Mazatlán’s Famous Feminist: La Maya

dsc_0001.jpgMove over, Billy Jean King! While you are awesome, Mazatlán’s own Margarita Montes won 28 of her 33 professional boxing matches against men—and that was back in the 1920s! She is perhaps the only Sinaloan woman to be interviewed by Ripley himself for his Believe It or Not, and was also interviewed by the French magazine Liberation for her life as a feminist.

In an era when women were expected to be quiet, submissive and obedient, “La Maya,” as she was affectionately called, was anything but. Born with the need to achieve and be seen, she excelled in several sports and fought for women’s rights long before it was cool. The sixth of eight children of a poor farming family, La Maya was a baseball player (state champion pitcher in 1929), boxer (Pacific League champion), bullfighter, mechanic and pig hauler; she owned a traveling movie theater, a tortillería and a bicycle repair shop; and she was a wife, mother, grandmother and friend. Sadly, she died before I was able to meet her, in 2007. Last night, however, I saw her house and met the man who recorded her oral history back in 1997, when La Maya was 82 years old—local writer, photographer and Carnaval float designer, Alfonso (Poncho) Cornejo Galindo.

 

I recently read his booklet, and it is a fantastic story! The photos in this article are taken from that story, and the contents are a summary in English of the Spanish text, shared with all of you with Poncho’s permission.

Margarita got her nickname, “La Maya,” from her father because he hair always hung in her face as a child. In the book she narrates her own story. She tells us she was born in the small town near Mazatlán called Chilillos. Her father cut himself with a machete and came to a hospital in Mazatlán, where he decided to move the family, in 1917 or so. The children had never before seen cars. La Maya remembers her sister Pachita and her arriving into town at sunset on a burro. She played as a child amongst the corrals of cattle on Rosales street, where the PRI building now stands.

Poverty taught her that to win she had to fight hard, to stand out she had to overcome, and she especially wanted to overcome the condition of being a submissive, quiet, obedient woman. She tells us she was always very motivated to overcome the obstacle of the difference between the sexes.

La Maya only went to school through first grade. She learned to spell a bit, but there were so many kids that they had to work to eat. At 12 she started to work in the nixtamal mill of Mr. Xicotencatle del Valle.

She tells us she was a wild child. Her father tried to change her, but her destiny was decided. She had a fever inside motivating her to do something! They used pieces of canvas to make baseball mitts, and silk stockings to make the balls, which they then covered with a milky juice that hardened over the balls. The bat they  used was a tree branch, formed with a machete. She had a good arm and pitched very hard. She remembers that she was a sore loser who couldn’t stand losing. Strength, muscles and triumph were her goals.

dsc_0004.jpgDelfina worked with her at the mill and lived near the baseball stadium, where the Escuela Nautica is now. She insisted La Maya go with her to play baseball, but La Maya’s dad wouldn’t let her. She then invited a neighbor to go with her one afternoon, and they went without telling anyone. The team members loaned La Maya a real glove that fit so well, and a real ball that caressed her hand, unlike what they had in the barrio.

dsc_0003.jpgThey named La Maya pitcher on that very first day. It was the first time she felt she could be successful, break barriers, that her restlessness could serve a purpose. Don Julián Ibarra and El Güero Eliso were the team’s coaches. They went to talk to her Dad and talked him into letting La Maya play. Every Sunday the old stadium would fill up. Most of the spectators were train workers who came to watch the women. The stadium was made of wood. The catcher, Juana Lerma, asked La Maya to pitch softer, but she told her to go to hell and learn to catch.

One day La Maya told El Güero that she didn’t want to pitch anymore, because it tired her out and she had to work in the mill. He was smart and offered her ten pesos for every game she pitched, as long as she didn’t tell anyone else. Since her pay for her full-time job was seven pesos a week, her side job, which she enjoyed, provided a huge salary!

There were three women’s teams in that era: Cigarrera La Conquistadora, Molino del Valle, and Cervecería Díaz de León, La Maya’s team. They won the championship and got a silver cup donated by Casa Huerta, a local artesanías shop. That was 1928. To get into the stadium cost 30-50 centavos. La Maya recalls that was the year the women in England got the vote.

She remembers participating in exhibition games in Hermosillo. And that one day El Güero Eliso bet her 50 pesos that she couldn’t ride the wild horse that grazed on the lot where they practiced baseball. She mounted the horse in one jump, and and proceeded to ride him calmly around the lot. El Güero didn’t realize she had learned how to ride while living in the country as a kid.

In 1931 La Maya still played baseball and was well know for her batting and pitching. She liked the fame, that she was important to people. One day some people told her about a boxer who was looking for someone in Mazatlán to fight. She’d always liked a challenge, so she got to thinking, “I’m good at baseball; how about boxing? What would happen if I put on the gloves?” She knew the boxer was training in Playa Sur, near the balnearios on Alemán. La Maya went to watch her; there were many spectators. “I can beat her,” she thought. She knew her muscular arms were strong, and decided to do it. She was ecstatic when the organizers said they’d pay her 150 pesos to fight! El Güero was her manager, and the promoter was Chano Gómez Llanos. She had a month to get ready and trained with Kid Milo, Mike Rubí, Benjamín Pérez, El Borrego Torres and Mike Herrera who helped her a lot.

