Monday, August 22, 2011

Article: Mexico safer than headlines indicate

Mexico safer than headlines indicate

Christine Delsol, Special to The Chronicle

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Quick - which national capital has the higher murder rate: Mexico City or Washington, D.C.?
If you answered Mexico City, you'd be in good company - after all, Mexico is a war zone, isn't it? But you would be wrong, on both counts.

Based on FBI crime statistics for 2010 and Mexican government data released early this year, Mexico City's drug-related-homicide rate per 100,000 population was one-tenth of Washington's overall homicide rate - 2.2 deaths per 100,000 population compared with 22. (Drug violence accounts for most murders in Mexico, which historically does not have the gun culture that reigns in the United States.)
And while parts of Mexico can be legitimately likened to a war zone, drug violence afflicts 80 of the country's 2,400 municipalities (equivalent to counties). Their locations have been well publicized: along the U.S. border in northern Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states, and south to Sinaloa, Michoacan and parts of San Luis Potosí, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guerrero and Morelos states.
The flip side is that more than 95 percent of Mexico's municipalities are at least as safe as the average traveler's hometown. Yucatan state, for example, had 0.1 of a murder for every 100,000 people in 2010 - no U.S. tourist destination comes close to that. Most cities in central Mexico, outside of the scattered drug hot spots, have lower murder rates than Orlando.

It would seem fairly clear - fly, don't drive, across the border into the safe regions. Yet whenever people say they are going to Mexico, the invariable response is "Aren't you afraid?"

Media sensationalism accounts for much of the wariness. "Gangland violence in western Mexico" "Journalists under attack in Mexico" and "Mexico mass grave toll climbs" sound as if the entire country were a killing field. The story might name the state, but rarely the town and almost never the neighborhood. And some reporters apparently are confused by the word "municipality" - some of the killings reported as being in Mazatlan, for example, actually happened in a town miles away from the city - akin to attributing East Palo Alto's slayings to San Francisco.

But the biggest factor may be that travelers looking for a carefree vacation simply find it easier to write the entire country off than to learn what areas to avoid.

The Mexico Tourism Board is working to change that. Efforts so far have concentrated on getting accurate information to travel agents, who funnel the lion's share of tourism to Mexico's popular destinations. Independent travelers' primary source of information is the State Department travel alerts (, which are finally getting better at pinpointing the trouble spots.

"We are trying to work with U.S. authorities in making these travel alerts specific and not general," said Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, the tourism board's chief operating officer. "Unfortunately, they have projected a somewhat distorted image."

In the meantime, we have done some of the work for you. The chart above recommends destinations for various comfort levels and travel styles. If you're totally spooked, there are places that pose no more risk than Disneyland. If you're open-minded but don't want to take unnecessary risks, we have places safer than Miami, New Orleans or Washington, D.C. For fearless travelers, these sometimes dicey destinations are worth the extra caution.

Tips for traveling safely in Mexico - or anywhere

Your most important tactic for traveling safe, in Mexico or anywhere else, begins before you even decide where to go. Get familiar with Mexico's geography; it's a big country, and your destination might be hundreds or even a thousand miles from violence-prone areas. Keep up on Mexico coverage in major dailies, then do some focused research. Some sources:

-- The current State Department travel warning ( and security updates make a good start.
-- The travel agents trade publication Travel Weekly has created a map that puts the latest travel warning in easily digestible graphic form (
-- The United Kingdom Foreign Office Travel Advisory for Mexico (; "Travel advice by country") provides another perspective.
-- Stratfor, a global intelligence company that advises government agencies and international corporations on security issues, is a reliable, up-to-the-minute source. Membership is expensive, but the website ( makes some reports available for free.
Assuming you're not headed for northern border areas, normal safety precautions that apply anywhere in the world will suffice. These are particularly important in Mexico:
-- Don't pack anything you couldn't bear to part with; leave the bling at home.
-- Carry only the money you need for the day in a money belt (not a fanny pack), and leave your passport in your hotel unless you know you will need it.
-- Get local advice about areas to avoid.
-- Don't get drunk and stumble around dark, unfamiliar streets. Drunk or sober, don't walk beaches late at night.
-- Stick with taxis dispatched from your hotel or a sitio (taxi stand); if you go out for dinner, ask the restaurant to call a taxi for you.
-- Drive during the day; if nighttime driving is unavoidable, use the toll roads.
-- Leave a travel itinerary and a copy of your passport with someone at home. If you'll be traveling in higher-risk areas, notify the nearest U.S. Consulate.

