My great grandfather came to Mexico from southern France in the mid 1850s in search of opportunity and a new life. When he arrived in northern Sonora, he fell in love with the beauty of this unique landscape, its people and married. When I was young, I can remember my mother talking about how he regretted leaving Mexico for southern Arizona, an area that had recently become part of the United States through the Gadsden Purchase. I don’t know if memories transfer to the generations that follow, in my case, I suspect that to be the case. If not, it could be said that I found myself every bit as much in love with the area the first time that I saw it and feel the same to this day.
They say that love is sometimes blind, that it causes you to put reason and common sense aside and follow where your heart takes you. Over the last year, Athena and I have spent a great deal of time in that part of Mexico, during a time when anything that you read would tell you not to go near the place. But there are times when common sense makes absolutely no sense and such it was for us. To deny one’s love for something, something that enriches life and connection, seems infinitely more harmful than following what the majority considers to be good advice.
200th Anniversary of the Mexican Revolution last week.
To make that story short, what might have been a risk, has turned out to be no risk at all. The months we spent last winter and spring in Mexico were filled with new places, new friends, foods, experiences, the very things that make life rich and full. The problem with the news media is that it has created a very convincing story that suggests that every nook and corner of Mexico is overrun with drug cartel violence and that stepping across the border will most likely result in death or dismemberment. For the most part, that’s the only kind of news that coming out of Mexico these days. And in no way am I trying to dispute the fact that there has been an increase in violence in Mexico driven by competition to satisfy the huge demand for marijuana and narcotics here in the States, that is absolutely true. But what is equally true is that there are many parts of Mexico that are safe, where life goes on as normal. For how long? Who can say.
The Banamichi, Sonora plaza.
I do know one thing, legislation, laws and enforcement can keep things at bay, even under control, but they do little to bring about change on a personal and meaningful level. Relationships, whether they be between countries or people, have to happen on a personal level for their to be mutual respect, friendship and fun.When it comes to Mexico, I think the only thing that will truly offset the current situation is an effort from this side of the border to extend and connect with the Mexican people rather than adopting a posture of isolation and distance on our part. If it involves some kind of perceived risk, I can’t speak for others, but as for ourselves, we’ve adopted an “who cares – it’s worth it” attitude.
200th Anniversary parade viewers.
During this past year there have many things that have deepened our connections to the area. In short they range from the people to just about everything about the local culture. It’s the kind of place where people still have time for one another whether you be stranger or not, where towns are quiet (for the most part), where values matter and of course, the food is fabulous. Great places don’t exist without great food. The cuisine is simple due to the scant resources of the Sonoran desert environment, but nonetheless innovative and sufficiently great. There are no franchises except for the beer expendios, that’s a given in Mexico. The mescal/tequila (they’re the same) is the best in Mexico.
The hearts (“cabezas”) of the agave plant ready for roasting in the pit with the fire. Once cooked, they are fermented and then distilled to make mescal Bacanora.
Life in the area is an intriquing mix of old and new. The old west, long gone from the States, is still visible, cowboys on horseback a common site. At the same time, the younger generation, who live in a series of small towns along the Rio Sonora, stay connected and communicate extensively through Facebook and their cell phones. Their favorite movies include the likes of Harry Potter, Toy Story, The Karate Kid and of course the romantic ones like How to Loose a Man in 10 Days. Granted this little picture I’ve painted is somewhat on the idyllic side, it is very true that the area is not without its problems, but this is a story of contrast and in that sense, when compared to modern life in developed areas, it has much to recommend. If you want to know more, I wrote about the area in this past winter and spring’s blog entries or take an even bolder step, go there.
Horse and rider – Banamichi, Sonora.
We are not alone in our love for the area. Common sense appears to have totally deserted our new-found friends, Darrin and Cheri Jones, recently packed up their lives and dogs in Alabama and moved to the town of Banamichi. Taking it a step further, they bought a beautiful small hotel in this time of economic uncertainty and almost non-existent tourism. Fun and energetic, their imagination and vision extends far beyond the sensible and yet they seem to be sufficiently grounded in practical reality. They and their little hotel, La Posada del Rio Sonora, are a story in themselves that I’ll save for later. The old website is: http://laposadadelriosonora.com/, a new one is in the works. In some ways, the new Facebook page could be more relevant for some – http://www.facebook.com/LaPosadaDelRioSonora
Patio of La Posada del Rio Sonora.
Over the centuries, all sorts of eccentric Americans and foreigners have been drawn to Mexico, but in particular I think of the two of them in same light as those Americans that might have answered the call of Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution – “Hey Gringos, be all that you can be. Come and ride with Pancho Villa for gold and glory.” They are not dynamiters, machine gunners or pilots, but they exhibit the same spirit of adventure. I might even do a t-shirt that says something like “Hey Gringo, Be all that you can be. Come to Mexico for fun and adventure.”
Cheri Jones of the hotel and Rosy Fier, Canadian/American living in Banamichi as the head mining engineer at the reopened Santa Elena gold and silver mine.
They are not alone, other Americans have moved to the Rio Sonora Valley, one of my favorites is Roger McCory, an accountant for rather well-to-do clients in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Five years ago, when visiting Banamichi, he met a beautiful Mexican woman, Claudia Cordova. Apparently, Roger did the proverbial “head over heels” falling in love routine, moved his life to Banamichi and married Claudia. I think his love for the area, Claudia’s family and their young son exceeds just about anyone that I’ve met to date.
