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Another mestizo

24 April 2014


Khumba, a Cebrasno” (“Cebra y asno” … Zebra and donkey), the first-born of Rayas the Zebra and Ignacio the Donkey was born at the Reynosa Zoo, 21 April, weighing in at 30 Kg. .

News from nowhere…

20 April 2014

If you aren’t linked to Mexican Journalism Translation Project, you should be. They’re doing a bang up job of making this site rapidly obsolete. Although originally intended just as cultural and historical observations and comments, by necessity, The MexFiles often translated news stories and political commentary that was missing from U.S. and English language media… and over the years, I have occasionaly had complaints when I try to stick to the “mission statement” of writing not just about politics and news, but about “history, culture…and the general weirdness that usually floats down from the north” instead. MXJTP is designed to do what I have been doing just on the side, so really recommend that those reading this site simply for politics and news look there first.

Here is a story, originally published in Ecuador, on immigration issues largely ignored… or only mentioned in passing in the U.S. media: the unescorted (and unprotected) minor migrants passing through Mexico on their way to join family already in the U.S. Original story by Lineida Castillo for Ecuador’s El Comercio, translated by Debbie Nathan

Noemí was on her way to meet her parents, who had left her ten years earlier to look for the “American dream.” Last 11 March, two months before her twelfth birthday, Noemí was found dead in a room in a house in Mexico. A District Attorney in Mexico determined that the child had committed suicide, hanging herself with a shower curtain in a shelter where she had been taken after being caught with a smuggler who was trying to take her to the US.

The trip was her second attempt. In August, Noemí had left her native Molino Huayco, El Tambo for the first time. She lived in Tambo with her grandparents Cipriano Quillay and María Guamán. On her mother’s instruction, the little girl was put on a regional bus to Tulcán.



My favorite Colombian

18 April 2014

This is my all-time favorite photo of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  He’d just been punched out by Mario Vargas-Llosa at a literary do at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City (I’m across the street from the Palacio right now).  Rodrigo Moya, the photographer, was the 16 year old son of one of Garcia Marquez’ friends when he took this photo in Februrary 1976.

Previous posts on GGM here:

GGM biography (with music by Oscar Chavez)

GGM (and other) Latin fiction readers

Latin American Nobel Literature Laureates

Censoring GGM

Garcia Marquez read-a-thon in rural Sinaloa






Is this site working??

18 April 2014

I gather it is… couldn’t get into my computer at home, “thanks” to an earthquake earlier today (all my power at home was out), and the local internet cafe computer for some reason wouldn’t let me see this site.  Thanks for checking!

Ink, alcohol and a whiff of gunpowder: Heriberto Frías

17 April 2014

Editorial Mazatlán plans to publish in the next year the first English-language translation of a minor Mexican classic… “The War Against The Gringos”, a 1901 didactic (and highly… er… “colorful”) study of the U.S. invasion and occupation (and partition) of Mexico in 1846-48, written by Mexican journalist and author, Heriberto Frías. Sabina Becker, who learned her art translating into English the bombastic, nationalistic and populist stylings of some of Latin American’s more eloquent politicians, had to pull out all the stops to get this manuscript ready for editing. Given that the author was a reporter in country where reporters even now are given to flowery language, euphemisms and allusions… and, when they are paid by the word, tend to hammer home a point by saying it again, and again, and again… even an excellent translation like Sabina’s requires editorial intervention. Being something of an editor’s nightmare in that I, too, am given to convoluted sentences and allusions (and… yes… a tendency towards the “decorative”), I guess it’s karma that I’m editing this work. I must say, I am enjoying it… although the Mexican-American War – and Mexican geography – is a blank to most readers north of the border, and it means I’ll have to dig in and write footnotes… lots of footnotes.