A final note: Don't get rattled if you see armed soldiers patrolling the beach or manning highway checkpoints. They are young men doing a difficult job. On the road they'll usually just ask you where you're coming from and where you're going; very rarely they will ask to inspect your trunk or your bags. I've never encountered one who wasn't cordial and glad for a smile or a brief conversation.

- Christine Delsol
Christine Delsol is a frequent contributor to Travel and writes the Mexico Mix blog at E-mail comments to

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Article: Mexico's President Becomes TV Adventure Guide

MEXICO CITY August 19, 2011 (AP)

President Felipe Calderon is figuratively going out on a limb — and literally down a sinkhole, up a river (with a paddle) and over the top of a few pyramids — in an attempt to boost Mexico's flagging tourism industry.
The balding, 49-year-old leader is personally trying to change his country's violent reputation by appearing as a sort of adventure tour guide in a series of TV programs to be broadcast starting in September on Public Broadcasting Service stations in the United States.
The president dons an Indiana Jones-style hat and a harness and descends a rope into the 1,000-foot-deep (375-meter) Sotano de las Golondrinas cavern, accompanied by Peter Greenberg, host of the "The Royal Tour" TV series. Calderon also straps on scuba tanks to lead Greenberg into a sinkhole lake known as a cenote in Yucatan. And he helps a Lacandon Indian paddle a boat down a river in a jungle in southern Chiapas state.
In the 30-minute videos, Calderon breaks from his image as a lawyerly policy wonk best known for launching a bloody, controversial offensive against drug cartels. He plans to attend a premiere of the show within a few weeks, according to Tourism Department spokesman Roberto Martinez.
"I have other duties that are more dangerous," Calderon jokes, dangling midair in a cavern as a rope lowers him hundreds of feet to the bottom. The site is in the Gulf coast region of Mexico known as the Huasteca, which is covered in jungle and dotted with caverns, waterfalls and crystalline pools.
Calderon swaps the explorer hat for a helmet with a headlamp for the descent into the Golondrinas cave, named for the huge flocks of birds that live inside. Calderon also appears in underwater footage from the stalactite-studded cenote in Yucatan, where he flashes the camera an "OK" signal from behind his dive mask.
Analysts say the videos represent a distinct break from the solemn treatment that has long characterized the Mexican presidency but fit in with Calderon, who has emphasized using the media to get his message across, and who has sought to project a forceful image.
"That's always been his objective, the whole macho thing," said John Ackerman, of the legal research institute at Mexico's National Autonomous University. In 2007, soon after putting the army on the front line of his offensive against drug cartels, Calderon departed from presidential tradition by putting on an olive-green army jacket that was a few sizes too big for his short frame, an image that has been widely lampooned in newspaper cartoons ever since.
"From the very beginning, using the military uniforms and saluting, it's always been his kind of thing," Ackerman said. "It doesn't quite fit with his physical appearance."
Drawing criticism, Calderon's administration took the image-building a step further this year by funding a privately produced television miniseries glorifying the federal police, which was broadcast by the country's largest network. On Friday, the navy told local news media that it is letting private producers use navy locations to make a miniseries about the force, but that the navy is not financing any of the production.
Calderon's message in the latest videos is that Mexico is safe for tourists.
"This is part of a strategy to promote the country abroad," said Martinez.
Nobody argues that Mexico's tourism needs a boost. According to the country's central bank, overall foreign tourism in 2010, not including border-area visitors, was still 6.3 percent below 2008 levels, and the first half of 2011 saw a 2 percent decline from the same period of 2010.
Cruise ship visits in the first half of the year declined 9.3 percent, after several cruise lines canceled Pacific port calls in Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.
Analysts blame the drops on the world economic downturn hitting many countries' travel industries, but also pointed to Mexico's drug violence, which has claimed between 35,000 and 40,000 lives since Calderon took office in late 2006.
While foreign tourists have not been targets of the violence, a point Calderon is eager to make, it has had some undeniable effects. For example, the border highway that many U.S. visitors once used to travel to the Huasteca region where Calderon went cave-diving is now considered so plagued by highway holdups and shootings that the U.S. State Department has issued warnings about traveling there.
The Huasteca remains a beautiful and largely safe region, but most tour operators recommend foreigners fly to a nearby Mexican airport rather than drive down from the border.
Some argue that Calderon's stint as a television travel guide might be ill-advised, both because it compromises the dignity of the presidency and comes just months before campaigning opens for the 2012 elections to choose his successor.
Mario di Costanzo, a congressman for the leftist Labor Party, says he has requested information on how much Mexico spent to film the series. Calderon's office said the videos' U.S. producers paid production costs on the trips, but Mexican presidential and military helicopters can be seen ferrying the 'presidential tourists' around.
"We are questioning the legality of the president's actions," Di Costanzo said. "Never in the history of the country has the image of the president been used to promote tourism."
"We see this as a promotion of Felipe Calderon's own image, for the benefit of his own party, rather than an institutional image of the country as a tourism destination," Di Costanzo noted.
Greenberg has previously traveled with the king of Jordan, the president of Peru, and the prime ministers of New Zealand and Jamaica on similar programs.
Congresswoman Leticia Quezada of the Democratic Revolution Party said her party objects to Calderon using government vehicles and personnel for the series, and said he has been spending too much time and money on television.
"We're going to start calling him Felipe Calderon Productions," she quipped.