 

In the days leading up to the fight everyone was talking about it; two women, boxing! The lady’s name was Josefina Coronado, and her manager was the Cuban Roberto Negro Molinet. She never expected the type of rival that La Maya would be. Tickets sold out for the fight in Teatro Rubio, today the Angela Peralta. She was nervous at first: three floors full of screaming people. The fight was four rounds and she felt she dominated; La Maya won by decision. The main fight of the evening was between Mike Herrera and Joe Conde, the Dandy of the Ring.

La Maya tells us that once the bantam weight champion, Raúl Talán, came to fight Joe, fresh from Japan where he’d been traveling. He watched her train, congratulated her, and gave her some gifts. They remained friends for years; she visited him in Mexico City when he was retired and wrote for El Nacional. He interviews La Maya several times. Joe Conde was her sparring partner. He was a fine boxer. Joe was a gentleman in and out of the ring. Elegantly dressed with a cane and bowler hat. It was the era of the famous Zurita-Casanova-Joe Conde triangle.

 

In 1931 La Maya traveled to Nogales to box, with permission from her employer, Mr. del Valle. Even though she went for three days, the trip ended up lasting three months. By then her brother Pepe was her manager. She was fighting men and winning by knockouts. She traveled to Tucson to fight and toured Nayarit.

La Maya remembers going to the mascarade ball for Carnaval in the As de Oros. Her  brother Pepe chaperoned her. Someone got into a fight with him, she jumped to defend him, and everyone said “a little masked lady” had knocked the guy out! It was quite the scandal.

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La Maya tells us she never looked for a fight. She traveled all over and made 150 pesos a fight touring Sonora, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Arizona, Baja California. She had 33 professional fights, five against women and 28 vs. men. She was the first woman boxer to fight against US American men and won the Pacific Coast Championship when she beat Josefina Coronado.

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In 1933 she had a boyfriend, the son of a German and a Mexican, a very handsome guy with whom she’d had a five-year relationship. It was hard for them, because she traveled a lot. One time at a bull fight the people asked La Maya to fight. He said he didn’t want to see her do it, but she did it anyway. She punched the bull several times to much applause.

 

Several days later General Juan Dominguez came to La Maya’s house to ask her to become a bullfighter. María Cobián was coming, nicknamed La Serranito, and he wanted her in the ring, too. “You have good legs to run if you have to.” They paraded in a convertible before the fight, accompanied by a banda sinaloense. The fight was in Plaza REA, where the Angel Flores school is now. They paid La Maya 250 pesos. But she tells us she was scared when the bull came out. People shouted at her to stick him with the banderillas. She got one in, but the other went into his butt. Her boyfriend was in the first row, applauding. That would be the last corrida that La Maya did formally, as she didn’t want to play with bulls anymore; they frightened her.

A while later she saw her boyfriend in the theater with another girl. For the first time in her life she was hit with disillusion; it was like a knockout. She broke off their relationship right then and there; La Maya’s blood would never mix with German blood.

DSC_0018In 1939 La Maya married José Valdez Alvarez. He was a stevedore on the docks. They saved enough money together to buy a cargo truck that they used for hauling. They had three sons: José, Alejandro and Efraín, but the youngest would be the only one to survive. At the time the book was published Efraín was married with three kids, her grandchildren Efraín, Alfonso and Alicia Margarita.

In 1948 La Maya returned to work in the mill but because the pay was so low she decided to also open a bicycle repair shop. Pepe her brother helped her. They rented bikes for 40 cents an hour. She came and went on bike from El Venadillo every day, which kept her legs in good shape. She would race to Villa Unión on bike sometimes, always against guys.

After tiring of bicycles she put in a tortillería, and then changed that for a mechanic’s shop. When she sold that Mr. Valeri Saracco paid her with a Studebaker. With that she started to haul pigs; people were impressed with how easily she lifted them into the truck.

La Maya always worked hard and could learn how to do anything. She had lots of victories and triumphs. She believed she led the way for many women athletes, especially on the Pacific Coast. She was good at weight lifting and all sports, and wonders if perhaps she could have gone to the Olympics.

dsc_0009.jpgLa Maya tells us of the satisfaction she felt appearing in several magazines, including Ripley’s Believe it or not. On March 11, 1988, the reporter Michell Chemin from the French magazine Liberation‘s sport section published an article on La Maya.

She closes the booklet by saying that, “Now, at 92 years of age, with my physical and mental abilities intact, I look back on my life with nostalgia and feel I was born in the wrong era.”

Now you know a bit of the story of La Maya. Please pass it on; we shouldn’t let this woman’s legacy die out!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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!!!