The Duke and Manuel: From Mazatlán to Hollywood

_DSC9062©The Wild Goose

Imagine yourself at twenty years old, a poor fisherman hauling in 400 kilos of lobster—there were loads of lobster in our waters back then—in your panga in the bay of Mazatlán. Suddenly a 136-foot yacht pulls up and none other than John Wayne himself shouts out to you, inviting you aboard for coffee. This is what local boat charter operator Manuel Valdéz tells me happened to him.

Wayne spoke Spanish fluently, having been married to three different Latina women and having spent considerable time filming and vacationing in México. Of course, Manuel boarded the large vessel, counting his lucky stars. The Duke asked him about his catch and offered to trade bottles from his extensive wine cellar for some of the lobster. “No,” Manuel said, “I don’t want to trade for wine. Thank you.” “I know what you want!” Wayne apparently responded with a twinkle in his eye. “You want a magazine, one with some nice chicas.” Handing Manuel a girlie magazine, they shared their first belly laugh.

He had to deny John Wayne for the third time.

“No, I can’t trade. I am going to take the lobsters to my rancho in Mesillas,” Manuel told the actor. Upon hearing the word “rancho” Wayne got excited and asked if he could accompany Manuel to his ranch. Manuel believed that Wayne was imagining a ranch with a big house and lots of cattle, when in fact the fisherman was the son of a poor family with a simple home that didn’t own any livestock. He had to deny John Wayne for the third time. “Not today,” he said with embarrassment. “Maybe some other time.”

Then the Duke returned to the topic of the lobsters. “If you don’t want to trade, I’ll buy them from you.” Proving that he was a very clever young man, instead of selling the lobster Manuel gifted the star two large sacks of lobster. When Wayne insisted on paying him, Manuel asked that instead of money he be invited for dinner. Would you have been able to think that quickly? I don’t know that I would have. Happy to oblige, Wayne invited Manuel for dinner at 8 pm. Manuel says that he arrived on the boat at 7:00, excited to be able to socialize with the Hollywood star and eager to taste what Wayne’s private chef would serve!

Wayne took a liking to the young Sinaloan.

Wayne took a liking to the young Sinaloan, offering Manuel a job as deckhand on the Wild Goose, his remodeled Navy minesweeper. Manuel explained that he had neither a passport nor a visa and had not yet completed his military service. “You do your military service and get your credential. I’ll take care of the passport and visa,” Wayne told him. True to his word, a few months later Manuel was working on the Wild Goose full time: six months in California, six months in México. That job would last twelve years, until Wayne’s death.

That job would last twelve years, until Wayne’s death.

Manuel says he got to know the Wayne family well. The actor was then married to his third wife, Pilar, a Peruvian beauty, and was almost always accompanied by her and their children, Aissa, John Ethan and Marisa. Manuel has many memories of the giant family man laughing, playing cards, horsing around, jumping into the water and swimming with his children. He says that Wayne had a heart of gold and absolutely loved children. He would work the boat with the crew, loved piloting it and especially loved the 3 am watch.

When I first met Manuel, he showed me several photos of him and the Duke and him and the crew on the boat. Sadly, his cell phone was stolen, as was the printed photo in his office, and now he has no photos left from this period of his life.

The Duke also enjoyed hosting his friends from Hollywood; the boat, according to Manuel, had four bars, was made of Douglas fir, and would sleep 25 guests plus eight staff. Dean Martin was a frequent visitor aboard the Wild Goose, and Manuel told me that Martin’s drinking wasn’t just part of his act; in real life he loved Russian vodka, too. Wayne once told Manuel, “Don’t waste time watching the boat tonight; I’ve got a more important job for you. Watch Dino so he doesn’t fall overboard!”

The way John Wayne greeted Manuel on their first meeting was a pattern he frequently followed. The Wild Goose had a huge tank to store live seafood, and in Manuel’s memory it was always full because, whenever they sailed past a fisherman, Wayne would insist they stop and see what the guy had caught. He’d offer the man some coffee, engage him in conversation, and end up trading for his day’s catch. “We never bought fish or seafood. Mr. Wayne would always trade for it. He loved to meet people and to barter.”