And, an introduction. Here’s a first draft of a biographical sketch of the author:

I’m not sure what Heriberto Frías would have made of contemporary Mazatlán. The late 19th century author, playwright and newsman was a notoriously hard-drinking, “bohemian” whose antics might not unduly raise eyebrows had he cruised today’s Malecón and tourist haunts, and… having arrived in the Pearl of the Pacific under something more than a cloud… might have found himself perfectly suited to his environment. On the other hand, as a bombastic and… er… colorful nationalist, which I am afraid our foreign tourist and “expat community” might have found an uncomfortable neighbor.
08And, in our day, one can’t help but think Frías would have “owned” the internet, and the foreigners are probably just as well off that Frías never wrote in English.
Born in 1870, the scion of a military family, he was destined for the family trade … oppressing the masses. However, when his father died in 1884, when Heriberto was a student at the national preparatory academy. Without enough money to continue his education, he took a job as a compositor and printers’ devil. An honorable beginning to many a 19th century writing career, to be sure, while his job forced him to read, and read continuously, the hours were long, and the lighting was poor.
A sixteen year old boy, with deteriorating eyesight, if he wanted to continue his studies, he would need a job with more flexibility. However, he seemed to overlook the small detail that his new, intended career probably required even more attention to detail than printing. But, it was as a failed burglar that Frías began his career as a popular author. While serving an eight month stretch in prison, as the only literate inmate in his cell-block, he discovered he had an innate gift for florid expressions, for the allusive phrase was appreciated by his fellow unsuccessful criminals, who avidly handed over what money they had for love letters… heartfelt promises of reform…pleas for mercy or remission of sentence. And of course, letters to mom.
Including his own, who had returned to her native Queretaro with the younger children when her husband died. Though upon his release, Heriberto had found work as a theatrical ticket seller — and he would, in later years, become a prolific playwright — his mother still hoped her son would have an “honorable” career. Though her Army and family contacts, arrangements were made to overlook Heriberto’s “youthful indiscretion” and enroll him in the prestigious Colegio Miliar. Despite constant bullying as a weaking and “four-eyes”, Frías finished his training, and was commissioned as a “subtenient” (Second Lieutenant) in January 1889, just short of his 19th birthday.
He quickly earned the respect of one General … Sóstenes Rocha… who wanted to give a more “literary” tone to Combat, the military magazine he edited. Military poetry, though, is not the same as military discipline. Frías, during his incarceration “being less educated in the ways of the underworld, had learned to enjoy their vices”, as one biographer daintily puts it. In other words, Subtiente Frías was in and out of the military prison at Santiago Tlateloco. Patriotic and enthusiastic as he was, discipline was something he never did quite get the hang of.
Having by necessity turned to crime as a boy, his lack of personal discipline did not interfere with his sense of justice. Like Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning, the U.S. Army intelligence specialist who exposed atrocities in Afghanistan, Frías was the less than ideal soldier who sacrificed his career… and risked his life… to inform the public of his own army’s unjust, and immoral, actions. In 1892, he saw service in the Tomochic Rebellion. As much a religious revival as a peasant revolt, what was later seen as an early precursor of the Revolution, was put down with brutality. The advice he gave himself was to start drinking heavily, which was going to change the situation, nor to bring any justice to those who were slaughtered. Writing about it might.
With no publisher daring to unvarnished truth, Frías wrote the story within the conventional frame of a love story about a conflicted army officer and a peasant rebel girl. And, although Tomóchic was published without the name of an author… and the publisher claimed HE was the author… Frías was too well known as a writer/officer to avoid being identified. It was only because his patriotic verse was well-known, and appreciated by military men, that he avoided the firing squad for “disseminating military secrets”. He did serve a few months in the military prison, then quietly allowed to leave the Army.
At a loss what to do, he turned to journalism… and alcoholism. With his progressively worsening eyesight to boot, he was on a downward spiral even by the loose journalistic standards of his time. Antonia Figueroa … his landlady and would-be girlfriend… turned him around, forcing him not only to clean up his act, but to start writing (and dress like proper Mexican gentleman) … deserves the credit for re-booting what would have been an aborted literary career.
Toñita doesn’t figure in most biographies (no more anyway, than, say, we hear about Margarita Maza de Juarez when we read about her husband, Benito — the 19th century Mexican woman’s power was exercised through her husband even more than it is today) … but the Frías who emerged after his marriage was the successful, nationally respected journalist, editor, author and champion of human òrights. While none of his subsequent novels had the success that Tomóchic did, he returned several times to the trick of sneaking in the unpleasant truth in the guise of fiction… notably in his “El Triunfo de Sancho Panza” based on his ringside seat as editor of the Mazatlán Correo de Tarde of corruption, abuse of power and outright thievery by city leaders.
As an anti-establishment insider, Frías saw no contradiction between fighting the powers that be and patriotism. To him, they were the same thing. In that vein, he wrote a series of didactic works, meant to instill both national pride in the masses, and outrage at their betrayal by their own leaders throughout history. In 1901, a series of articles were published under the title Episodios militares mexicanos, his highly colored view of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 later appearing under the title La Guerra contra los gringos.
By 1909, he was the leader of the journalists association in Mexico, and – as one would expect – a supporter of the Madero reformists. He accepted a post as under-secretary for Foreign Affairs in the Madero Administration… which got him sent back to prison under the Huerta dictatorship. Knowing full well that his health – undermined by his years of alcohol abuse — and his increasing blindness would make it impossible for him to survive even the short jail term, the faithful Toñita shared his cell.

