Tag Archives: Deborah Van Hoewyk

Glocal Gastronomy: Growing Tourism in Mexico

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

The Stealth Food Tour

Almost 20 years ago, my husband and I left Orizaba, Veracruz, after visiting a friend, and set off down the Sierra Madre del Sur to see the Pacific Ocean. We stopped over in Tehuacán, where we wandered around the zócalo (main square) that evening, eyeing the brightly-lit taco carts with trepidation. We were intimidated by the rapid-fire system for ordering, paying, and getting plates of three tacos with bewilderingly different fillings. But the local eaters, perched on the plastic stools circling each cart, didn’t let us go hungry. They gestured, they pointed, they chattered in Spanish we didn’t yet understand – and we had a delicious dinner!

Further down the road was the state capital, Oaxaca de Juárez, where we ate more tacos, crunched on grasshoppers, and tried to figure out why the sauce on the chicken was redolent of chocolate. The food highlight, however, was the La Noche de los Rábanos (The Night of the Radishes), which takes place on December 23.

The zócalo was turned over to an elaborate network of boardwalks past tables displaying scenes largely made up of intricately carved radishes. These are not your namby-pamby Cherry Belles or French Breakfast radishes. They put Japanese daikon to shame, reaching a weight of up to 10 pounds and a length of up to 2 feet. Complemented with separate competitions in scenes made of cornhusk (totomoxtle) and dried flowers (flores inmortales), the radish displays compete for a large prize ($21,000 pesos in 2018) in the traditional and free (libre) categories. Traditional includes religious and cultural scenes, while there’s no limit to the imagination in free scenes. Unfortunately, the radishes wilt, so the whole thing – including the actual carving and competition – is over in one day.

Back on the road, at the end of the road, we discovered La Bocana, then a quiet paradise of palm trees and the Pacific Ocean (not so much, not no more). As it still is, however, Los Güeros was very much a family restaurant, and there we learned to love camarones al mojo de ajo.

While we were completely unaware that we had taken a food tour, we had. We had walked through a century-plus-old cultural event with the radishes, eaten traditional foods (those grasshoppers and that mole), and talked to (sort of) local people eating local street food. It was a harbinger of things to come.

Tourism Trend Alert – It’s All about the Experience!

Although we see a lot of old-style tourism in Huatulco, aimed at relaxation and consumption – all-inclusive hotels with endless buffets, massages, and multiple pools, cruise ships with guided tours and careful activities – we also see that newer trends in tourism have arrived in Huatulco.

Sometime around 2015, tourism associations and researchers started commenting on “experience tourism.” Travel now offered the chance of “having a once-in-a-lifetime experience or gaining an emotional connection with cultures and nature.” By 2016, the Harris poll reported that 72% of millennials (25- to 40-year-olds) preferred spending their travel dollars on unique experiences than on souvenirs, embroidered blouses, or standardized hotels. The poll doesn’t mention that experiences take a lot more travel dollars than, say, an alebrije carving that fits in your carry-on.

Journey Mexico (www.journeymexico.com), a guide-owned and -operated agency located in Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun, “specializes in crafting unique, authentic and unexpected travel experiences for the discerning and sophisticated traveler.” The words “luxury,” “adventure,” “culture,” “nature,” and “villas” appear on the photos scrolling across the home page.

According to Stephanie Schneiderman, of Tia Stephanie Tours in Ann Arbor, Michigan (www.tiastephanietours.com), “People are turning away from mindless consumerism and are realizing that what really fills the mind and soul are experiences, not things.”

Experiencing Food

And, of course, what better way to experience a culture than with food? In 2010, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), designated traditional Mexican cuisine an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” because it is “a comprehensive cultural model comprising farming, ritual practices, age-old skills, culinary techniques and ancestral community customs and manners. It is made possible by collective participation in the entire traditional food chain: from planting and harvesting to cooking and eating.”

