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“San Francisco Values”… in the Yucatan

13 May 2014

Mc Clatchy’s intrepid Mexico correspondent, Tim Johnson,  finds  echoes of San Franscisco in the Yucatan.

Nearly all Oxkutzcab migrants flocking to San Francisco start out as dishwashers, then rise in kitchens. Some have become sous-chefs. They live in the shadows, vulnerable to immigration raids and deportation. Those who come back _ either voluntarily or forcibly _ have mismatched skills. While Oxkutzcab is a thriving agricultural center, few of its corn and citrus farmers can afford to eat Peking duck, Thai food or veal scaloppine, or even have a taste for it.

Roger Burgos, a 36-year-old former sous-chef, developed his cooking chops at Kuleto’s restaurant, a Northern Italian eatery near San Francisco’s Union Square. He worked in other restaurants, too, and can easily banter about how to make bechamel sauce.

Today, he buys and sells cattle, barely making ends meet.

Some 70,000 Yucatecas live in, or around, San Francisco… and — with their return (by choice or otherwise… generally otherwise), the cultural changes are noticible.  But, perhaps, the cultural exchange is not as one-way as we might think.

While one wants to blame narcotics use on the gringo-influence, the psychological effects of certain agricultural products weren’t exactly unknown the the Mayans, nor was inter-communal violence, though both are seen as recent problems within Oxkutzcab, and blamed on the returning migrants and the pernicious habits learned in California.

While nouveaux “Yucateca-Thai cuisine sounds intriguing (and, after all, the chiles that are essetial to Thai food originally came from the Yucatan… one of the many gifts of Mexican agriculture to the world) and men helping with the housework might not be such a bad cultural adjustment, coping with those who picked up U.S. style narcotics habits is less so.

An excellent article, though I questioned Tim’s passing reference to “a soupcon of tolerance for gay lifestyles”, as a result of migration and return. I imagine that there are those who just assume any reference to San Francisco has to mention gays, and nothing is said in the article about gays and lesbians and Mayans… but I will.

Tim was gracious enough to admit the phrase was just an oversight on his part when I pointed that the Yucateca Mayans have been known for their tolerance of (or rather quite open acceptance of) same-sex couples for a very, very long time.

I haven’t a clue what a “gay lifestyle” is supposed to be, but I know what gay people are… the people Hernan Cortes, writing from Veracruz (15 July 1524) complained about, when he wrote “They are all sodomites” in the Yucatan and the east coast of what is now Mexico . And, althought subsequent early colonial writers (including the saintly Las Casas) didn’t think every Mayan was a “sodomite”, he did note that same-sex couples weren’t unknown. The much less saintly Diego Landa … who seemed hell-bent on destroying Mayan culture in order to save it (for his book, “Relations of things of the Yucatan”) tried to pretend same-sex relations were unknown, at the same time having people burned at the stake for “sodomy”. The Chilum Balum is full of references to sexual acts between persons of the same gender*
The Mayans, who have a few centuries of practice at it, have been very good at just living their lives as they see fit, tolerating the outside world, and … as with their chiles tht eventually found their way to Thailand only to return in a different form, perhaps that “soupcon of tolerance” has always been there and maybe… just maybe… they brought it to San Francisco rather than the other way around.

* Hernan Cortés, Letters from Mexico, Anthony Pagden, trans. (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1986); Rosemary E. Joyce, “Male Sexuality Among The Ancient Mayans” in Robert A. Schmidt and Barbara L. Voss, eds., Archaeologies of Sexuality (London: Routlege, 2000).

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Monica permalink
    29 May 2014 4:30 pm

    Indeed! Look up Muxes from Oaxaca.


  1. How reverse immigration affects Yucatan - Yucatan Expat Life

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