Cambio de Botones

August 6th the Ciudad de México Rotaract Club had their Cambio de botones or "changing of pins" ceremony to officially inaugurate the club's new leaders. It was a formal affair, starting with the ceremony, followed by hors d'oeurves and drinks and then music for dancing. The event was attended by the Rotaract Club members,  members of other Rotaract clubs, Rotarians, family and friends.  

during the ceremony

Rotaract members and guests 

Maltrata experiences: Births and deaths

In Maltrata, people get married (or at least form serious relationships) and have babies very young. Even though it's a more traditional town, there are lots of instances when the baby (or at least the pregnancy) comes before marriage. They say that between 15 and 20 is a normal age to get married -- though there are people who get married and/or pregnant even younger. A 22-year-old  "cousin" in the family I stayed with said that out of about 30 classmates (not sure if referring to la escuela secondaria (middle school) -- which more people finish-- or la preparatoria (high school)), about 25 are married with 1-2 kids. I've never felt so old at 24 for not being married or having kids! (Not that I'm in a rush!). Since everyone starts their family early, there are lots of babies and young children. In my everyday life in the DF I very rarely interact with babies or young children (or even adolescents), so I really enjoyed playing with the little ones and living under the same roof with a 14-month old.

When someone passes away in Maltrata, a car drives throughout the town announcing the death over a loud speaker. There were about 3 deaths in Maltrata while I was there. The most tragic/unexpected was a man that was electrocuted while working. I went to the velorio, or wake. The tradition in Maltrata is to keep the family and the deceased company all night until the Catholic mass the next day. People come and go throughout the night and most bring flower arrangements and/or money. The money collected goes toward expenses with the goal that the family doesn't have to pay anything. Apparently people also bring beans, sugar and others staples, but I didn't see that. The visitors came in and gave the flowers/money and greeted/consoled the widow. They were then given a (cup?) of incense to wave around the coffin. (I thought it was a Catholic tradition but was later told it was a more indigenous tradition. Honestly I'm still not quite sure.) The visitors then took a seat in the room or throughout the house and stayed for a little while. The family served coffee and tea and bread/pastries.

I wasn't in Maltrata the next morning, but the family I stayed with explained what happens the next day up through the following year. The day following the velorio mass is held in the church. From there, everyone goes to the cemetery and then back to the house for beans prepared in a special way -- only for funerals -- and sometimes rice. Nine days later, a padrino takes a cross, flower arrangement and offering (of fruit?) to the cemetary and then everyone goes to the house for tamales and atole.  This is repeated at 9 days, 6 months and one year after the death.  The food on the one year anniversary includes meat, as opposed to the tamales and atole.

Singing in the Plaza

This weekend's new experience was singing in the plaza in Coyoacán -- for tips! Saturday morning we had a concert at the National Medical Center (for a Forensic Medicine graduation ceremony?). Afterward a few of us went to Coyoacán for food and drink. It's always nice to have a chance to hang out outside the context of rehearsals and concerts. From there, we went to the plaza and sang a few songs (unofficially of course -- not associated with the choir or university) in front of the fountain with the two coyotes. Coyoacán is a popular place for coffee / food / drinks/ a stroll/ people watching, and especially on weekends, so we had a decent audience. It's a normal occurrence for us to sing on the metro on our way home after rehearsals -- but this was the first time I've sung with the group (or any group for that matter) in public for tips!

Plaza in Coyoacán

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Movie Night: Los Tres Huastecos

Last night I caught up on another movie classic from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema: Los Tres Huastecos (1948), starring Pedro Infante and Blanca Estela Pavón. 