There are many ways to experience food in Mexico – sampling the range of regional cuisines, learning to cook popular and/or specialized Mexican dishes, visiting the makers of tequila or mezcal – and the Mexican government has jumped on the food-culture bandwagon. Impelled by the UNESCO Patrimonia Mundial de Humanidad designation and building on the already established Rutas Turisticas de México (e.g., the Missions Route through Baja California, the Route of Silver in Aguascalientes, the Mezcal Route in Oaxaca), the Secretariat of Tourism has organized 18 Rutas Gastronómicas de México. The routes involve 155 destinations in 32 locations, more than 1,500 dishes and beverages, and over 500 chefs who have “created dishes that merge tradition and modernity.” There are routes about particular foods – cacao in Chiapas and Tabasco, coffee and vanilla in Veracruz, the “thousand flavors of mole” in Oaxaca. In Querétaro and Guanajuato you can order “dishes with history”; in Jalisco your experience is accompanied by the “sound of the mariachis.”

Like the Rutas Turisticas, the food routes are self-guided tours. The Secretariat of Tourism has put together a 96 page booklet that covers all the tours – download it from https://cedocvirtual.sectur.gob.mx/janium/Documentos/12282.pdf.

Both Journey Mexico and Tia Stephanie offer experiences in Mexican cuisine, for example, an 8-day tour of “Food, Wine and Tequila in Colonial Mexico” and another 8-day tour, “Maíz, Mole & Mezcal: Traditions and Flavors of Oaxaca,” respectively. Eat Mexico Culinary Tours (www.eatmexico.com) will take you on a street food and market tour in Puebla; see “¡Salud! A Toast to the Vinyards of Mexico” in the May-June 2021 issue of The Eye to put together your own wine-tasting tour in Guanajuato, Querétaro, Baja California, or Coahuila. Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com) provides a mega itinerary from Mexico City through Puebla and Oaxaca City right on down to Huatulco, where tour participants experience a Pacific Ocean boating expedition followed by a coastal cuisine masterclass on one of the area’s “stunning beaches.”

Not that the Huatulqueños don’t have their own culinary experiences to offer – most take a half or whole day. Wahaca Cooking School in La Bocana offers a tour to the Monday market in San Pedro Pochutla (https://wahacacooking.mx/). Maxi Travel will take you to the Pochutla market en route to the El Pacifico Coffee Plantation high in the mountains of Sierra Madre del Sur (https://www.maxitravel.mx/). A number of local guides will take you to agave fields to explore the making of tequila and mezcal, or to coffee plantations.

Hagia Sofia is a fascinating place on the Magadalena River in the mountains between Santa María Huatulco and Pluma Hidalgo; proprietor Armando Canavati has created an eco-park with adventure activities and the largest collection of exotic heliconia flowers in the western hemisphere. Armando’s underlying goal, however, is to cultivate exotic fruits from around the world that will grow in the lower Sierra Madre, with an eye to creating agricultural employment. Have you ever eaten the fruit that surrounds a single cashew? How about mangosteen? You can on a trip to Hagia Sofia! (https://hagiasofia.mx/hagia-sofia-eco-park/).

And we don’t just write about the foods of Mexico at The Eye. Multi-entrepreneur Jane Bauer offers cooking classes at her Chiles&Chocolate school in the village of Zimatán, where she also hosts “Village to Table” dinners of 8 courses with wine pairings (http://www.huatulcocookingclasses.com/). The dean of mezcal education is Eye writer Alvin Starkman, who runs Mezcal Educational Tours in the rural areas around Oaxaca City. Alvin offers day tours to local palenques (mezcal-making operations), and multi-day tours (up to a week long), “Comprehensive Mezcal/Culinary/Cultural Expeditions.” Were it nor for the pandemic, I would have been on one of Alvin’s tours in March 2020 … sigh. Tours have resumed, however: https://www.mezcaleducationaltours.com/.

Mexico’s Natural Wonders

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Ten major-to-middling mountain ranges, replete with volcanoes and caves. Two oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Sea of Cortez. Mega-biodiverse, with over 200,000 known species of flora and fauna. A plethora of online lists of 7, 10, 25 “natural wonders you must see in this lifetime!!!”

There are many must-see natural destinations spread across Mexico – Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, the Rosario sanctuary for Monarch butterflies reserve in Michoacán, Lake Chapala in Jalisco, or Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes covered in fourth-grade geography. You could even argue that the ghastly mummies of Guanajuato are a natural wonder, created by the arid soil in which they were hastily buried (apparently too hastily in multiple cases) during a cholera outbreak in 1833.