The first trip Manuel made with John Wayne was to Acapulco: 600 miles from Mazatlán at 12 mph with their 1000 horsepower turbine engine, one of only two in the world, according to Manuel. They pulled into Acapulco right next to Frank Sinatra’s boat, Pussycat. “I was really lucky as a young man,” Manuel told me. “Our very first day of fishing we caught two marlins. Wayne told me I brought him luck.”

Every year they would visit Vallarta, and head over to Acapulco prior to heading north to Newport Beach, where they’d anchor at Lido Isle. “One time when we were in Acapulco Wayne received a huge check. He had sold one of his prize steers from his 26 Bar Ranch in Eagar, Arizona. He took us out to a hotel for dinner and drinks. He hosted us to the best of everything, saying, ‘Let’s see if we can spend this money tonight!’ I had so many great experiences and met so many incredible people,” Manuel reminisced. “Mr. Wayne was a really good guy, very patient. I remember one time when we got five or six miles out of Acapulco, and I realized that I’d forgotten the fuel back on the dock. I told Mr. Wayne, fearful of what he would say. But, fortunately we just turned around, got the fuel, and went on our way.”

In Newport Beach Manuel had a room in Wayne’s home or, if he returned home late from a party, he might sleep on the boat. He remembers the very first time he arrived at Wayne’s mansion, which seemed to him an entire city block in size. “If you were on one end of the house you couldn’t tell if anyone was home in the other end.” That first night Wayne’s staff, all from Guadalajara, cooked carne asada and fresh tortillas. Manuel was in heaven. He says that after his twelve years working for Wayne he would never again eat so well.

Manuel was the only Mexican crewmember on the Wild Goose. The captain he sailed with most was named Jack Curley. The first mate was Bert (Albert) Minshall, and Bert’s brother Ken was the engineer; they were English. The chef, Bill or “Memo,” was German. Manuel was especially impressed with how Bill would cook the duck that Wayne would hunt. “Duck tastes gamey. It’s tough. But Bill would cook it so we’d all lick our fingers and want seconds.”

Manuel remembers that they would always stop at Isla del Cedro, south of Ensenada, to go duck hunting. They’d stay there about fifteen days. “We’d get a lot of abalone and lobster there,” he told me. “It was the only place that sold diesel fuel.” Manuel talks about the guide there—a big fat guy—with some envy, because Wayne would always leave him a month’s worth of food provisions, including lobster, snapper, abalone and scallops; “I wanted some of that food,” Manuel told me. “In those days there were so many fish. We could stand on rocks at the edge of the Mar de Cortés and shoot snapper with harpoon pistols, as many as we could. It was heaven.”

According to Manuel there was usually a photographer on board, a man named Joffrey. One day over in Baja, Joffrey had a cold and asked Manuel to take pictures for him while he rested. He showed Manuel the basic operation of the camera. When Wayne and Manuel later took the zodiac to shore they noticed a huge, maybe three-meter-long shark on the dock. “Mr. Wayne got so excited. ‘Take my picture! Take my picture,’ he shouted. I did, and he shared that photo with all his friends, and it appeared in newspapers and magazines. Joffrey was so mad at me,” Manuel recalled. Joffrey was jealous that he missed such a great photo opportunity. To thank Manuel for the great photo, Wayne bought him a pair of new shoes. Manuel continued to wear his worn-out pair, but Wayne noticed. “Where are your new shoes, buddy?” “I’m keeping them for special occasions, for Sundays,” Manuel responded, but the Duke forced him to start using them.

Manuel says they got new uniform shirts, khaki slacks, grey sweaters and topsider shoes at least once every six months. When they were up in California they would cruise over to Catalina Island most weekends.

Manuel told me about the time he tried to cross the border heading north, in order to get back to work, and the US border agents detained him. “I called Mr. Wayne, and he called the State Department. Then he actually showed up at the border. He put his arm around my neck, looked straight into the border official’s eyes, and said, ‘He’s coming with me.’ No one stopped us then!”