The article I posted the other day about Cantinflas gave a good description of Pedro Infante and Cantinflas: "While leading man Pedro Infante represented Mexico's self-image as a brave, good-looking, velvet-voiced hero, Cantinflas reflected the poorer side of Mexico that gets by on its wits."

Pedro Infante in Los Tres Huastecos
Photo source:

Maltrata experiences: Transportation and animals

In Maltrata you'll see a car or truck going down the street (sometimes with Veracruz license plates, others with US license plates due to migration). You'll see bicycles and motorcycles. You'll see a man galloping by on a horse and another leading a donkey or horse carrying charcoal.  And in the morning or evening, a flock of sheep being led down the street. It was something I never got used to completely.

The family I stayed with wanted me to have "the complete experience," including riding a donkey. I never did ride the donkey (or horse for that matter) -- but I did ride on the back of an 4-wheeler and get a picture next to a horse. I guess there's always next time =)

Maltrata experiences: Visit to Nogales, Orizaba, Sierra de Zongolica and Aquila

While in Maltrata I went on multiple outings to nearby towns/cities.

We stopped in Nogales to see the Laguna, where the clear, cold water flows from a mountain stream. 
Laguna in Nogales
Laguna in Nogales

Rotary in Nogales


Orizaba is one of the larger cities in the state of Veracruz (though by no means a big city). We did a tour of some of the sights, including: 

Ojo de Agua

one of the Catholic churches 

State Art Museum

State Art Museum

Municipal Building/ City Hall

Municipal Building/ City Hall

another Catholic Church

Palacio de Hierro - Iron Palace
Designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, built with Belgian steel,
with parts shipped from Austria during the Porfiriato. It served as the
Municipal Building/ City Hall until they moved City Hall to the new
location for more space. 

Another view of the Iron Palace. It now houses about 6 small museums,
including a soccer museum, beer museum and regional museum.

view from the Iron Palace

Behind the Municipal Building/City Hall is a hanging bridge over the
river and miniature zoo with crocodiles, turtles and snow monkeys. 

La Sierra de Zongolica
The Zongolica Mountains spans multiple municipalities (including one also called Zongolica). There is a large indigenous presence in this region and many people still speak Nahuatl. 

Aquila is the town/municipality bordering Maltrata. 

church in Aquila

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Maltrata Experiences: Wedding in Cañada, Puebla

While in Maltrata, I went with the family to a wedding in Cañada, Puebla. We went to the bride's family's house for breakfast of tamales (with mole, rajas or sweet tamales), bread/pastries and a drink similar to hot chocolate.

One of the "uncle's" (once again, adopting myself into the family) was in charge of the flower arrangements, so from there we went to the church to set up. (Who'd of thought I'd help with flower arrangements for a wedding?)

view of the church from the park/center of Cañada

church in Cañada

We had some time before the ceremony started, so we walked around town for a bit to see the Municipal Building, the market, etc. 
Municipal building in Cañada 

Then we went to the ceremony -- a Catholic mass. Unlike in the US, the bride and her father entered the church first.

Leaving the church, guests threw rice at the newly married couple. There was a mariachi band waiting and they played as we all walked through the town in a processional to the groom's house for the party. 

Apparently in Maltrata, the breakfast is at the house of the padrino (there is the main padrino and madrina, but also various padrinos and madrinas in Mexican weddings that have a special role and pay for the rings, bouquet, party, etc). The party is at the bride's family's house and then all the family and guests escort her to the groom's house.

Maltrata experiences: Food

As I mentioned previously, one of my favorite things about Maltrata was living with a family there. Part of that experience was joining the family for meals. Though I've been in Mexico for a year now, I tried a variety of new foods and combinations/preparations during my two weeks. This was partially because I was visiting a different part of Mexico, but more so for living in a family atmosphere as opposed to 1. me cooking in my apartment or 2. eating in a restaurant.

In Maltrata -- and much of Mexico -- breakfast and lunch are the most important meals of the day, with lunch as the largest meal, usually around 2:30 or 3:00. (In Mexico they use the word "comida" for the afternoon meal -- literally "food" or "meal" as opposed to a word for lunch). Most days part of the extended family joined us for breakfast and/or lunch. 