But if you’re already ensconced in Huatulco, there’s no need to wander afar – southeastern Mexico has plenty of natural wonders at hand.

Oaxaca: Hierve el Agua (“the water boils”) is located high in the mountains about an hour from Mitla, the archeological site to the east of Oaxaca City. Hierve el Agua offers a stunning pair of petrified travertine waterfalls, cascada chica and cascada grande, “falling” from high cliffs to the valley below. The falls themselves are twelve and thirty meters (about 40 and 100 feet) respectively. (The only other petrified waterfalls in the world are at Pamukkale in Turkey, so ¡Aprovechar!)

The small falls are more accessible and actually offer a better understanding of how the cascades were formed. At the top of the falls is a 60-meter-wide (about 200 feet) platform with four springs that bubble up (“boil”) and flow to small natural pools and two large man-made pools where you can swim – the high mineral content of the water, is supposed to have healing qualities. One of the springs spills over the edge, depositing minerals that extend the falls bit by bit, year over year.

There are visitor accommodations for changing clothes, getting a bite to eat, and souvenir shopping; there’s a basic hotel for an overnight. As is common in Oaxaca, you may also experience a bloqueo, a protest blockade, closing the road to Hierve del Agua. You can arrange a tour in Oaxaca City, or take a bus to Mitla and arrange a local tour or just transportation via a colectivo.

Chiapas: Sumidero Canyon is near the Chiapan capital, Tuxtla Gutiérrez (the cañon is the defining feature on the state’s coat of arms). Just north of the town of Chiapa de Corzo, about 35 million years ago, the earth cracked and the Rio Grijalva emerged to start carving out the eight-plus miles of canyon. In places, the walls are now a thousand meters (about 3,300 feet) high; the canyon ends with the Chicoasén Dam, which has created an artificial lake and raised the water level in the canyon – the gorge used to be higher. Should you be a geologist, the walls diagram the history of the earth’s crust in this area, with layers of limestone boasting marine fossils.

The canyon is located in the Sumidero Canyon National Park, designated a RAMSAR wetland. (RAMSAR is the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Ramsar, Iran, being where the Convention was signed in 1971 – Mexico has 142 RAMSAR sites.)

You can view the canyon from any one of six miradores (overlooks), but the best way to “do” the canyon is via boat. (There was an EcoPark within the national park, to which the boat would take you, but at last word it had closed for financial reasons.)

Most boat trips leave from Chiapa de Corzo. The round-trip boat ride takes about 2-3 hours, because it takes a while to get from Chiapa de Corzo to the actual canyon. You might see wildlife – the park is home to several endangered species (spider monkeys, jaguarundis, ocelots, anteaters). The vegetation in the park is mostly deciduous rainforest (Chiapas is much higher than Huatulco, which has mostly selva seca, dry deciduous jungle.) You can see the entrances to a couple of cave systems in the walls.

You can arrange a tour in Tuxtla Gutiérrez or San Cristobal de las Casas (apparently the best prices are in San Cristobal, and you should make sure your tour includes at least some of the miradors and the town itself). You can also just get yourself to Chiapa de Corzo (less than 20 pesos in a colectivo) – if you can get one to drop you off at the embarcadero (boat landing) in Cahuares, great, otherwise find a colectivo in the square going to Cahuares. If you get to Chiapa de Corzo, you will have no trouble getting to the canyon boats.

The Yucatán, ah the Yucatán! The Yucatán peninsula is all nature, all the time – and archaeology, and beaches, and swimming with sharks, and shopping – but mostly nature. You could go to the flamingo reserve, visit a biosphere, or canoe through the mangroves in Celestún, in the state of Yucatán. You can swim in the hundreds of cenotes, or sinkholes formed when underground rivers caused the limestone above them to collapse (some say Cenote Ik Kil, near Chichen Itza, also in Yucatán state, is the most beautiful). You could visit the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Mexico’s largest – it also contains the Calakmul archeological site – located in Campeche state. Or the colored lakes at the Las Coloradas salt flats, back in Yucatán. Or go kayaking on the brilliant, multicolored blue waters of Lake Bacalar in Quintana Roo.