Manuel made his last cruise with John Wayne in April of 1979; he was on the boat the day the Duke died of cancer. “He was happy and strong right up to the end,” Manuel tells me. “The service was private, a family affair. After that, when I came home, a big Texan at the Tijuana/San Ysidro border crossing told me, ‘Your patron is gone now. This visa is history.’ I had a lot of time left on that visa, but he took it from me. And that was that. I returned to reality.”

Most Important Archeological Site in Northwestern Mexico: Chametla

©40.DSC_0263It always amazes me how we can have hugely rich archeological history very close by that goes unsung and unvalued, while we all dream about seeing the more famous sites. You know what they say about prophets in their own land, and I guess that’s true about places as well; we don’t value those nearby.

I’ve told you before that archeological evidence indicates that Mexcaltitán, just three hours south of Mazatlán, was probably the original Tenochtitlán—that Mezcaltitán was the legendary Aztlán, where the Aztecs (Mexica) lived before they moved to the Valley of Mexico. It’s so very close, our own gorgeous little Venice, yet we hardly hear about it.

I’ve also heard many people say that here in Sinaloa historically there were no native peoples; that we don’t have indigenous crafts or artwork because this area was only populated after the discovery of minerals in the mountains and the influx of Europeans. Hogwash! I’ve written before about the Mayo-Yoremes in the northern part of our state. Down here in the south, Totorames lived on the coast. They spread over quite a wide territory, as most of southern Sinaloa was connected by estuary; using a canoe they could easily get from one place to another. The Totorames often fought with the cannibalistic Acaxes and Xiximes who lived up in the Sierra Madres.

©31.DSC_0202

Joaquin Hernández

This week I learned from our friend, Joaquin Hernández, that Chametla—just 90 minutes from Mazatlán in the municipio of El Rosario—is the most important archeological site in all of northwestern Mexico! In Chametla are at least two pyramids built in pre-Hispanic times by the Totorames. Both were sacred sites, with platforms on top for sacrifices. Hernán Cortés himself visited Chametla, in 1535, before traveling over to La Paz; there are written documents and paintings that record this fact. Legend has it that he sat in the Cueva del Diablo looking out over the entire valley.

Near Chametla were 22 pre-Hispanic towns. What attracted so many Totorames to Chametla? The area is home to seven hills, which contain many caves. The Rio Baluarte runs through it; it’s very close to the Pacific Ocean; it’s fertile land; there’s jungle as well; and it’s right in the middle of the wonderful estuary system where historically mangroves and shrimp have thrived. In ancient times, there were three regions in southern Sinaloa: Sinaloa, Culiacán, and Chametla. Chametla comprised the territory from Escuinapa in the south to Piaxtla in the north. Only later was Mazatlán founded (on the present site of Villa Unión).

So, where are these pyramids? The first is the setting of the church in Chametla, at the foot of Cerro de San Pedro. I took some photos, but the pyramid is much easier to see live and in person. The church is built at the top, on the platform of the pyramid, while the lower part of the pyramid goes way beyond the church and down the hill. You can see that it’s man-made.

In 1935, when they were renovating the church, they found a secret passageway behind the altar that led to an underground cave. There they found “pagan” icons and relics, so the church quickly sealed it all back up. There was a second entrance to the cave just outside the church, at the entrance to where the original church was located. That cave entrance is now covered with a huge boulder. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Cool, huh? Not as visually stunning as a Chichen-Itza, by any means, as this pyramid has been built on and tweaked over and over throughout the millennia; it’s located right in the center of town. But, you can most definitely see its vestiges. The conquista of course was not just about conquering territory or even people; the conquistadores wanted to conquer the entire culture. So many churches are built on sacred sites of the indigenous peoples, as in Chametla.

And where is the second pyramid? It’s a 400-meter pyramid on which the local cemetery is built, also clearly visible. Local people say that when graves are dug, they almost always dig up pottery and other relics from the Totorame. The best specimens of these can be found in the small museum that is right next door to the church.

