Archive for Mexican history

Language by Baptism: Parte Nueve

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2017 by timtrue


Wrapping things up around here.

Tomorrow is our examen grande, a kind of final exam to see how effective our Spanish immersion experience has been. Then, for me and my daughter anyway, we’ll be traveling back to the southwestern United States, leaving San Miguel de Allende to continue its life without us.

By the way, while we were staying here, Travel and Leisure named SMA the #1 city in the world to visit. What are the chances?

Anyway, point is, we’ve been thinking a lot about what we want to do in our last few days. What would we reget if we were to miss it?

El Museo de las Mascaras topped the list.

So we arranged a visit (by appointment only); and we went.

And we learned a whole lot more about the history of Mexico.

Do you know there are 63 recognized languages in this country?

One language, the language we’ve been studying so intensively for the past four weeks, of course, is Spanish.

Still, that leaves 62 others (which, incidentally, are spoken by over seven million people).

So what are these 62 other recognized languages in Mexico? Those of indigenous peoples.

Yeah! In Mexico, that friendly country to the south that we in the US tend to give little mind to–or else ignore or exclude–there are 62 recognized indigenous groups. These are peoples who speak their own language; carry on their own ancient customs, albeit vestiges for the most part; and, sadly, are largely forgotten by their own government.

Yesterday in conversation class–that hour after three intensive hours of grammar and syntax when we let loose, set aside our notebooks, and just talk–the subject of indigenous peoples came up. Mind you, this was just two hours before my and Christiana’s appointment at the Mask Museum.

Jessica, our teacher, a native of Mexico to whom I cannot offer enough praise, told us about education in Mexico. It’s free through college for all citizens; but there are simply not enough schools, especially in rural areas; especially where the indigenous peoples dwell.

Imagine the closest school being more than thirty kilometers away, and your family’s main source of transportation a donkey. Yeah! This really exists in our modern world. And just a few hundred miles south of San Diego!

Maybe the government of Mexico is to blame, I don’t know. But it is very difficult to find teachers who know or are willing to learn the languages of the indigenous peoples; so even if the government were to build a school in the midst of an indigenous community, what good are such schools without teachers?

The students could be immersed in Spanish, I suppose. But would they attend? Would their family or tribe want them to attend?

And these indigenous languages aren’t simply dialects of Spanish. Indeed, they’re not even cognates! They are completely unrelated to Spanish, connecting directly to the old, old languages of the days of the Aztecs and Mayans!

So, two hours later, with these questions persisting and pestering, we headed to the Mask Museum.

Photographs weren’t allowed, by the way.

It was an incredible experience, a highlight of our entire time here–wish I could offer some photos!

So: over the last 26 years, Bill, the owner of the museum and a retired businessman from the US, has been visiting indigenous communities all over Mexico collecting masks made for festivals and dances. Over the last dozen years, Bill has been displaying his collection in his museum, continually improving it. Each room is lined with masks; each wall displays a theme. Placards all along the way explain the themes (making for an ideal self-guided tour).

We read every word, spending more than three hours there. Here was indigenous history at our fingertips!

Syncretism figures prominently into the history of the indigenous peoples in Mexico. The Spaniards came to the new world and brought their religion and military might. Their modus operandi was to overwhelm the natives with their ways. Where religious ritual could not be snuffed out, it was incorporated and baptized (in a matter of speaking).

Ritualistic dances to the gods of harvest and bounty, for instance, became religious rituals to the Spanish understanding of the Christian god. Masks were very much a part of these ritualistic dances; and thus had to be carved into acceptable images–not in the image of the god of the four winds, for example, but in the image of St. James. If indigenous persons refused to comply, well, punishment included (from one edict I read) two hundred lashes and six years in prison.

Needless to say, the natives complied.

Más o menos.