But the Yucatán peninsula is home to the 700-mile-long Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest, which runs along the Caribbean coast from the tip of the peninsula down through the shores of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Sometimes called the Great Mayan Reef, it’s been described as an “underwater wilderness,” with, at last count, over 100 species of coral, over 500 species of fish, not to mention multiple species of sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins – and a few sunken ships serving as artificial extensions of the barrier reef.

You can book dive trips all along the Caribbean coast of the peninsula. SCUBA divers might have the most fun, especially for the wrecks and the Museo Subaquático de Arte (Cancún Underwater Museum). Never fear, though, there are two galleries in MUSA, and both snorkelers and riders on glass-bottom boats can visit the shallower one to see the sculptures of pH-neutral concrete that explore the human-reef relationship.

Manchones Reef, off Isla Mujeres (Quintana Roo), is considered a “true paradise” for snorkeling and SCUBA diving. The waters of Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel have great visibility; SCUBA divers can visit the Felipe Xicoténcatl, a C-53 gunboat sunk by the Mexican Navy to start an artificial reef. Ideal for snorkeling is the section of reef in the Biosphere Reserve of Banco Chinchorro – only 5 feet deep and partly comprised of wrecked pirate ships. Banco Chinchorro is off the coast at Chetumal, Quintana Roo. At the Parque Nacional de Arrecifes de Xcalak, also in Quintana Roo near Tulum, the “coral heads” of the reef start only a few meters off the beach and are only 2-3 meters below the surface. The main reef is 400 meters out – if you swam the 440 in high school, and can still do it, you’re good). Xcalak is perhaps the least crowded dive site for the Mesoamerican Reef, and arguably the least spoiled by tourism.

The impact of tourism is perhaps the greatest threat to all of Mexico’s natural wonders, but this is particularly true for coral reefs. You can catch a boat out from the beach at Puerto Morelos in Quintana Roo to see or snorkel Kan Kanán, a huge snake-like construction of hollow pyramids made of cement and micro silica. (Kan Kanán is a guardian serpent in Mayan mythology.) Over a mile long, Kan Kanán lies between the beach and the Mesoamerican Reef; it is the longest artificial reef in the world, intended to protect the coastline from erosion, kickstart the formation of new natural reefs, and regenerate the marine ecosystem. Hope for the future.

Mexican Beer: Born, Bred, and Bought Back by Europe

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Just waiting for a chance to sink your beach chair into the hot sand, peer out at the blue, blue ocean, and admire the green of the lime in the neck of your Corona Extra? And, at the holidays, don’t forget Modelo’s great bock beer Noche Buena, the label adorned by another Mexican native, the poinsettia.

Oh, oops, Mexican beer hasn’t been native for quite a while. The commercial beer brands we think of as Mexican are all produced by two major corporations – Grupo Modelo and Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma. They effectively divide up Mexico’s beer market, 60% Modelo, 40% Cuauhtémoc; Cuauhtémoc is closing the gap. Together, they control 90% of the domestic market. Mexico is the largest beer exporter, and the fifth-largest beer producer, in the world. After gobbling up any number of other Mexican breweries to achieve their status, however, the two in turn have been consumed by European-owned Anheuser-Busch and Heineken, respectively.

Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Missouri? Teams of Clydesdales rescuing puppies in Super Bowl commercials? Not really, since 2008, Anheuser-Busch has been a division of AB InBev, or Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, headquartered in Leuven, Belgium. It is the largest beer brewer in the world, with a “product portfolio” of over 500 brands. When Anheuser-Busch became part of AB InBev, it already owned 50% of Grupo Modelo, and bought the rest in 2012. In 2020, AB InBev sales were valued at $52.3 billion USD.

Headquartered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Heineken was founded in 1864. After acquiring smaller breweries around the world (it owns 164 in 70 countries), Heineken is the second-largest beer brewer in the world and the largest in Europe. It acquired Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, by then known as FEMSA (Fomento Económico Mexicano, SA), in 2010. In 2020, Heineken sales were valued at $26.8 billion USD.

The Beginning of Beer in Mexico

As noted elsewhere in this issue, fermented, i.e., alcoholic, beverages were around long before the Spanish took over. Tesgüino, or izquiate, was beer made from sprouted corn, in the eastern Sierra Madre; you can still find it in rural north and west Mexico. Some think it is the origin recipe for tepache, a lightly fermented pineapple beer (see “Pulque: Another Ancient Mexican Beverage” elsewhere in this issue for where to get tepache in Huatulco). Pozol, originally called pochotl in Nahuatl, was made from fermented corn mash rolled up into a dough and then dissolved in water along with unsweetened cacao beans; nowadays, it is made throughout Tabasco, Chiapas, and eastward into Belize, although it is sweetened with honey or sugar.

