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An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Julie Etra has drawn on her professional background in environmental sciences to write many articles about Mexican plants and animals, ever since the second issue of The Eye was published. Julie was born, raised and educated in New Rochelle, New York. When she was still in junior high, the New Rochelle high school building completely burned down, so her high school classes were held in temporary barracks. She then studied in real classrooms at the University of Colorado in Boulder, earning a BA degree in Environmental Biology, followed by completing an MS degree in Soil and Crop Science at the Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Continuing her westward trek, Julie worked for the U.S. Forest Service in South Lake Tahoe, California, for three years and then decided to start her own business, Tahoe Native Plants. One of her USFS projects involved restoration of land at a community college, and it was there in 1985 that she met her future husband who was also working on the project as a general engineering contractor. In 1990, Julie and Larry decided to buy land in Washoe County, Nevada (near Reno), and build their own home. Living in a 14′ travel trailer that was freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer until their construction was completed, they finally moved into their home, where they still live when not in Mexico. Once settled in Nevada, Julie moved her office to Reno and changed the name of her company to Western Botanical Services, Inc. She has continuously provided botanical surveys and soil analysis as a contractor to private engineering and landscape architecture companies and public entities overseeing implementation of erosion control and land restoration projects. Her business was incorporated in 1994.

Julie is avid about music, plays the piano, and listens to “almost everything.” She also enjoys playing tennis, swimming, gardening and, like the other writers for The Eye, constantly reads books, magazines, and newspapers. Julie first visited Mexico in 1977, where in Cozumel she was certified for scuba diving. In 1988, she and Larry began spending 3 months each year in Baja Sur. They visited Huatulco in 2007 and in 2008, decided to spend the winter here and built a home in Conejos. They also are extensive travelers and, with the exception of Antarctica, have visited every continent; Julie’s favorite is (subSaharan) Africa. Julie has two step-kids from Larry’s previous marriage and two grandkids with whom they stay in close contact.

The first articles Julie published in the Eye focused on corn – three articles on corn – until our editor suggested she might explore other topics and something less technical. The Eye article she enjoyed writing most described her travels with Larry and their puppy during COVID – “It was fun!”

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Marcia Chaiken has been contributing articles to The Eye, most often co-authored with her husband Jan, since the inception of the publication. Together, the Chaikens have had a broad experience in conducting research in many diverse fields, and their Eye contributions have ranged from results of surveys and interviews conducted in Mexico to descriptions of personal experiences during decades of travel in Mexico.

Marcia was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in New Jersey, first in Rahway, where she met Jan at age six, and then in Hackensack. After earning a B.A. degree in Zoology at Douglass College (Rutgers University), where she wrote for the college newspaper and worked in the bookstore, she went on to receive an M.A. in Health Sciences at UCLA and then taught in the Ph.D. program at New York University Medical School. After marrying Jan in 1963, she worked on the staff in the Biology Department at M.I.T. until she took a break from research to have a son and then a daughter. She resumed her studies at Columbia University, switching fields to social psychology. She completed her Ph.D. at UCLA and began conducting research at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, where she and Jan collaborated in carrying out research and analysis and co-authoring publications in the field of criminal behavior and criminal justice. Marcia also carried out research and evaluations of programs for children and women in underserved areas while she held positions at UCLA, Brandeis University, and Abt Associates in Cambridge, and the research company she founded in 1989, LINC. Her many publications helped develop Federal policy and practice throughout the United States.

After retiring in 2011, Marcia completed a course of study in the Jewish Renewal Movement and was ordained as a maggidah (Jewish story-teller) in 2014; she has told stories in Oregon, California, Israel and Mexico. Marcia also earned certification to teach aqua aerobics and has given classes in Oregon and California.

Marcia first visited Mexico when a graduate student at UCLA. While raising their children in Los Angeles, Marcia and Jan frequently spent school breaks with their family and Sheltie driving down into Baja and other northern Mexico states, hiking in the deserts, dancing at fiestas, and relishing meals in Mexico. During the 1990s both Marcia and Jan were working 70 or more hours a week in Washington DC, so for holidays they would fly to the Yucatán and explore archeological sites, cenotes, and lagoons up and down the coast. Longer vacations were spent exploring every continent except Antartica. In 2001, they stored all their belongings and drove through most of Mexico. Huatulco seemed like paradise and they returned annually, staying about seven years in the condo they bought. In 2019 they moved into a cottage in a retirement community in Saratoga, California, where Marcia is active in many organizations and spends her free time reading, walking and exercising in the indoor pool. But Huatulco still draws Marcia and Jan back for months almost every year.

Her favorite Eye contribution is “Pre-Hispanic Residents of Huatulco” (April 2015), since the research for the article required behind-the-scenes investigation in government anthropology departments in Mexico City, Oaxaca City and, of course, Huatulco.

Dr. Quiroz – Huatulco’s Go-To Practitioner

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

We first met Dr. Miguel Ángel Quiroz Tovar about twenty years ago. One day our family arrived in Huatulco to visit us from California, and our granddaughter, who was then six, spent the day diving to the bottom of the pool; by that evening she was holding her aching ear and crying. We called a Huatulco resident who had children around age 6 for advice, and within an hour Dr. Quiroz appeared at our condo. After a few perceptive questions and a quick check, Dr. Quiroz assured us that the pain was caused by air pressure in the plane followed by diving, which forced wax deep in our granddaughter’s ear. He said she needed to come to his office so he good irrigate the ear – assuring her that the procedure would not hurt and her ear would feel much better. Sure enough, when she returned from her office visit, she was her usual smiley self and so excited about having met Dr. Quiroz’s daughter who was exactly her age.