And thus dances that formerly beseeched the gods of rain and bountiful harvest now took on an air of good versus evil according to the Spaniards’ version of the Christian story. St. James was good; Lucifer bad. The disciples were good; the Jews, and specifically the Pharisees, bad. Jesus was good; Pontius Pilate bad. The Spaniards were good; the moors (Muslims) bad. And one more: the slave-owning Spaniards were good; African slaves bad.

By the way, Judas Iscariot comes into the yearly dances too. But only once a year, during Holy Week. Thus, ironically, he is not an archetype of evil. (He’s evil, sure; but not an archetype.) The archetypal enemies (in dances performed to this day!) are Lucifer, the Jews, Pontius Pilate, and the Moors.

Thus, throughout Mexico (and I’m imagining most if not all of Latin America as well), the natives’ masks and dances were overwhelmed by and incorporated into the Spanish version of the Christian story.

And thus some very nasty and stubborn versions of racism entered friendly Mexico.

It’s all there in the masks.

To this day!

Nevertheless, despite all the Spaniards’ efforts, vestiges of the old, old dances remain.

One indigenous group, not too far south from Tucson, Arizona, as a matter of fact, continues a ritual dance to this day calling upon the god of the hunt to give the community ample deer meat for the season.

The conservative side of my psyche finds much hope in this; for maybe, just maybe–I like to think anyway–the old, old ways will triumph in the end over the newer. . . .

Anyway, I began this blog post with a photo. I wasn’t able to take any photos of any masks in the museum, I mentioned. But I was able to take this one.

That’s because it wasn’t taken in the museum. I purchased this mask and am bringing it home.

Made by a mask-maker in an indigenous community not far from here, in the Sierra Madre outside the city of Guanajuato, it’s a mask for Carnival, called Mardi Gras by the French, that great party that takes place each year just before Lent.

It’s a gift to my family.

More importantly, it’s a reminder of the social injustices happening to this day in that friendly country to the south.

At the end of this Spanish immersion experience, then, I am left to wonder what I can do about it.

Language by Baptism: Parte Ocho

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , on July 16, 2017 by timtrue

Yesterday I awoke to this view.


The sky was blue and sunny, something that for us so far on this trip has been an unusual thing. What’s more, we had no plans. So Christiana and I decided to grab our cameras and head around town to grab some photos. We left at 11am or so and returned some six hours and five miles later (according to Christiana’s smartphone). Here is some what we saw.

I begin with “the new place,” our residence for the remainder of our time here. It’s tall and skinny. We have not so much rooms as stories. The bottom story houses the kitchen, a living area, and a bathroom; the middle, a bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor terrace; and the top, another bedroom and bathroom.

Our place of lodging is in Colonia Guadalupe, a neighborhood with murals around every corner.

Most streets around town are not muraled. They are nonetheless colorful. Yet walking across town can feel kind of eerie. Narrow sidewalks, traffic, numerous pedestrians forced to work their way around each other, and long stretches of wall with closed doorway upon closed doorway have the effect of being in a kind of Pink-Floyd-esque labyrinth.

But passing through an open doorway, the labyrinthine effect disappears entirely. Smelly exhaust, automobile mirrors nearly clipping your elbow, early-onset claustrophobia–all is transformed into another world of beauty, tranquility, and architectural variety to spin the wheels of even the least creative of minds.

Curious, we entered through a doorway of a hotel to find this gem.

And it was time for an ice cream break.


Of course, it’s not all labyrinth and bad exhaust fumes. There are some wonderful open spaces around town, including El Jardin, a central plaza; squares in front of churches; and sometimes simply the streets themselves.

Our favorite open space of all is Parque Juarez, which always has some kind of art display on weekends. Being Saturday, we headed that way–only to discover that the entire park had been converted into its annual gastronomy fair.

What luck! Time for lunch? Ooh, look: arrechera shish kebab with a side of quinoa salad and lemonade with a shot of mescal, all for a hundred pesos, or around $5. Heck yeah!

The architectural highlight of the day was the churches.