Claudia, Roger and their young son.
Of course, love stories centered on a place, whether it be one’s hometown or a new discovery, are nothing new. It’s a story that repeats again and again through time, all over the world. However, I think the great thing about the above examples is that they are happening at time when the relationship between two countries has distanced, become paralyzed by fear and prejudice (surprisingly).
In the midst of all this, Athena and I, have found ourselves swept away in a totally unexpected love affair. A dance group of young high school kids and their teachers have completely stolen our hearts away. Athena’s adjectives capture them best – “cute, adorable, priceless, lovable, graceful” – the kinds of words that in this day and age apply to so few things. I almost toned down the words “love affair” to something more moderate such as “appreciation,” but I decided against it as it wouldn’t really be honest.
Performing in front of the Banamichi church for the 200th Anniversary.
Anyhow, our relationship with them began this past October when they came for a performance at Tucson Meet Yourself, during that time they stayed with us, ate and played with us here in Canelo. What makes them all so irresistible? Honestly, who can explain such things, but much of it has to do who they are as people, some of it the way they dance and a very large portion – their smiles that completely envelop you. They deserve enormous respect for the tremendous amount of dedication and effort they invest in what they do. They catch the bus for school at 6:30 am, have a break for homework and then off to dance practice from 5 to 8 pm. But in the final analysis, for us, it’s quite simple. They make you smile, laugh and feel good watching them. They make it impossible not love them. Their absolutely exquisite display of traditional Mexican dance is uplifting, healing and tear-invoking. So in a complex time of over-whelming formality, regulation and tension, they are great medecine.
The girls of the Xunutzi dance group.
They are a brilliant reminder of the very kind of thing that is so good and marvelous about Mexico. They have the capacity to touch people regardless of their political and religious affiliations. They are proof of how much music, dance and the arts can help when other conventional social and political processes fail. In their own small way, they remind me of what may be the Beatles most significant and least known contribution to the world. At a time when world leaders were locked in intellectual, political and technological battles and the Beatles gave the youth of the communist countries a hope and vision for freedom that led eventually to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Apparently they were as popular in Mosco as they were in London and New York. The film “How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin” tells that story. It aired on PBS recently and can also be seen on line – : http://www.live4ever.uk.com/2010/07/documentary-how-the-beatles-rocked-the-kremlin/#ixzz16c3vGPlD
A surprise performance put on for us last Sunday night on a quiet and tiny plaza in the town of Huepac for ourselves, Cheri and Darrin Jones of the hotel and our sons, Benito and Kalin.
The group is known as “Grupo Danza Xunutzi.” “Xunutzi” is an Opata Indian word meaning “people of the corn. They don’t have a website, but you can find the group on Facebook – “Gpo Danza Xunutzi.” There you can find this photo collage of most of the group. We compiled for them on our last trip, the names of the individuals are tagged. Perhaps you might even pick one from the list, surprise and contact them as a friend. Make them learn English. There’s always Google Translate that could be better than nothing. My self-appointed role as group photographer is way beyond fun. Where to see them in person? Perhaps in Tucson this spring, otherwise, the 3rd Saturday of every month in Banamichi, Sonora, on the plaza, sponsored by La Posada del Rio Sonora – www.laposadadelriosonora.com
A collage of the group, including ourselves, Darrin and Cheri, from the time we spent with them with them last weekend.
OK, hopefully I’ve built them up enough that I’m going to make a pitch on their behalf. I guess it’s not a good idea to put a solicitation at the bottom of a lengthy article, but what else to do. These kids lack is transportation. Many others in the area would like to join the group, but have no way to get to practice and back home because it takes place between 5 and 8 pm. That’s one problem, but there is another that is even more pressing. Several of the kids, including some of the girls who have participated in the group for many years, are also having difficulty getting to practices and find themselves having to hitchhike. I told a couple of the girls that we should pose a photo of them hitch hiking on the road for this blog. They felt that since they didn’t have tattered clothes with them to really look impoverished they preferred to do a stage-like rendition for us.
Looking for the ride!
And what they experience when they are passed by.
So we’re determined to help them find a used van that will not only take care of these problems, but can also be available to help them travel to performances here in the States. We’re guessing that something in the range of $5,000 will do the trick, as of now we’re half way there and need to raise the remaining half. Contact me if you’re so inclined. In their minds, it will be huge and they will more than likely think of you as some kind of angel. I mean who else is going to think that about you that way? So if you are tempted, let me know.
I am very disappointed that I don’t have new video footage for you. We have it, can post it later, some of it priceless. But for now, Athena is consumed with doing a logo for the group – Friends of Tucson’s Birth Place. So here’s some links, the titles are not right, we couldn’t get the right information at the time, but they will give you some idea. Possibly you saw them before.
Whew, I think that’s way more than enough, but I want to leave you with a beautiful quote given to me by one of the kids in the group:
She wrote – “I have left for you a little reflection that I like:”
“I hope you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to be happy.
Happiness lies for those who cry, those who have been hurt, those who seek, those who try … because only they can appreciate the importance of people who have touched their lives ..
You cannot be happy until you release your past failures and pains that you carry in your heart …
When you were born, you arrived crying and everyone around you was smiling, live your life so that when you die, you smile and everyone all around you cries.”