Since then, whenever we’ve had a medical problem while in Huatulco, Dr. Quiroz is generally the person we call. We are not alone. Virtually all the English-speaking residents we know in Huatulco have at one time or another paid him a visit for an ailment.

Miguel Ángel Quiroz Tovar was born and raised in Mexico City. He began learning English in primary school and continued advancing his language skills during his secondary education. He matriculated at the prestigious, highly selective National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) both as an undergraduate and in the School of Medicine where he completed his doctorate degree. His internship and residency, with a specialization in General Surgery, were carried out at the Centro Médico (Medical Center) of the IMSS (Mexican Institute of Social Security), a government agency that operates as part of the Mexican Secretariat of Health. He was awarded membership in the International Association of Surgeons in 1993.

Practicing at the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City, he met and fell in love with a dentist who was also affiliated with the hospital, Patricia Jimenez Bader. Six months after they met, they married. She was originally from Oaxaca, and their wedding took place in Oaxaca City. The young couple traveled to Huatulco for their honeymoon and they found the area so attractive that they decided to return. In 1994 they both set up their practices here.

Huatulco at that time had a dearth of medical services. There was no hospital. And Dr. Quiroz performed the first surgery in the area. His practice rapidly grew, first with Mexican nationals and then, as tourism developed, with visitors and then foreigners who became permanent residents. Later the IMSS created a local hospital, and private clinics began to be established. Dr. Quiroz practiced in the local hospital for a number of years but has shifted his services entirely to private clinics.

Today, at the height of the tourist season, his practice consists of about 30% foreigners. Although he is certified as a surgeon, Quiroz’s first training as a general practitioner is constantly in use. About 60% of the problems that bring patients to his office are abdominal. Over the years, we’ve heard many reports from English-speaking friends about times when they self-diagnosed problems as simple “Montezuma’s revenge” only to become so ill they sought medical help from Dr. Quiroz, who of course realizes that diarrhea can be symptomatic of a host of diseases which must be diagnosed before targeted medication can be prescribed.

Two long-term members of the local English-speaking community credit “Dr. Q” with saving their lives in 2014. First the husband developed symptoms including chills as well as severe abdominal distress. He saw a doctor who medicated him and then left on vacation. His symptoms worsened, and his wife called Dr. Quiroz, who came over to their condo. When he arrived, the wife was also experiencing severe abdominal distress and shaking so vigorously from chills that she could barely talk. Dr Quiroz immediately admitted both of them to a clinic as inpatients and began rehydrating them intravenously. Their symptoms increased to the point that both of them were hallucinating. A round of tests didn’t prove conclusive and Dr. Quiroz told them that he would bring in a specialist and if that didn’t produce a diagnosis he would need to send them to a hospital in Mexico City. Fortunately, he and the specialist identified the problems as being caused by a specific amoeba that responded to medication. The couple are not only grateful for the medical care but also the kindness of Dr. Quiroz’s wife and children during the episode.

In additional to growing their practices, Dr. Quiroz and his wife also grew their family. They have two sons and a daughter. And he is very proud of all their accomplishments. But he seems most gratified by the success of his wife’s dental practice.

About four years ago, doctors in Huatulco organized as The Association of Doctors in Huatulco (Asociación de Médicos de Huatulco). Dr. Quiroz serves as president of the association. Together the doctors hold conferences, invite practitioners from other parts of the country for educational meetings, conduct community health promotion campaigns and provide informational talks on the local radio. The Association grew to include about 40 active members. But the need to respond to the COVID pandemic reduced active membership to about 12. Now that a major proportion of the population has been vaccinated, including almost all of Dr. Quiroz’s patients, the Association’s activities may be restored.

Dr. Quiroz relaxes when he has time by fishing. He enjoys spending time fishing with his sons, sometimes from the beach and sometimes from a boat. He is also an avid reader of historical fiction. The Journeyer (2010), Gary Jennings’ historical novel about Marco Polo, is one of his favorites. And he has read all six books about prehistoric life by Jean Auel.

We were fortunate to have met Dr. Quiroz so very long ago and to have watched his practice and medical services in Huatulco expand to the point where diagnosis and treatment of many diseases no longer require a trip to facilities in Mexico City. We are also amused by the coincidence that Dr. Quiroz’s daughter. whom our granddaughter met at age six, is now – like our granddaughter – in medical school.

Dr. Quiroz’s telephone number is 958 587 6628 and his email is drmaqt@hotmail.com

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Inspired by International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8th, which in turn inspires much of the content of the March issue of The Eye, Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken have profiled the women writers of The Eye. We’ll be reprinting those profiles month by month, in alphabetical order, starting with founder and Editor-in-Chief Jane Bauer. As the months go by, we’ll sneak in the men, too!

Jane Bauer

Jane is the Editor-in-Chief, Art Director, Publisher, Marketing Director, and originator of The Eye magazine. She began the publication in January 2011 as a means of building a bridge between visitors and English-speaking residents in Mexico and the many small businesses available to provide them with goods and services. She realized that some tourists and foreign residents held distorted perspectives based on misinformation about Mexico and its people, the “nationals” with whom they were interacting. Jane brought together a small group of writers who previously had extensive literary experience and a deep interest in Mexico, and encouraged us to research and write articles about diverse topics to address these misconceptions. She also saw The Eye as a vehicle for small businesses to reach out to visitors and foreign residents with the goal of promoting and growing many “mom and pop” business enterprises. Many local businesses were receptive to this concept and provided support; for example Johnny Gonzales, of Lorama Grafi, did the layouts for the first six issues of the magazine, and he trained Jane to take over the activity.