 

If you go to Chametla, I’d urge you to hike the 365 steps up El Cerro de la Cueva del Diablo. At the top is a man-made cave, obviously another sacred site, with a view of the entire river valley, estuary, ocean… The view is spectacular. It is in the cave that you’ll see an indentation that looks like two butt cheeks, and legend says that’s where Cortés sat. While he wasn’t in Chametla long enough to carve a seat, he may have enjoyed the gorgeous view, with the opening of the cave mirroring the curve of the hill it faces. On many of the hills in the area you’ll find platforms, indicating they were sacred sites; Loma de Ramírez has a 100 meter x 100 meter platform. The area is splendid for hiking, with a diversity of flora and fauna as well as elevation and lots of water.

Joaquin is quite the historian. He has spent much time researching, talking to locals, hiking around; traveling with him and his daughter was a joy. One final tidbit he told us? One of the seven hills in Chametla is called Cerro de las Cabras. However, no one has ever heard of there being goats on that hill. Joaquin found an old, old manuscript that referred to a hill in Chametla as Tetas de Cabras, or “Goat Tits.” His guess is that the vulgar-sounding part of the name was dropped or lost, so that only the goat part remains in modern times.

Joaquin speaks excellent English, as he lived and studied in San Francisco for several years. He frequently conducts presentations in both Spanish and English, so be sure to catch one if you are interested in history, literature… any of the many themes that spark the curiosity of this Renaissance man.

We happened to visit Chametla during the festival Chameitlán, celebrating 485 years since the founding of the town. I captured a photo of the cake and a few of the kids breaking the piñata. That’s Hernán Cortés on the piñata, the children told me—not at all like I pictured him to look!

After Mass, the cake and the piñata, there was a parade through town. We didn’t stay for it, but the young men in the Nautica band played, and the kids seemed to dress up as Indians. I also include a few other photos of the town.

If you enjoy hiking, history, archeology, kayaking, or if you’d just like to visit a small town and the estuary where the shrimpers still cast their atarrayas or hand nets, Chametla is a beautiful place to visit!

Nikkei Convention—Japanese in Mexico

P1130638

Some of our gorgeous Mazatleco Japanese kids, including my friend Chika’s children,
wearing hakama and kimono for the occasion.

Well, the 12th National Nikkei/Japanese-Mexican Convention is coming to a close. Events included the election of “Miss Nikkei,” a dozen or so incredible conferences, an early morning dance on the beach combining traditional Japanese buyo and Aztec dancing—to symbolize the Mexican-Japanese mix. We had kimono, happi and hakama, t-shirts with the Mazatlán deer sketched in kanji characters, origami paper folding and shoudo calligraphy, and a terrific, quite large ikebana/flower arranging display. Kudos to the unbelievable Esperanza Kasuga and all the convention organizers, staff, and volunteers!!!! お疲れさまです!!!!Over 400 people registered for the full convention, and thousands of people attended the events this week, commemorating 400 years of Mexico-Japan relations.

It was wonderful to meet so many people who were so thrilled to meet others with whom they share so much in common, and great to learn more of the history of Japanese people in Sinaloa and in Mexico. I met Mrs. Nakamichi, for example, who was joyfully proud to tell me about her grandfather (speaking in the video below, in front of a photo of her grandfather):

I was especially psyched to learn that kamaboko, traditional Japanese fish cake, is made right here in Mazatlán! How could I have lived here six years and not known that?! I am told I can buy it at Ricamar, which is on the right side as you head to the airport, just past Café Marino. Yippeee!!!

I loved the simple graphic below, outlining the first voyage of Japanese people to Mexico, then to Europe, and back again. Hasekura sure had perseverance and an adventurous spirit, as did Japan’s first immigrants to Mexico.

P1130606

I was privileged to meet Hirofumi Nakasone, the Japanese Senator from Gumma Prefecture and former Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as Minister of Education (I met his father, the Prime Minister, years ago and immediately noted the family resemblance), along with Shuichiro Megata, Japanese Ambassador to Mexico, in Casa Haas at the opening of the historical photo exhibit on Friday.

