bible references in the celebration of KONTI. I explained to my esteemed colleagues that while I strongly feel traditions need to be preserved, that they belong to the people. To thrive as vital components of society, traditions need to be living, dynamic customs—and that perhaps requires change and “modernization.”

I believe Omar and other leaders of the Yoreme traditions see this. They teach community members the old ways, through their example, their coaching, and via the school system. They have a young artist from Europe living in the pueblos right now, contributing drawings to a book they are writing on the Yoreme traditions. They value tradition so much that they also permit the use of non-traditional masks or leggings. I believe this is because they know that the people need to make the traditions their own. The tradition needs to speak to individual members, to resonate with them, to have meaning and purpose for them.

I met several young men in Mochicahui who would not have been able to dance in KONTI if not for their tenabaris made by hand out of recycled tin cans, because the butterfly cocoons were far too expensive for them to afford, or they didn’t have access to the cocoons they needed. Thus, keeping the traditional open to some modernity and flexibility enables more people to get involved, to learn the tradition, to breathe continued life into it. I am confident that those young men will save their money or make a trade so that they have traditional tenabaris next year or the following; it’s a process.

Same with the Disney-esque masks. Personally, I loved them. To me it was proof that people want to participate in KONTI, that they find joy in the communal aspects of the worship and desire to join in. Again, I know community leaders prefer them to wear traditional, hand-carved wooden masks (almost every Disney-esque mask I saw was hand-carved from wood, by the way). I know leaders teach that, and promote that. But I also salute community leaders for the fact that they do no prohibit non-traditional masks. To me, it keeps the tradition vital.

It’s a delicate balance, preserving tradition and maintaining its vital place in community. It’s a process, with a tension between change and status quo. It requires us to remember a tradition’s purpose, what is at its core. The photo up top is of Omar as a child. He and his wife are now expecting their first child. The tradition continues. And adapts.

My admiration goes out to the Yoreme Mayo leaders who so well demonstrate that. I learned so much from them on that one day I spent in Mochicahui!


Historic photo of the church in Mochicahui.
Today the building on the left is in ruins; the chapel at far right stands proudly.


Los Tigres del Norte Banned in Chihuahua

Los Tigres del Norte, one of my favorite (and one of the world’s most popular) bands, was banned yesterday from playing in the city of Chihuahua. They were banned for playing a very popular narco-corrido based on a soap opera and book, La Reina del Sur (the city of Chihuahua has banned narco-corridos).<.div>

The Mexican press, and most Mexican people, are upset about and vocal in objecting to this cavalier censorship.

I value free speech, and do not believe in censorship. It is interesting, though, that this ban occurred because Chihuahua city is trying to change its culture. It is trying to take the narco culture out of norteña culture, to stop the glamorization of criminal activity, to restore responsibility and good citizenship to its citizens.

Northern Mexican norteña culture has become closely mixed with narco culture. That cultural mix includes a style of dress (one extreme is those tippy-toed guarachero boots), a unique vocabulary and style of speech, songs (narco-corridos are songs that glorify the life of the outlaw), and even a patron saint whose image, likeness and altars can be found in most any colonía (Jesús Malverde, so-called patron saint of the drug lords and lost causes).

Mexico is a large country, as is northern Mexico, and norteña culture as influenced by narco culture has a diversity within it. There is also spillover; many people who have nothing to do with the drug trade may build an altar or light a candle to Malverde (unwed mothers may pray to him, for example, as might people who have lost their jobs) or have his face emblazoned on the window of their pickup truck. And, MANY of them listen to what can be called narco-corridos. The particular song for which my Tigres were banned, ironically, ends with the outlaw (a woman) being punished for her crimes.