Jane’s establishment of The Eye might possibly have been predicted from her early years. She was born and raised in Montreal, attending French-speaking schools, including a high school semester in Brittany, France, and went on to earn a BA at McGill University in Cultural Studies with a minor in Women’s Studies. Before graduation, she traveled to Mexico and once she saw Mazunte in Oaxaca she vowed to return, and she did. She worked at small family-run inn in Puerto Ángel and it was there she met her husband. Once their baby daughter Frances was born, Jane became a stay-at-home mom until, in 2005, Frances was ready for first grade. Jane moved to Huatulco where there was a better offering of schools for her daughter and began teaching yoga.

In 2008, she started Café Juanita, which recently moved to Tangolunda. Beginning in 2009, Jane and her boyfriend opened Hemingway’s Cantina, and many of us fondly remember the events she organized there, such as Oscar Night, until 2013. In addition to yoga and Café Juanita, Jane coordinated weddings starting in 2010, established the Huatulco Salt Company in 2016, and started giving cooking lessons. Later she designed and built the Chiles&Chocolate Cooking School in Zimatán, a rural village 25 minutes outside Huatulco, where she also hosts weekly farm-to-table dinners. In the hours when she is not teaching, managing her numerous projects and bringing out the latest issue of The Eye, Jane is a voracious reader, totaling 53 books last year, mostly fiction.

In her role as Editor-in-Chief, Jane publishes an editorial each month. Although she is hard-pressed to select a favorite, she really likes her editorial from the September/October 2013 issue on “What I Learned in Mexico.” Jane is justifiably proud of the way the English-speaking community continues to clamor for hard copies of The Eye and equally proud of the ability of the online Eye to keep people living in other countries interested in Mexico and wanting to return. As Jane hoped, The Eye has become a bridge among foreign visitors and residents and many small businesses. Businesses that advertise in or are written about in The Eye report significant increases in patronage.

For more about Jane: Instagram @livingfoodmexico

Jewish Weddings in Mexico and around the World

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

We recently talked to a friend who had attended one of the newest international trends in pre-wedding ceremonies: a proposal party. How does it work? Planned by the prospective groom with the help of family and friends, but putatively without any involvement by the bride-to-be, they select a time and location and invite those close to the couple to gather to witness the formal proposal. The prospective bride is provided with an excuse to appear at the selected location at a time after everyone else. When she arrives, she is greeted by the one hoping to be her spouse, who “pops the question” and presents her with a ring. When she accepts, the gathered group cheers and then all celebrate – most often with toasts, a festive meal, music and dancing. (Of course, proposal parties may also be for same-gender couples, so you can just change the nouns and pronouns accordingly.)

Although proposal parties are thought to be a new form of pre-wedding celebration, they actually are similar to one of the oldest forms of ceremonies. Jewish rituals have for centuries incorporated pre-wedding ceremonies at which the prospective bride agrees to marry a man, traditionally a man selected for her by her family, and the ritual includes similar celebratory components. Since the 12th century among Jews in Europe, the ceremony has been called Tena’im in Hebrew, which translates to Conditions. The couple, who often meet for the first time at the ceremony, formally agree to marry in the future. They sign an engagement contract stating the conditions for the forthcoming marriage, usually including a wedding date, that had been worked out by their families. Then the couple exchange articles of value – most often jewelry. The ceremony is finalized by the breaking of a ceramic plate dropped on a hard surface by both mothers of the couple.

The origins of the breaking of the plate are obscure. Some say the broken plate symbolizes that the engagement breaks the possibility of the couple marrying anyone else. Others say the breaking is a metaphor for making a bond between the couple which breaks the bond they had with their mothers. Yet another explanation is that the breaking of the plate foreshadows the breaking of a glass that will happen at the forthcoming wedding ceremony. Independent of the explanation, at the conclusion of the ceremony the couple has a legal status of being committed to each other – but definitely not yet married. Nowadays, among orthodox Jews this ceremony is scheduled to take place immediately before the marriage ceremony, thus truncating the “not yet married” period. Among Jews who follow more modern practices, Tena’im has given way to engagement parties or, as already described, proposal parties.

Traditional Jewish weddings, whether in Mexico, north of the border, or Europe, follow more or less the same format. Brides and their families often spend much time deciding on specific details of music, dress, decorations, and reception food and drink so that their occasion will be special. But thinking back over the dozens of ceremonies and celebrations we’ve attended, including our own almost 59 years ago, they follow a pattern established centuries ago.

In the weeks before the wedding, the bride and the groom, even in cases where they have been living together, separate and don’t see each other as they prepare for the event. They remain apart even during the day of the wedding until the groom, accompanied by the men and musicians, enters a room where the bride is seated and is waiting surrounded by women friends and family. The groom lifts the bridal veil off the face of his intended, and once sure that a substitution has not been made, as in the biblical substitution of Leah for Rachel, he lowers the veil and the men, accompanied by music, leave. In modern years, some couples have decided to forego this ceremony and choose to wait until they meet under the huppah, a small four-cornered tent that symbolizes the home they will build together.