The family acknowledged they enjoyed and often prepared spicy foods -- so sometimes prepared my food without the sauce, chili, etc (though I always at least tried some of the spicy version!). Variations of rice, beans, soup, chicken, beef (and always tortillas!) were common. One of my favorite meals included zucchini stuffed with Oaxaca cheese. One day we had shrimp and crab (tasty! though not quite the same without Old Bay). 

After lunch we usually had coffee. Later on in the evening, family often came over for coffee and pastries / bread. Or if we were hungrier we might have tacos or a sandwich -- but something light compared to the US version of dinner. 

Maltrata is known for avocados and grows various kinds. I enjoyed avocado with various meals -- but my favorite combo was tacos (corn tortilla) with avocado and salt -- yum! They sent me home with a box full of avocados to enjoy back in the DF. One of the "uncles" (if I adopt myself into the family) has multiple trees in his yard, growing avocado, limes, grapefruit, pomegranate, oranges, etc. I helped pick the avocados, including using the hook to cut down the avocados out of reach (hopefully I'll have pictures to share later!).

Also in Maltrata I tried nanches (a small yellow fruit I'm not a big fan of) and jinicuil (it comes in a pod and looks like cotton around the seed, but is very sweet).

pomegranate- picked from the tree in the "uncle's" yard

Jinicuil -- one closed (green) and one opened in two halves.
You eat the white part, avoiding the seed in the center

Article: Mexico Marks Century of Comic Cantinflas' Birth

Here's a good article about Mexican actor Cantinflas. Mexico celebrated the centenary of his birth last Friday, August 12. According to the article, during the week before his birthday "his 51 movies have been shown on television and in theaters, stills and posters from his films displayed along Mexico City's main boulevard, and snippets of sound tracks from his many performances played in the city's subway." While I missed most of that, I did see the posters/stills along Paseo de la Reforma and Saturday I saw my first Cantinflas movie -- El Supersabio (1948).
To read the article on NPR's website, visit: 

Mexico Marks Century Of Comic Cantinflas' Birth

MEXICO CITY August 11, 2011, 05:23 am ET

It is hard to think of a Mexican Everyman without turning to Cantinflas, the tattered, droopy-pants character created by comic Mario Moreno in the "tent theaters" of Mexico's slums in the 1930s.
With the approach of Friday's centenary of his birth, he has been celebrated as a touchstone of Mexican national identity, fondly remembered for his convoluted doublespeak and clever underdog persona he portrayed for neary six decades until his death in 1993.
He is best known in the rest of the world for his turn as David Niven's resourceful valet in "Around the World in Eighty Days," but the pencil-mustached Cantinflas contributed something much deeper in Mexico.
While leading man Pedro Infante represented Mexico's self-image as a brave, good-looking, velvet-voiced hero, Cantinflas reflected the poorer side of Mexico that gets by on its wits.
Moreno's son Mario Arturo Moreno Ivanova recalls the comic meeting Spain's King Juan Carlos:
"It is a great pleasure to meet Cantinflas in person, because I had only seen him in the movies," Juan Carlos said.
"Jeez, it's even a greater pleasure for me to meet a king in person, because I'd only ever seen them in a deck of cards," Moreno responded.
Wise behind his seeming illiteracy, able to snowball the pompous with a stream of clever but meaningless verbiage, Cantinflas was able to make the transition to movies, where he can still be seen winning out over snobs, bureaucrats and corrupt politicos.
He purposely shaved his normally full mustache to imitate the sparse growth of the "peladitos," the underclass Mexican laborers barely able to grow facial hair because of their Indian heritage.
As a sort of Groucho Marx of Mexico, no starchy bluenose or puffed-up society dame was safe from his sly wit. Charlie Chaplin reportedly once called Moreno the greatest comic in the world, and both men developed "tramp" characters.
"In the whole world, there is just you and I," Moreno's son recalled the English comic telling Moreno at a meeting in 1972.
But in Mexico, with its enormous disparities in income, his takedowns of the rich, powerful corrupt and arrogant came with a bigger dose of social justice. "There must be something bad about work, because if there weren't, the rich would have cornered the market in it," Cantinflas says in one movie.
"He represents a lower class that lacks everything, even the most basic necessities. That's why they called them 'pelados,'" said University of Guadalajara cinema historian Eduardo de la Vega Alfaro. Pelado in Spanish literally means peeled or hairless, but is used in Mexico to refer to someone who is penniless.
In the week leading up to the 100th anniversary of the comic's birth, his 51 movies have been shown on television and in theaters, stills and posters from his films displayed along Mexico City's main boulevard, and snippets of sound tracks from his many performances played in the city's subway.
The origin of the nickname Cantinflas remains obscure.
Moreno's son says one version attributes it to stage fright: When his father got up on stage early in his career, he froze up and managed only to babble an incoherent, stream-of-consciousness monologue. Someone in the crowd reportedly shouted "cuantas te inflas," or "how much have you been drinking?" The contraction of that phrase reportedly stuck.
Whether he was portraying a doctor, a cop or a street-sweeper in the movies, Cantinflas could be depended on to show up unexpected, ill-dressed and ill-advised but full of homely wisdom. His impact was so deep that "cantinflear" has become a verb in Mexico, meaning to talk around an issue in high-flown language without really saying anything.
Mexican writer Jorge G. Castaneda wrote in his latest book, "Tomorrow or the next day: The Mystery of Mexicans," that Cantinflas reflected a deep-seated trait in Mexico to avoid conflict.
"Cantinflas managed to run away from any trouble, and get his way based on pure palaver and loquaciousness, the use of double entendres and euphemisms ... sometimes verging on the incomprehensible," Castaneda wrote.
Associated Press writer Edwin Tamara contributed to this report.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Maltrata, Veracruz