Chihuahua’s ban is personally ironic to me because last year, I posted on the Facebook page of another favorite band of mine, la Banda El Recodo, sharing with them my disappointment that they had released a song so far below the respect and esteem with which they are held by the public (the song talks about guns, arms, bulletproof vests; it encourages people to get drunk and shoot bullets into the air; the official video involves non-stop drinking, high-priced cars and watches, and ends with the lead singer pretending to shoot the viewer). In hindsight, was I censoring? I know my motivations were the same as those of the city of Chihuahua: El Recodo is at the top of their craft; people respect them. I love them, and I love Mexico. I wanted them to stand for and promote what is good about Mexico, help make it a better place, not glorify and feed the worst of our local culture.

What do you all think?

Counterfeiting and Scalping, Teenage-Style 2012 (llegar de colado)


My parents met one night when they both crashed a wedding reception. Neither one of them had been invited to the party. Neither one of them even knew the people getting married!

They lived in small towns near each other, and told me that in the day it was common to show up to drink and dance whenever anyone nearby got married or had a party with a band. According to them, the hosts didn’t mind. They expected uninvited guests to “crash.”

They fell in love after meeting as uninvited guests, a love that lasted nearly 60 years.

Fast forward to four years ago, when we moved to Mazatlán from Kansas City. One of my son’s cultural adjustments was that early on he just could not bring himself to go to a party to which, in his words, he “wasn’t invited.” Which to him, a good US American, meant that the host of the party had not personally invited him. “But here in Mexico, baby, if your friend is invited, and the friend invites you, you are usually welcome if not expected to join.” No, he just couldn’t do it.

The day after such a party, his friends would say, “Hey, Danny, where were you last night? We missed you!” Sometimes even the host of the party would say it to him. So, he learned a more inclusive approach to party-going. He learned he usually didn’t need a personal or direct verbal invitation; friends are always welcome.

But, this “open invitation” approach to parties obviously can get out of hand, especially when kids attend a huge school, when they have a wide circle of friends, or, as with teenagers anywhere, “the word gets out” and there aren’t a lot of other parties that same night. Two weeks ago there was just such a “small” quinceañera to which 300 or so kids showed up! Parents, who pay the bills for the parties, wisely want to limit attendance. But how? It bucks cultural norms.

In order to bridge cultural norms and economic realities, the wrist bracelet was invented. Parents can say, “We are only paying for 100 people for your party. We’ll invite 20 of our friends, and you can invite 80.” Then the parent gives the kid 80 personalized party invitation bracelets to hand out. If you have a bracelet, you can enter the party. No bracelet, no dancing.

Seems clear enough to me.

Well, the other night I learned that kids COUNTERFEIT the bracelets! One of our son’s friends proudly showed me the pulsera he had purchased blank, and how he had taken a Sharpie and carefully and competently copied the personalized text so that he could get into the party. I of course dutifully scolded the kid, and threatened my son with what horrible things would become of him if he ever were to do such a thing. But, in the process I’ve learned that such counterfeiting, and even scalping, of party entrance bracelets is common these days.

The kids told me about a boy at school who has a whole counterfeiting operation. He goes to a party place and buys a bunch of the identical bracelets for that weekend’s party (bracelets come in all colors and many foil or reflective designs as well). He has a counterfeiting “kit” with 3 kinds of Sharpies plus Q-tips and alcohol to clean up any erroneous strokes that occur while making the fake bracelets. He sells the blank bracelets for 25 pesos (they must cost a few pesos at most at the shop, but hey, he delivers right to you at school). Buying a bracelet complete with the counterfeited markings costs 40 pesos (15 pesos for his copying prowess).

If you don’t want to participate in counterfeiting, you can buy a pulsera from someone who was “legally” invited to the party but can’t or doesn’t want to go. These “scalped” bracelets sell for 100 pesos. Who says young kids nowadays aren’t enterprising! Capitalism is alive and well among teenagers in Mazatlán.

Thank goodness that these bracelets didn’t exist in the 1940s. My parents may never have met, and I wouldn’t be here!


Cultural Change on the Malecón: A Case Study

Ok, the title of this post sounds a little too “professional” for our family blog. But it’s about dear friends, Mexican society and our beloved malecón, so I think it belongs here. It is really the story of the power of one.