There was wine made from prickly pear, mesquite, or cornstalks in the altiplano and eastward towards Veracruz; pulque in south-central Mexico (see the “Pulque” article); bakbé, or fermented honey, favored by the Maya in the Yucatán and southeastern Mexico; and various other fermented fruit drinks, serveral made from the small native plums you can find in season at Huatulco’s fruit and vegetable stores.

With the Spanish arrival, however, beer became grain-based, using barley in the beginning. Barley was pretty scarce in Mexico at that point, although a man named Alfonso de Herrero received the first official concession to make European beer and started fields of wheat and barley somewhere south or east of Mexico City. The Spanish placed severe restrictions and taxes on anything involved with beer production, hoping on the one hand to keep what little there was for themselves, and on the other hand to restrict the privilege – and resulting inebriation – from the natives. They also wanted to make colonial beer so expensive it would not be exported to Europe, requiring the Spanish colonists to import their beer from the homeland.

The European Redesign of Mexican Beer

When the War of Independence (1810-21) freed Mexico from Spain, Mexico got rid of the regulations and “let beer be beer.” Herrero’s brewery had struggled and eventually collapsed, but at the beginning of the 19th century, European-style beer had gained a foothold. There are records of disputes over the rights to brew beer among an English firm (Gillons and Mairet) and two Mexican outfits run by Miguel Ramos Arizpe and Justino Tuallion. During the War of Independence, Tuallion’s beer brand Hospice of the Poor, named for the homeless shelter down the street from his brewery, was the most popular.

After the war, in 1845, Bernhard Bolgard from Switzerland set up the first Mexican lager brewery, La Pila Seca, in Mexico City. He also made a dark beer that included piloncillo (those brown-sugar cones you see in the market).

The real growth in Mexican brewing was actually kicked off by another effort at conquest. In the 1860s, while America was busy with its civil war, European powers (France, Spain, and Britain), to whom Mexico owed beaucoup bucks, invaded. Spain and England quickly realized that France actually wanted to reconquer and colonialize Mexico, so they dropped out; France established the short-lived (three years, 1864-67) Second Mexican Empire, putting Austrian arch-duke Maximilian in charge as Emperor.

Bad for Max, who was executed as Benito Juárez re-assumed leadership of the Republic of Mexico, but good for beer, as apparently Max never went anywhere without his two German brewmasters, who were particularly good at darker beers. And more Austrians and Germans who followed Maximilian brought their brewing skills – particularly in brewery construction – with them, and they stayed. In 1865, Agustín Marendaz, also from Switzerland, opened Cervecería Toluca y México; in 1869 (Emperor Max was dead and gone), Emil Dercher, from the Alsace region in France, set up Cervecería La Cruz Blanca and made lagers.

Juárez’s successor, Porfirio Díaz, infatuated with all things European, encouraged more German immigration. Under Díaz, the railroads came to Mexico, which was a mixed bag for Mexican brewing. Brewers could import heavy machinery and large supplies of malt, but on the same trains came cases full of competition – U.S. beer seeking to break into the Mexican market. Competition breeds competence, though, and the railroad may well be a key factor in the industrialization of beer-making in Mexico.

In Mérida, José Ponce Solis opened the Cervecería Yucateca in 1869, and José María Ponce opened the Gran Cervecería Yucateca in 1886; the latter eventually made Carta Clara, León, Cruz Roja, Estrella, and Mestiza beers. José M. Otahegui and Juan Fouillox opened the Gran Cervecería de San Luis in 1882; Fouilloux was a French brewer who had his equipment sent over from Paris. The first two large-scale, commercial/industrial breweries were Cervecería Cuauhtémoc (Monterrey, 1890) and Cervecería Moctezuma (Orizaba, 1891). Cervecería del Pacifico opened in Mazatlán in 1901, launching with the still-popular Pacifico pilsener.