There are many in San Miguel de Allende, several within just a few steps of each other. Most have daily masses and seven or more on Sundays. A local told me there are generally about fifteen weddings per Saturday here throughout the year. And all in a town whose population is around 60,000 persons! I keep hearing the church is in decline in North America. That may be; but it’s most definitely not the case in SMA.

There’s even a parish here of La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico, a mostly English-speaking congregation closely aligned with my religious sensibilities. The rector is a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church, as a matter of fact. Christiana and I attended a couple Sundays back.

Anyway, I conclude with these photos and no further comment. Hope you’ve enjoyed the journey with us.

Language by Baptism: Parte Cuatro

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , on July 6, 2017 by timtrue

Been a few days since I’ve posted. No photos this time. Rather, a quick update on progress. My perspective anyway.

Taking a step back, this program probably looks like a lot of other summer Spanish intensive courses you can find in colleges all over the United States. We’re cramming probably a year’s worth of something like a college course into four weeks, after all. We meet for five class hours a day: the first three to go through a course of study–grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and so on; the fourth for pure conversation; and the fifth for pronunciation and diction.

One big difference here, however, as opposed to taking a course like this in the states, is that we students are able to practice what we’re learning everywhere we go–restaurants, shops, libraries, churches, museums, etc.

A slight complaint is that SMA is actually a very English-friendly town, meaning I don’t have to speak in Spanish 24/7 if I don’t want to; and, believe me, sometimes, especially towards the end of the day, after five intensive hours of study already, it’s very difficult to keep thinking in Spanish. Mental exhaustion settles in. I really would rather communicate in English. So I do. Or, rather, I get lazy and revert to English a lot more often than I should.

Near the border, on the US side, there’s a common kind of dialect called Spanglish. Down here, it’s something like that around here in the late afternoons, only coming from the other side. Gringo-ish, maybe?

Another big difference is the cultural immersion. All around me are the sights, smells, and sounds of beautiful, warm, delicious Mexico. I took a field trip to Guanajuato last Saturday; will take another this Saturday to the only known archeological wonder in this area, La Canada de Virgen; and everyday simply walking to and from the school confronts me with it all.

Indeed, this is not just any old summer intensive Spanish course but truly an immersion experience.

Language be Baptism: Parte Tres

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , on July 2, 2017 by timtrue


Enjoyed a spectacular visit to Guanajuato yesterday with several other students in the AHA! program.

The city of Guanajuato (Gto) began as a mining encampment in the eighteenth century. It was soon realized that the mountains around Gto held an especially large amount of silver. In fact, by the early nineteenth century, the Gto mines were providing a full third of the world’s silver. A full third! This was the motherlode! The definite article!

Lots of money meant it was time to build a city. Which the city’s founders did.

Situated in a valley with steep mountains all around, well, the city ended up being built in a river bed.

Not a good move, founding folks realized in time: floods ravaged the place; buildings’ foundations began to rock and sink.

Yet there were no options to rebuild elsewhere, somewhere up some slope out of the river bed; so city builders built up, above the first foundation, constructing streets to divert flooding waters and building up sixteen or so feet of new foundation around these streets, utilizing rubble from the mines.

What this amounts to today is a downtown area filled with architectural wonders (they once had a lot of money, remember), and a whole network of underground roads and tunnels–all built by hand(!) in the nineteenth century.

My day in Gto in photos follows. If you’d like to research this magnificent place more, it is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites here:

Entonces, Gto in pictures:

At the drop-off point:


Looking around a bit:



The granary, where a violent massacre took place in 1810, led by Hidalgo, a Jesuit priest. Notice the bullet holes (from this very battle) in the top half of the wall:



Next stop, the Diego Rivera Museum. It’s the house where this influential artist was born and lived until six years of age. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to photograph much:




Some downtown sights:










The above photo highlights a building designed by the architect of the Eiffel Tower. And inside:


By the way, lunch cost 12 pesos, or roughly 65 cents:


And now, to descend! A few photos are not the best–most likely due to the photographer’s limited skills. I include them nevertheless, to convey the idea:







After returning to street level, we concluded our day with a 20-minute walk to and tour of El Museo de las Momias, Gto’s Museum of the Mummies. I took no photos inside, but some friends did. Perhaps I will be able to pilfer a few for a future post.