P1130701

Mr. Megata, myself, and Mr. Nakasone

My friend Joaquin Hernández showed us a few volumes from his astounding book collection, and I absolutely fell in love with this wood block print of Mazatlán. We are blessed with so many incredible intellectuals and all-around terrific people here, I am consistently amazed.

The photo exhibit at Casa Haas will be open for two or three more weeks, I am told, so do not miss it. In the rear room is a film made by a Japanese-Mexican woman from El Rosario, Sachiko Uzeta Amano, entitled, Del Otro Lado del Mar. The film was made in 1997 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Japan’s first immigrants to Mexico, and discusses their descendants cultural integration into Mexico and preservation of their Japanese heritage. I’ll have to go back in order to watch the whole thing. Seeing traditional Japanese festival accoutrements alongside the Virgen de Guadalupe sort of blew my mind!

Below is a highlight reel of Friday night’s Nikkei Convention concert in the Angela Peralta Theater, with interview from baritone Adán Pérez.

Japanese Movies and Convention in Mazatlán

 

10153000_675952005805187_7374108031705079814_n-1

I announced to you back in January that this year we celebrate 400 years of Japanese-Mexico relations. We had the “black ship” float and two Japanese dance troupes in Carnavál, and this weekend the Mexico-Japan Association will hold its Nikkei convention in Mazatlán; I can’t wait for that!

In preparation, CULTURA got in on the action this week with a series of three Japanese movies, subtitled in Spanish. While the free tickets were given out within just an hour or two, and those of us living outside Centro Histórico, as usual, were not privileged to get any, we have been able to get a seat the past two nights. The last movie in the series will show tonight, Wednesday, at 7:00 in Casa Haas. Oh how I have enjoyed them! Greg has generously accompanied me to each of the two so far; hopefully he will again tonight, despite what he’d prefer to be doing.

Then on Friday night, also at Casa Haas but beginning at 6:00 pm, will be an exposition on the history and impact of Japanese immigration in Sinaloa state. Yes, I am so excited!!!! I hope to see you there.

Below is a short recap of the three movies in the series.

Monday’s Movie: 生きる、Vivir, the award-winning 1952 Kurosawa classic

I’ve seen “Ikiru” several times. It’s the only Kurosawa movie of that period that does not feature Mifune, and it was required viewing in the 1970s when I first studied Japanese. This was my first time to view it in Mexico, however, and the similarities I noted between my two oh-so-different adopted cultures were really striking. The protagonist, who’s dying of cancer, goes out on the town at one point, and despite the kimono and tatami you’d swear he visited Mazatlán—from La Botana to trumpets in a banda surprising you from behind and poorly sung karaoke, it was puro Mazatleco. The main character (Watanabe-san) is a city official who works in a dysfunctional bureaucracy in which very little gets done and nearly no one thinks about community needs, and at one point he has to navigate the Yakuza (mafia) visiting the vice-Mayor’s office. Sound familiar? I thoroughly enjoyed this re-viewing.

Tuesday’s Movie: 歩いても歩いても、Caminando, Still Walking, the 2008 movie by Director Hirokazu Koreeda

I had not previously seen this movie, nor am I familiar with this director, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The film so well captured everyday Japanese life—the love of nature, cooking and eating (it sure made me hungry!), respect for elders and ancestors, the pace of conversation, the communalism of family life. The people in this movie were bitterer than most Japanese I know, but it is, after all, a movie, and a movie needs tension.

Tonight’s Movie: そして父になる、 Like Father Like Son, last year’s movie by the same director, Koreeda

This is the story of a businessman who learns that his six-year old son is not his biologically, but that two boys were switched in the hospital at birth. Now he must choose between the son he has raised and his blood kin. Sounds pretty interesting but, for me, the real joy is hearing the Japanese language, the sounds of my other adopted home, and feeling as if I’ve visited this other land I am so very fond of. なんて懐かしい!!!

On Keeping Traditions Traditional

 

10009854_10151968950151246_1414383763_n

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!

10150609_10151968918821246_1521236448_n

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