At the close of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), Mexico had 36 breweries of substantial size, and the number continued to grow. In 1922, Braulio Iriarte Goyeneche came over from Spain and started Cervecería Modelo; by 1925, the brewery was making Modelo, Negra Modelo, and Corona. New breweries opened at the Baja border, e.g., Cervecería de Ensenada (1915), Cervecería Azteca (1921) and Mexícali (1923) as the U.S. imposed prohibition (1920-33), causing Americans to flock to the border to buy beer. The government started providing incentives and investments to the brewing industry, resulting in production of almost 50,000 liters (over 13,000 gallons, or 140,896 12-oz bottles) in 1925.

Still, the Mexicans themselves seemed to prefer pulque. Back in the old country, the techniques of immigrant German brewers had been governed by Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity regulations, since the 16th century, so they launched a propaganda campaign. Using the “purity card” and the idea of modern, sanitary breweries, they claimed beer was “rigorously hygienic and modern,” while pulque was made using poop to kick off fermentation. The reputation of pulque plummeted, and beer emerged triumphant.

Consolidating the Beer Industry

With breweries popping up right and left, the industry started slip-sliding towards the two giants left today. In 1954, Cuauhtémoc bought Tecate, founded in 1944 in Baja California, and turned it into a national brand. Cuauhtémoc also innovated by making Tecate the first beer to come in cans in Mexico (Tecate is now the #1 canned brand imported to the U.S.)

In 1985, the Cuauhtémoc and Moctezuma breweries merged, becoming Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, then FEMSA, by 1988. Their combined national brands were Tecate, Sol, Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Superior, Indio, and Bohemia.

The Cervecería Cuauhtémoc had always had interests besides beer. They were the first to integrate vertically, i.e., to start other divisions that supplied the glass bottles, the packaging, etc.; in 1943, the three wealthy families behind Cuauhtémoc founded Monterrey Tec, “Mexico’s MIT” (Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey) and in 1973 opened the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame on the grounds of company headquarters. Thus the story of Grupo Modelo gives a better picture of what happened to Mexico’s cervecerías on their path to becoming two huge multinational corporations.

In 1928, six years after the Cervecería Modelo broke ground and three years after it opened, it sold 8 million bottles of beer. In 1933, as prohibition ended, the cervecería sent off the first exports of Mexican beer. When it hit the ten-year mark, it bought Cervecería de Toluca y México, acquiring the brands Victoria and Pilsener. During World War II, Modelo concentrated its efforts on strengthening its national sales, following up with building new factories.

In 1954, Modelo bought Cervecería del Pacífico (Mazatlán) and Cervecería La Estrella (Guadalajara). In 1967, it liquidated Compañía Cervecera de la Laguna to form Cervecería Modelo de Torreón; in 1979, it bought Cervecería Yucateca in Mérida.

Using its own engineering designs, it opened new plants in Sonora (1961), Jalisco (1964), Oaxaca (1984), Zacatecas (1997). In 1982, Cervecería Modelo became Grupo Modelo, with the Corona, Negra Modelo, Modelo Especial, and Pacifico as export beers, and Victoria, Leon, and Montejo for the national market.

Becoming as large and as successful at exporting beer as they did, made FEMSA and Grupo Modelo very attractive targets for first cooperative partnerships, then stock exchanges and purchases, and eventually takeovers by the European beer giants. The two companies still make their beer in Mexico, they still exert major influence on Mexico’s economy, they are (despite some labor frictions) major employers, and their brands are essential to Mexico’s commercial identity, easily understood and much appreciated by foreigners. Nonetheless, Mexico’s commercial beers are a bit routinized for both locals and visitors who have developed “beer palates” that weary of the light lagers and pilseners, and don’t find the ambars and oscuros quite dark enough.

Microbreweries to the Rescue

While microbreweries and craft beers are not common in Mexico, they are starting to sprout up. Some recall the first microbrewery being Pepe’s y Joe’s in Mazatlán in the 1990s, but it seems long gone. Of perhaps more interest to beer aficionados are artisanal craft beers.

Let’s start with Minerva, because their products can even be bought at Super Che, at least before the pandemic. Headquartered in Zapopan, Jalisco, Minerva offers a variety of lagers, ales, and a stout. Colonial is a smooth, golden, wheat-malted beer with citrus notes and 5% alcohol. Viena is a red/ambar, with clean notes of nuts and caramel, low fermentation and a malty taste, again 5% alcohol. They also put out some seasonal brands. Founded in 2003, they have a 30% market share.