Virtually all Jewish weddings take place under a huppah. In fact, the word huppah has come to mean the core of the marriage ceremony and is used in wedding invitations, for example, “Gathering at 5pm and huppah at 6pm.” For several decades, brides went wild demanding that their huppah be constructed from wild roses or other rare and expensive materials. Fortunately, most brides now have recovered their senses and select a traditional huppah consisting of a lovely cloth held aloft with four corner poles. To honor people in their lives, the families of the couple invite four people to hold the poles during the ceremony, giving them the best view of the proceedings.

Core to a Jewish marriage is the ketubah, a legal contract in which the rights of the bride are spelled out in great detail, including provisions to be made for her during the marriage and monies or properties she will receive if her husband predeceases her or if the marriage ends in divorce. This ancient form of a “pre-nup” protects the bride and is retained in her possession. Before the main ceremony, both the bride and groom sign the document, it is witnessed and signed by two friends of the families, and also signed by the officiating rabbi or other officiant authorized to perform marriages. In the past few decades, following an ancient practice, once the terms of the ketubah have been agreed on by both families, an artist is hired to literally draw up the ketubah, and after the marriage the framed ketubah is displayed like a piece of artwork on a wall of the couple’s home.

The procession at a Jewish wedding is indicative of the way Jewish practice has been shaped by the surrounding culture. By long-standing tradition, the parents of the groom first accompany him to the huppah and then the parents of the bride accompany her to the huppah. But this tradition has been modified to allow the grandparents, siblings, other family members and friends to participate in the wedding processional. And, as in many non-Jewish weddings, a Jewish bride commonly is walked down an aisle to the huppah accompanied by her father to the strains of “Here Comes the Bride.” However, unlike non-Jewish weddings, the father is not asked to “give her away.” Instead, traditionally the bride is led seven times in a circle around the waiting groom.

Under the huppah, two ceremonies take place – the sanctification, in which the ketubah is read, and blessings are recited over a cup of wine from which the couple both drink, and the rabbi blesses them as sanctified and dedicated solely to each other. Then the actual moment of the wedding, when the groom slips the ring on the middle finger of the left hand of his bride and recites in Hebrew, “Behold by this ring you are consecrated to me as my wife according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” In some modern ceremonies, the bride may also give the groom a ring, usually with an appropriate verse in Hebrew from the Bible, such as “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” Next, seven blessings are recited. In a recent interpretation, the blessings are for love, a loving home, playful humor, wisdom, health, creativity, and community. The ceremony is concluded by the groom stomping on and shattering a glass, and all assembled shouting “Mazel Tov.”

Following the ceremony, it is traditional for the bride and groom to be given 20 minutes or so to be absolutely alone, with two honored guests posted at the door of the room in which they are sequestered to ensure that no one disturbs them. After they emerge, they are commonly seated at a table just for the two of them and everyone is obliged to entertain them with singing and dancing. One of the dances that almost always takes place is the “hora,” an Israeli circle dance. And when the bride or groom is the youngest child and all their older siblings are married, the mother is lifted in a chair in the middle of the circle dance so all can congratulate her on accomplishing all mothers’ traditional dream – seeing all her children happily married.

We have watched over the decades as traditional Jewish engagement and wedding practices come and go or morph into new forms. With assimilation of Jews an ongoing trend and rates of intermarriage high, we have celebrated family Buddist/Jewish (BuJu) weddings, Hindu/Jewish (HinJu) weddings, weddings jointly officiated by Christian and Jewish clergy, and one wedding of a Jewish nephew and his Christian bride on a beach in Lanai where an enormous Hawaiian Kahuna priest tied the knot. Two of the most traditional Jewish weddings we celebrated were marriages of same-gender couples.

Our marriage had all the elements of a Jewish wedding: huppah, ketubah, sanctification, rings, seven blessings, and breaking of the glass, as did the wedding of our son and daughter-in-law and many family members here in Mexico and the US. However, we would be delighted but have no expectation of our grandchildren necessarily following the same traditions. Many couples of their generation have even eschewed marriage altogether, much less traditional weddings. But on the other hand, reportedly several couples of their ages have said they don’t want an engagement party made by their parents but rather a Jewish Tena’im proposal party. We will just have to wait and see whether we get to experience the continuation of these ancient traditions.

Controversial Tigers

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Thousands of years ago, when the Chinese zodiac calendar was first formulated, the Tiger was selected to symbolize power and speed. Greatly admired as the King of Beasts (yes, the tiger, not the lion), the sign of the tiger evoked awe. Today, the tiger, whether real or fictional, is more likely to evoke controversy.

In the year that we were born, there were still an estimated 72,000 tigers roaming wild in India and Asia. Today, there are fewer than 5,000 tigers in the wild, mainly in India, and that number is rapidly diminishing. There are more tigers in captivity than free, including in Mexico – a territory where jaguars were indigenous but tigers were not. Some say that keeping tigers in captivity helps preserves the species. But naturalists caution that even tigers raised in state-of-the-art zoos cannot be released back into their natural environments because they lack survival skills.