Our dear friend, Guy, retired from a career as an air traffic controller in Canada and relocated to Mazatlán about five years ago. He loves the “blue:” the ocean, the sky, the outdoors, the views. He is a passionate athlete. He started out running the malecón many times a day, and has evolved to roller blading it. He is a French speaker who also speaks English, and he has actively sought to learn Spanish since living here. Guy is very outgoing, optimistic and friendly. He loves coffee, and makes a great pot of cappuccino every morning, sharing it with those friends lucky enough to be nearby when it’s ready. Guy has become a city icon. Everyone knows the bald guy dressed in black who can be seen skating along the oceanside promenade nearly any time, day or night. To see him is to be reminded to enjoy this beautiful city in which we live—not to get lost in work or daily drudgery, but to take a look around and a deep breath, and to get out and move our bodies before we lose the ability to move them.

We also love walking and biking the malecón every day; it’s one of the best things about Mazatlán. In our opinion it’s the best oceanside promenade in the world, with 4+ miles of paved, gorgeous walkway between Valentino’s and Pedro Infante. We imagine that everyone would enjoy using the malecón. Thus, we have been repeatedly surprised by friends, mostly locals, who tell us they prefer to exercise at home or in a gym. I’ve had girlfriends tell me their husbands won’t “permit” them to use the malecón if they’re not with them. Girlfriends tell me they don’t use it because they don’t want to be out in the sun; it causes wrinkles and spots on their fair skin. Others say the malecón is dangerous; that you’re looking to get robbed.

And, honestly, I know very well that many people don’t use it because it’s beneath them. That is a side of society, any society, that I very much dislike. Beach vendors, people who can’t afford gym memberships, people whose only mode of transport is a bicycle or public bus, even beggars and homeless people, use the malecón. “I have more money than them. I was born higher class than them. I need to maintain my status by not associating with them.” No one in polite society says it directly, but it’s there; it’s palpable. And this is a side of any society that I’d love to change.

There are loads of Canadians and US Americans who come here and desire to make a mark on this gorgeous city, to help make our city better. They often wreak havoc on themselves and others despite their good intentions, because they come on like gangbusters and try to “change” or “fix” something they don’t yet understand, something that is much larger than they are (a culture, a society). I know this well; I’ve seen it worldwide; it’s my profession.

Guy didn’t set out to change anything. By setting out to enjoy himself and stay in shape, he has inspired many people to get out and move: to bike, run, walk, rollerblade… People from all walks of life started coming to Guy, asking him to teach them to rollerblade, to help them get started, to give him advice. They told him they’d pay him for his lessons. “No,” he’d say. “I’ll teach you for free, but you must pay it forward and in turn do something helpful for somebody else.” Thus his “entourage” was born, including a running group and a roller blading group, as well as, now, people who hang out at the coconut stand to share good conversation and homemade ceviche.

Guy has made a wide circle of friends from all different parts of society: government, big and small business, housewives and young singles, wealthy and humble. I am sooooo so so so happy to see the gatherings of people around him. It crosses socio-economic lines. There are people roller blading now who, personally, told me the malecón was no place for them! I have had friends who previously refused to use the malecón for the reasons above ask me if they could walk with us, bicycle with us. It’s because, I believe, they see these other people, “society” people, out there, exercising. Not just with Guy, of course. Kelly and his bicycling tours and groups, other running, roller blading and bike groups…. The culture is shifting. I’ve seen a huge shift towards egalitarianism and inter-mixing of the social classes on the malecón in the four short years I’ve lived here. Bravo!!! Long live culture change! Let’s keep it up! We aren’t there yet, but… Just the other day a friend asked another friend, aghast, “You have the coco guy’s phone number in your cellular?” Well, she did. And proudly so.

One last photo: this one of the malecón during Carnavál. Forbes Magazineranks our Carnavál/Mardi Gras one of the world’s top three. I will just add that it is VERY family-oriented. Come join us!