Until next time then, Saludos!


Language by Baptism: Parte Dos

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2017 by timtrue

As intimated previously, here are two food photos: of today’s lunch at our host’s local restaurante; tortilla soup followed by queso enchiladas con salsa verde:


Anyway, three days into it now, I’ve experienced a couple of minor disappointments.

In the first place–at the risk of sounding like Hermione Granger–the school decided to cancel its last class of the day for this entire Session. What this means is that we’re done at 5pm instead of 6:20, which is the positive way to look at it. It also means, however, that the Mexican history section has been cancelled, a section entitled “Mexican Literature II,” something I was really looking forward to.

The second disappointment is the other afternoon class, beginning at 3:45, “Folksinging and Folkdancing.” Now, I’m okay with singing, especially folk singing, especially in Spanish. Trouble is, so far it’s only been a social dancing seminar, stress dancing and neither singing nor Spanishing.

Morning classes are nonetheless substantial, solid from 8:30am to 1:45pm.

Entonces . . .

We decided instead of “Folksinging and Folkdancing” today to take in a local botanical garden.


Leaving the restaurant, we mapped out our walk to some botanical gardens whose name I can’t remember right now (brain’s kind of full at the moment . . .), some 1.5 miles distant. What we didn’t know was that this distance would be entirely uphill, sometimes at a 20% slope. We saw two medium-to-large men try and fail to ride a motorcycle up this slope. Most motorcycles around here have smallish engines, like 150ccs. Still, it was that steep!

Here are a few photos from our ascent via (steep) city streets:


Looking back. AHA! is directly left of the white sedan. La Boganbilia, our host’s restuarante, is at the other end of the street, several blocks away.


So, up we go.


Another look back, SMA’s skyline is quite spectacular.


And, huffing and puffing (at above 2,000 m/ 6,600 ft in elevation), we make it! Entrance fee, by the way, is 40 pesos, or about $2.20, a US penny per acre.


Inside we find a trail around the garden and several plants you might guess are in the region.


Mesquite (for my Texas friends).


Gatillo (for my friends who like mimosas).



And agave!–specia Magna in the top photo; specia Tequila in the bottom (for my friends who like margaritas).


The property includes a wetland area.



And what do you call this? A cactus pond garden?

But the real surprise comes when we encounter the ruins of an eighteenth-century aqueduct, to deliver water to the town once upon a time:


This is the water source for the aqueduct.




And some of the ruins.


Here you see the gorge down which the aqueduct traveled. Near the top of the gorge on the far side there is a newer system of pipes to deliver water to SMA, however now also defunct.

A few steps away, I conclude today’s self-made cultural and historical experience with a couple more shots of this beautiful city. Stay tuned for parte tres.



Language by Baptism: Introduction

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2017 by timtrue


Looking forward to spending the next four weeks in San Miguel de Allende (SMA), immersing myself in the Spanish language and Mexican culture (and taking a grateful break from crafting sermons). I hope to make several posts during this time highlighting the experience.

Joining me on this adventure will be my oldest daughter, Christiana. We plan to meet in a few hours on the San Diego side of CrossBorderXpress, a skybridge by which we will cross the Mexican border and arrive inside the Tijuana airport via foot. From there it’s a six-hour plane flight to Leon followed by a ninety-minute shuttle ride to SMA. We’ll be staying with a host family about 1.25 miles from the school, meaning walking about 5 miles a day. Morning classes are language-focused; afternoon cultural and historical–all in Spanish.

Hoping to begin a weekly Spanish service in Temecula some time in the near future.

It all begins now. Stay tuned!