Freed after six months, he joined the Constitutionalists, supporting Alvaro Obregòn (who shared Frías’ taste for bombastic writing, and, like the journalist, was a military man known to write poetry). When Obregòn gained the Presidency in 1920, he rewarded Frías with a sinecure as Mexican consul in Cadiz, although the by now all but completely blind and increasingly ill writer, never would be at ease in a foreign country. He soon resigned his post, and returned to live out his last few years in Mexico City.

One hundred chilangos

10 April 2014

It’s a cliche (and every Thomas Friedman column), that talking to a taxi driver is the path to gaining insight into a community. here’s a taxi driver who discovers his own city.

Artist Jason Schell turned that idea inside out… becoming a Mexico City taxi driver to gain his insight from his passengers.

Cien retratos

(written 9 April for later posting)

Crop rotation

10 April 2014

Nick Miroff has a long article in last Sunday’s (6 April 2014) Washington Post suggesting that Mexican heroin from Mexico is flooding the U.S. as a result of tolerance for marijuana use.

While not presented as sensationalism (it’s no secret that people in the U.S. have always had a tremendous appetite for chemically-enhanced means of altering their moods), the story is misleading in a number of ways.  Patrick Timmons of the Mexican Journalism Translation Project said much what I would write about this, and does so much more succinctly than I would:

I find Miroff’s article about Sinaloa’s poppy production to be deeply, deeply flawed. Poppy production in Sinaloa has absolutely nothing to do with US attempts at legalizing marijuana. Since the late nineteenth century poppies have always been a successful Sinaloa product — the work of Froylán Enciso, currently at UCMexus in San Diego’s proves this, and with stunning attention to archival detail.

opium025The story that the myopic Miroff misses is that marijuana cultivation has significantly expanded to the Laguna, much closer to the US border, and much closer to large bodies of water which marijuana needs to grow. (Poppies are much better suited to Sinaloa’s climate, they need less water, and aren’t damaged, like marijuana is, by the coastal climate.) The story Miroff has missed is that the increase in marijuana cultivation in La Laguna is leading to forms of internal displacement that seem unprecedented. There are strong indications of a huge crisis of land ownership and tenancy in the Laguna. There are transplants to Chihuahua from Sonora who tell of being forced from their lands by the marijuana cultivating narco.

I won’t dispute — not in the slightest — that the United States is a huge consumer of illegal drugs, many of which are cultivated in Mexico, but to say that poppies are being grown more now in Sinaloa because of U.S. legalization efforts is deeply deeply problematic, for the reasons that I have identified above.

I am sorry to see that the WaPost’s Mexico coverage has started to slip in quality, and quite drastically.

(written 9 April for later posting)


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