I was in Maltrata, Veracruz from Saturday July 23 - Friday August 5th and I loved the experience. I've put off writing about it because I didn't know how to adequately put into words my two weeks there (I'm still not sure -- but I'll do my best).
Former railroad station in Maltrata, Veracruz

The state of Veracruz is in Eastern Mexico, comprising a large part of the coastline on the Gulf of Mexico and surrounded by the states Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo, Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas and Tabasco. Maltrata is inland, close to the state of Puebla, in a valley surrounded by mountains. I don't think I could ever get tired of the view of the mountains (though the winding roads through the mountains to get to/from Maltrata and surrounding areas were still a bit unnerving to me!).

(A) Mexico City and (B) Maltrata, Veracruz
source: Google Maps
View of Maltrata, Veracruz

Maltrata is where I’ll be doing fieldwork for my thesis, studying the experience of migrants that have returned to Maltrata after having lived in the United States. Last semester I was still trying to identify a community, when a friend-of-a-friend, who is an UNAM archaeology student, recommended Maltrata. UNAM has an ongoing relationship with Maltrata because it is rich in archaeological remains. There are multiple earth-covered pyramids and prehispanic figures and even a mammoth bone have been discovered there. 

pre-hispanic figures found in Maltrata

in the distance an earth-covered pyramid with
a (shrine? chapel?) on top

this hill is actually an earth-covered pyramid

These two weeks were my preliminary visit to get an understanding of the town, the local culture and the context of migration as well as start making contacts for future interviews. I was definitely nervous going into the experience. I knew to take the bus to Orizaba, Veracruz (4 1/2- 5 hrs from the DF by bus) and from there ask for a bus going to Maltrata. Once I got to Maltrata, I was supposed to ask for the family/ where they lived -- and I wasn't even 100% sure they would be able to host me. 

Once I got to the house, everything was fine and I was quickly accepted into the (large) family. I stayed at the grandmother's house, so family was always coming and going. She has 10 children, 8 of whom live in Maltrata and 1 that lives in a nearby town -- and the family now spans 5 generations! The first few days I joked that the entire town was part of the family since I was introduced to so many family members! 

My visit was productive in terms of starting my research. I talked with people with a variety of perspectives and situations -- men and women, that went to the US legally or illegally, that came back on their own or were deported, that plan to stay in Maltrata or return to the US. I also talked with a man who was a Bracero from 1951-1953  in the US's Bracero Program -- not relevant to my research, but interesting to hear about his experiences.

Aside from research, I really enjoyed the experience of "becoming part of" a family and getting to know the culture of the town. It was a side of Mexico I hadn't experienced before -- different than my life in the DF or traveling as a tourist. I ate meals with the family. I learned how to throw a spinning top (an essential skill for all children in Maltrata). I went to a wedding, a first communion party and a viewing/funeral.  I cut avocados from the trees. I ate tacos in the park in the center of Maltrata. I hiked up to a small chapel/shrine on the mountain for a panoramic view of Maltrata. I socialized in the park/center while it was crowded on Sunday after mass.

view of Maltrata's Town Hall/Municipal building as seen
from the main plaza/park

Catholic Church

where bricks are made


park/ recreational space 


animals going down the street....

hike along the river to the waterfall

early morning view 

It was a great two weeks and I'm looking forward to going back again to continue my research.