Even more controversial is the practice of the raising of tigers as pets. Those cute little tiger cubs, such as the one the U.S. border patrol found not long ago being smuggled in a car crossing from Mexico, grow up to be dangerous and powerful beasts. When they slip from the control of their inexperienced owners in cities, including during the past year in Guadalajara, they cause panic and endanger their own lives as they are hunted down. And the owners of big cat parks who bill themselves as “experts” in the care and feeding of tigers appear to be themselves a breed apart.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, an eight-episode series released by Netflix in 2020, attracted a very large audience. Detailing the contentious history between a big cat park owner and an animal rights activist, the documentary literally had a captive audience, since much of the world was locked down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Given the wide-spread discussion about the series, we decided to watch the first episode and were so disgusted with the characters, the topic and poor quality of the video, that we became part of the controversy between those who breathlessly watched every episode and those who would prefer to be eaten by a tiger than to watch this series.

Even tigers in fiction can’t seem to escape modern-day criticism and controversy. The children’s book Little Black Sambo, written by the Scottish author Helen Bannerman and published in 1899, was based on an Indian tale, Little Babaji, the Boy and the Tigers, by Chibikuro Sampo. Both versions charmingly tell the tale of a little boy in India who was so brave he was able to fool fierce tigers into running so fast in a circle that they turned into butter or ghee. But recently there was a movement to ban the book in the U.S. as politically incorrect – equating Sambo with African Americans. And one small-city book store that placed the book in its shop window was virtually shut down while the community argued about racial insensitivity versus censorship.

The beloved character Tigger in Winnie the Pooh (Winny de Puh in Mexico) did not escape criticism and pushback. When a psychologist gratuitously analyzed the book’s characters, Tigger was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Ardent Tigger fans growled in outrage, especially when Ritalin and family therapy were prescribed.

Both the book Life of Pi and the movie of the same name – featuring as a main character a magnificent and possibly imaginary tiger – were mired in controversy. The author of the book, Yan Martel, was accused of plagiarizing the story from another author’s earlier book. The film tiger, who of course spoke Spanish in the version we saw in Oaxaca, was virtually created by the visual effects artists at VXF. The industry was in an uproar when VXF was not mentioned by Ang Lee in his Academy Awards acceptance speech when he won the Oscar for Best Director for Pi.

We hope the designation of 2022 as the Year of the Tiger does not portend twelve months of controversy. We have had enough polarization around the world in 2021. We have fond memories of our son as an infant and toddler, hugging his stuffed “tigger” until the plush fur wore thin and the stuffing appeared at the seams; for us the tiger represents the love of a child. Let us hope that for the world, the Year of the Tiger will be seen as originally projected – one of power and speed that can overcome conflict.

Ruben Orozco Loza’s Hyperrealistic Art

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Rubén Orozco, a Mexican hyperrealist artist, recently caused an international sensation with his latest installation, Bihar: Choosing Tomorrow. Bihar sends chills down your spine as you look at the head of a girl, eyes staring into the sky, placidly drowning in the River Nervión in Bilbao, Spain. The installation, created by Orozco and his co-artist Clara Inés Alcántara Dávalos, is an over 260-pound sculpture created from fiberglass and resin and embedded in underwater concrete and iron. The girl is submerged daily by the river tides. According to the BKK Foundation that sponsored this extraordinary artwork, Bihar is a plea for a sustainable future, “An expression of expectation for the decisions that we will make and that will determine if we live sunk or stick our heads out.”

Although Orozco has won international fame, acclaim and notoriety, he is a true Tapatío. Born in Guadalajara in 1979, his formal education took place in that city. He attended the University of Guadalajara majoring in visual arts. At age 27 he was awarded the State of Jalisco Prize for Youth. More recently he was given an honorable mention for the Juan Soriano Sculpture Award, named after the famed artist who was also a Tapatío. And he was selected to provide the city with a sculpture of Rita Pérez de Moreno, one of the heroes of the revolution; the statue was installed in Guadalajara near the Rotonda de Jaliscienses Ilustres in 2010 on the 149th anniversary of her death.

Orozco was born in the same decade (the 1970s) as hyperrealistic art first began to appear in art galleries. Drawing its roots from hyperrealistic photography, the art form in its earliest stages often reproduced photos of commonplace, everyday settings such as city streets, emphasizing details, such as gutter trash, that realistic artists ignored and romantic artists rejected. Orozco often draws from photos of celebrities to sculpt both his larger-than-life figures and his smaller sculptures. But his renditions incorporate, in many of his sculptures of men, a myriad of minute imperfections that are naturally occurring over time in humans. His sculptures that are larger than life size and small sculptures of women tend to portray hyper realistic beauty with each strand of hair (often real hair) in place, each eye lash long and perfectly aligned and each eyebrow consisting of perfectly symmetrical filaments. For one example, his bust of the actor and later princess, Grace Kelly, appears to radiate perfection.

The media used by Orozco vary from sculpture to sculpture, seemingly dependent on the tonal quality and emotions he is striving to evoke. Clay, wood, latex, resin, plasticine, and silicone are among the materials he uses to construct, shape and finish his works. The hyper attention to minute detail requires hours of painstaking labor. Even the smallest sculpture commonly requires close to two months of working 12 hours a day.

The work that goes into Orozco’s sculptures has been recorded in a series of videos that are available on Instagram and YouTube. It is fascinating to watch the process of his creations – including the Bihar installation from initial stage to final placement in the river. The videos allow one to witness how a slight adjustment, such as a minuscule change in the position of an eye, can radically change the overall appearance of a sculptured face.

Many of his works replicate the appearance of people who have achieved extreme international celebrity status including Frida Kahlo, Pope Francis, and David Bowie. Among his works are a sculpture of a fellow artist from Guadalajara, Guillermo del Toro, the film director, from who won four Oscars including those for The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth. He also captured the likeness of the great Mexican artist Jose Clemente Orozco, probably not related to Ruben through familial descent, but definitely related in dedication to depicting reality through a large lens.

Although some people have found the works of Ruben Orozco to be “eerie” in their verisimilitude, to Orozco the detail of representation is just a way of providing insights into human nature. In an interview with Microsoft News he said, “The most important detail of my work is not the portrait but capturing the essence of being. I want people to reflect on the greatness of being human despite the adversities.”

One of his most touching sculptures is not of a celebrity but rather a young African American child. The boy’s stance and expression indicate vulnerability. Yet he is carrying a sign advocating for humane actions. He literally stands for the causes that Orozco is attempting to promote: peace, human rights, and a sustainable world.

Revolutionary Inventions

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

The human emotions and social processes that stir revolutions are similar across time. But the particular strategies and tactics used by revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries differ over time, based on the technology that then exists. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 occurred in the midst of technological revolutions as well.

Ironically, several of the key new technologies were fostered and promoted by the dictator José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori, but were turned against him and used to abolish his thirty-year grip on Mexico. These included the development of the national railroad system, the importation of easily loaded rifles, and the advent and refinement of photojournalism.

Although plans for the first railway line in Mexico – between Veracruz and Mexico City – had been drawn in 1837, intermittent political upheaval prevented final construction until 1873. The line was inaugurated by President Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, who was Porfirio Díaz’s immediate predecessor. During Porfirio Díaz’s regime, the railroad system in Mexico grew from slightly over 640 kilometers to over 24,700 kilometers. The populace of Mexico was outraged by Diaz’s reliance on financiers from the US, Britain, and France to build this system. In addition, the new railroads reaching from Mexico City to Texas, linking cities along the Pacific Coast, branching into cities along the gulf coast, and crossing the Sonora desert, essentially united previously isolated communities.

Just as in the French revolution, where rallying cries to overthrow the government traveled along river routes, in Mexico the sparks of revolution literally and figuratively traveled over rail routes. Díaz’s pride in his realized dream of bringing modern transportation to Mexico turned into his nightmare. Not only did the railways provide easy mobility to the revolutionaries, but the vast number of Mexicans recruited for railway building and maintenance created a new labor class in Mexico. Added to the oppressed agricultural workers, who comprised a significant number of those rebelling against the Díaz administration, the railroad workers united to aid the campesinos with transportation, arms, and formidable strength in battles.

Just as the railroads were produced by foreign investors, many of the arms used in the revolution were foreign imports. These included swords from Spain and the U.S. and Bowie knives from Texas. But perhaps the deadliest weapons to turn the tide in the revolution were Winchester rifles that flowed into the hands of the revolutionaries from border cities in Arizona and Texas. Although rifles and gun powder were known in China as early as the 10th century, firearms had been cumbersome to use, since the ammunition needed to be loaded through the muzzle and the rifle had to be primed between shots. In the mid-18th century, American ingenuity produced the Springfield rifle, which was loaded from the breech and eliminated the need to prime the weapon, thereby reducing the time between shots. Not long after, the Springfield rife was modified so that more bullets could be loaded through the breech and multiple shots could be taken before recharging.

As with many new inventions, the advent of this new technology stimulated others in the industry to copy and improve on the rifle design. Díaz was impressed with a Mexican rifle design that he thought likely to provide state-of-the-art weapons, since it had a high-pressure round. He contracted with a Swiss munitions company, SIG, to produce several hundred rifles called “Mondragons” – the name of the designer. The high-pressure feature of the Mondragon failed to live up to its potential and the Mondragon was modified by a British company to incorporate a Mauser 7mm. The head of SIG warned Diaz that marriage of the Mondragon with the Mauser was a huge mistake, but Díaz ordered 4000 of the rifles, renamed the Porfirio Díaz Mondragon, for his army. The warning of SIG turned out to be right on the mark, and the rifles were a colossal failure.

At the same time, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in Connecticut developed its series of level-action carbine rifles. The 30-30 model was released in 1895 and proved such a sound technology that the rifle, with some modifications, is still manufactured today. The Winchesters flowed into Mexico and into the hands of the revolutionaries, notably into the hands of the notorious Pancho Villa, and was so revered by the revolutionary armies that they literally sang its praises:

With my 30-30
I’m leaving
To join the ranks of rebellion
If my blood asks, I give blood
For the inhabitants of our nation.

Winchester-carrying revolutionaries, both men and women, posed in front of trains and captured the fancy of viewers around the world. The photo journalists who romanticized the uprising and the overthrow of Díaz were themselves an outgrowth of a new technology fostered by Díaz. Photographic propaganda was first introduced in Mexico by the French during the short reign (1864-67) of Emperor Maximillian. The strategy of creating a sympathetic portrait of the Emperor through photography was decidedly not successful, since in the end he was executed by firing squad. Nevertheless, Díaz saw the potential of recording the advances his administration was achieving in modernizing Mexico, and he hired some of the most renowned photographers in the country, including Frida Kahlo’s father Guillermo. In addition, Díaz commissioned them to photograph Mexico’s natural wonders to promote tourism.

Toward the end of the 19th century, Rafael Reyes Spíndola, who owned several newspapers, began using photos to accompany the stories in his papers, Díaz made sure that his accomplishments were front and center. The only other photojournalism stories that were condoned were society events such as weddings and balls. But once again, Díaz’s promotion of a new technology was turned against him. When the revolution began, such picturesque studies emerged that photojournalists from the U.S. and Europe flocked to Mexico to record the revolution. While Díaz captured the investors of the world in his determined push to modernize Mexico, the rest of the world was captivated by the scenes presented by the photojournalists – the horrors of war, the plight of the poor, and the determination of the Mexicans to free themselves from the domination of Porfirio Díaz. And so, with the railroads Díaz created, the use of modern weaponry Díaz promoted, and the support of sympathetic readers of photojournalistic accounts of their struggle, they did.

Fish farming in Mexico

By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken

Given the thousands of kilometers of coastline and the great quantity of fresh lake water in Mexico, it is not surprising that before the Spanish arrived, indigenous people were heavily involved in ocean and inland fishing. It is notable however, that the pre-Hispanic residents also engaged in farming of fish. For example, the extensive inland lake that once surrounded the Aztec capital (now Mexico City) was used to farm fish at that time. Today Lake Texcoco has mostly vanished, along with the pre-Hispanic fish farms.

The 16th-century Spanish conquistadores forbade the indigenous population to fish or raise fish for their own use, as they were trying to develop this market for European consumption. Although fishing as an individual occupation was gradually reintroduced in Mexico and later commercial fishing became a major industry, it was not until the 1970s that any perceptible amount of aquaculture re-appeared.

The term aquaculture (in Spanish acuacultura or acuicultura) refers to the rearing of aquatic animals and cultivating aquatic species for food, including not only fish but also crustaceans, mollusks, and seaweed. Fish and other aquaculture products are raised in floating tanks through which lake or ocean water flows naturally, and are fed controlled diets. The practice of aquaculture was in part prompted by potential financial reward, but also by environmental concerns. A controversial aspect of marine fishing is called “by-catch” – the unavoidable capture in fishing nets of animals and plants that are not used for human consumption. By-catch is not only fiscally wasteful but is responsible for wreaking havoc on marine environments. Aquaculture, on the contrary, results in close to 100% of production being sold for food or other uses. Eighty percent of aquaculture products are used for human consumption.

Mexico now ranks around 23rd in the world in the annual production of its aquaculture economic sector. Most countries ranking higher than Mexico are in Asia, especially island nations with extensive coastlines. Mexico ranks higher in annual aquaculture production than, for example, Canada, the United Kingdom, Russia, New Zealand, Peru, and Australia.

Mexico’s lengthy coastline is a competitive advantage in two ways: first, tanks for commercial growing of marine animals are located close to shore in the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of California, and the Gulf of Mexico; and, second, ports on the coast provide easy access for delivery of harvested product to the interior of Mexico or for export to the Americas and Asia. Mexico experienced an increase in aquaculture of 27% from 1986 (the first year statistics were collected) to 2010 but then suffered a three-year sharp decline because of a widespread virus infection in the types of food that are fed to fish.

In recent years the growth of aquaculture has exceeded its earlier vigor in Mexico, with a 34% increase in five years. Currently Mexico is one of only five countries showing sustained growth of inland aquaculture. Baja California and the states of Jalisco, Michoacán, and Veracruz are the most important locations for offshore marine aquaculture in Mexico. Inland aquaculture (primarily trout) is found mainly in Sinaloa, Sonora, Tabasco, and Tamaulipas.

The aquaculture companies pride themselves on crecimiento azul, which is the watery version of a “green economy,” namely one that is sustainable, resource efficient, and environmentally sound. Around the world, the proportion of naturally occurring wild fish stocks that are biologically sustainable decreased from 90% in 1974 to under two-thirds in recent years, which means that a third of the seafood produced by commercial fisheries comes from fishing locations that will not survive into the future. By contrast, seafood purchased from aquaculture will continue to be available or increase over time. Aquaculture also provides safe, well-paying jobs and is a boost to the local economy wherever it is installed.

The main types of seafood produced by aquaculture in Mexico are mojarra (the species varies, most likely a bream or tilapia), oysters, huachinango (red snapper), trout, and tilapia, with lesser amounts of camarón (shrimp), abalone, and tuna. (Worldwide, the most important aquacultural product is tilapia.) Shrimp account for under 10% of Mexico’s aquaculture production, but the amount of shrimp production is increasing rapidly from year to year.

There is a debate about whether farmed fish are as nutritious and as tasty as fish that are wild. The commercial fisheries would have you believe that farmed fish are full of toxins and dangerous. The actual answer is based on local aquaculture practices. Farms that frequently test their water and fish food to be sure there is no toxic contamination are likely to produce wholesome fish and seafood. That is one reason fish farms are not promoted as tourist attractions and are off-limits for water sports – the companies want to avoid pollution. The only visitors likely to be found at a fish farm are scientists, technical consultants, potential investors, government inspectors, and participants in conferences of aquaculture organizations.

In addition, by being raised on feed that is high in omega oils, farmed fish actually are more likely to promote good health in humans than are wild-caught fish. But what about the taste? We have friends who swear they can distinguish farmed fish from wild fish by the taste. However, judging by the way they snarf down fish they do not know were farmed, we have our doubts.

For more information, check out the website of the Mexican government agency that supports aquaculture (among other things) – the Center for Studies in Sustainable Rural Development and Food Sovereignty (Centro de Estudios para el Desarollo Rural Sustentable y la Soberania Alimentaria, http://www.cedrssa.gob.mx). And ¡buen provecho!

Ten Simple Steps to Help Preserve Mexico’s Ecology

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

  1. Sunscreen: wash it off before swimming in lakes, lagoons or ocean bays. Previously, much of coastal Mexico was a natural aquarium, teeming with brightly colored fish and exotic sea life feeding off myriad varieties of coral. Today, many of the most accessible bays and lagoons have a visible oily slick of sunscreen on the surface, with mainly dead coral and greatly reduced sea life. Many inland lakes have also been polluted.

There are still wondrous places to snorkel and dive, mainly accessible by boat. If you are fortunate enough to visit some of these sea or lake homes to see thousands of aquatic creatures, please help preserve them by wearing a sun-guard shirt (an inexpensive teeshirt will do) instead of poisoning the waters with sunscreen.

  1. Picnics: if you carry it in, carry it out. The beaches, vista points and forests in Mexico are great places for a picnic. It’s tempting after an afternoon of eating and drinking to just leave your empties and other trash behind. If you do, you’re basically creating an unattractive garbage dump and providing the animals with materials that can choke or otherwise kill them. It’s so simple to bring and use paper bags to collect your detritus (recyclables in one bag and trash in the other) and dispose of them in bins for recycling.
  2. Flora and fauna: observe but do not disturb. Plants and animals, both on the land and in the water, are fascinating. We can spend hours watching whales playing in a bay, or geckos scrambling around our patio walls, or an octopus hiding under a rock and sending out a tentacle to catch a fish or a sea turtle nesting on a beach. We’ve also watched in horror as people use sticks to poke at iguanas and disfigure other animals, or disturb nests of turtle eggs, or surround whales with multiple motor boats, or dig up plants that support multiple forms of animals. Please remember that you are a guest in their homes and, just as you wouldn’t enter a human home and purposely maim or torment your hosts, be a good guest to the animals and plant life here.
  1. Paths and trails: stay on the beaten path. In addition to not trampling or otherwise disturbing flora and fauna, staying on the beaten path will help you avoid unpleasant encounters with the native life. Many forms of plants and animals in Mexico have developed excellent forms of self-protection, including sharp spines, toxic stingers, pincers and teeth that can deliver a painful bite. Not all snakes rattle or give a warning before they spring. So keep on track and keep your eyes where you are about to step.
  2. Drinking water: avoid plastic bottles. In many places in Mexico the water is fine to drink. If you are at a moderately or expensively priced hotel or restaurant and you are served water from a pitcher, it generally is filtered and potable. The same is true of ice. If you are at an economy-priced place where you are not sure about the hygiene, you can ask for a glass of water from their garafon, the huge jugs of filtered water kept on hand for the staff to use. But please, please, please, help stop the world-wide pollution of the earth with billions of tons of plastic bottles. Until someone figures out how to turn plastic back into its natural components (a future Nobel-Prize-winning discovery), every plastic bottle of water you drink and discard will contribute to choking off life in Mexico and around the world.
  3. Restaurants: no plastic straws or one-use plastic anything. Plastic straws are literally killers. They find their way into the ocean and are gobbled up by short-sighted sea turtles. Hundreds of turtles die each year from ingesting a plastic straw. Many fish and sea-birds are also injured. Other plastic utensils also contribute to the injury and death of marine life. If you must use a straw, at least use a paper straw. But folks, who really needs a straw? Every sip from a plastic straw you take shortens the life of rapidly disappearing species.
  1. Shopping: bring your own bags and select ecofriendly packaging. Buy organic.
    Fortunately, most Mexican supermarkets are legally prohibited from providing plastic bags for packing your purchases. And there are wonderful colorful cloth or other material shopping bags for sale in gift shops and from vendors all over Mexico. They’re not always environmentally friendly but they are easily packed, great souvenirs. But before you even reach the checkout counter, please think ‘green’ before you place something in your shopping cart. Two or three tomatoes really don’t require a thin plastic bag to keep them separate from an avocado; and the avocado comes in its own natural wrapper. By reaching for the fruit and vegetables that are labelled ‘organic’ you may pay a little more, but you are helping keep toxic pesticides out of drinking water and out of the bodies of many living creatures – including your own.
  2. Signs: read them and obey them. Much thought and effort has been spent on placing signs around Mexico to protect wildlife and to protect you. The road signs depicting silhouettes of local fauna are charming – but they are danger signs. Keep your eyes peeled on the road in front of you and to either side and slow down so you can stop in time to avoid an animal that darts out to cross to the other side. The signs on beaches and in parks that have the universal multiple “no” symbol should be studied and heeded. At the very least, they will give you a heads-up about human behavior required to protect life in Mexico. And ultimately, you may be saved from a hefty fine or even drowning.
  3. Showers: keep them short. Many places in Mexico, as throughout the world, are suffering from severe water shortages. You are encouraged to shower off before entering pools to save filtration systems; but all that is required is a quick rinse to remove sand and salt. A long hot shower before you dress is as passé as a flip-top cell phone. Remember to save water in other ways too. Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth. If you have a kitchen, fill that dishwasher before you run it. And although washing your hands frequently is highly recommended, turn off the water while you soap and sing the canonical ‘happy birthday’ song twice.
  4. Prevent COVID: You may be on vacation, but the coronavirus never takes time off from work. Until Mexico vaccinates most of its population and enters a low COVID tier, wear your mask, frequently wash your hands and stay at a safe distance. The life you save could be your own.