Baja California hosts half a dozen microbreweries. Baja Brewing, started by a young expat named Jordan Gardenhire, sells its beer in stores and in brew pubs (three in Los Cabos). Gardenhire left Colorado for Baja when he hadn’t decided what to do with his life. His dad came to visit. Ever since, they’ve been brewing craft beers. They offer Cabotella, a blonde ale; Peyote Pale Ale (called IPA Por Favor in the U.S.); Escorpion Negro, a black ale, and an oatmeal stout, among others. Founded in 2007, Baja Brewing has begun exporting to the U.S. You can watch Jordan explain how to start a craft brewery on YouTube
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqwcPG6xLtY).

Also in Baja, in Ensenada, Agua Mala Cerveza Artesanal started up in 2009, and makes eco-environmental practices an essential part of the way it does business, always working on making each step in the process more sustainable, building their tasting room out of repurposed cargo containers, and serving fresh, local ingredients on the tasting room menu. Their brands include Sirena (a Pilsener), Vieja (amber lager), Mantis (a wheat beer), Mako (pale ale), Marea Roja (red IPA), Mantarraya (oatmeal stout), and Astillero (an imperial IPA). AguaMala has sent a few of its entries across the border to Arizona.

There are other craft breweries in Baja, Monterrey, Colima, Querétaro, México state, Mexico City, and Puebla – it won’t be long before you’ll have no trouble getting a handcrafted beer, ale, porter, or stout to suit your taste wherever you are in Mexico.

Microenterprise in Mexico: Building Women’s Businesses

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

In 1976, amidst crushing poverty on the other side of the world, an idea popped up. Muhammad Yunus, born into the British Raj in 1940 in what is now Bangladesh, was an economist with a crazy-quilt professional background. An academic, a social activist, a banker, and more, Yunus went out one day to visit the poorest households in rural Bangladesh. He found women making bamboo furniture; to buy the bamboo, they took out money-lender loans, but the interest rates were so high, the women earned practically nothing, despite all their work.

Lending to the “Unbanked” – and to Women

As a banker, Yunus knew that conventional banks would not make tiny loans at reasonable interest rates to the bamboo workers – the banks did not believe these people capable of paying back a loan.

Enter the idea, and what an idea it was! Microcredit – tiny loans for tiny businesses started by people so poor they’d never even been inside a bank. Yunus adapted the idea of lending circles – groups of women were issued the loan, picked the recipient out of the group, and members supported her in making sure her business did well enough to pay it back. Then it was someone else’s turn.

Over the next six years, Yunus would reach 28,000 microenterprise borrowers; the program became the Grameen Bank (“village bank”). Together, Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The idea swept the social and academic world of poverty alleviation – microenterprise development was an innovative, sustainable path out of poverty. Today, 97% of Grameen borrowers are women; the repayment rate is 99.6%.

Why women? To Yunus, it was obvious that poverty inflicts greater stress on women, and when women make money they spend it first on their business, then on their families, and finally on their future. Pro Mujer is a U.S.-based women’s development organization that works throughout Latin America; in Mexico, it operates from Mexico City east to the state of Veracruz. Their research shows that Mexican women reinvest 90% of their income in their families and communities. Men? A measly 40%.

Born in the U.S.A., Bred in Latin America

Back on this side of the world, an organization called ACCIÓN International took shape fifteen years before Yunus came upon the bamboo furniture makers of Bangladesh. In the late 1950s, jumping the gun a bit on President Kennedy’s Peace Corps, a Berkeley law student named Joseph Blatchford undertook a thirty-stop goodwill tour involving tennis (he was an ace) and jazz, meeting with youth across South America in an effort to create cross-cultural understanding. He set up a volunteer “Youth Force” dedicated to international service in 1961, establishing ACCIÓN International in 22 barrios across Venezuela.

With the philosophy of listening to what local communities wanted to do, Acción volunteers helped build schools and water systems and health centers, giving people the tools they needed to help themselves. The United States Peace Corps started doing the same thing by the end of 1961; after eight years of expanding ACCIÓN International beyond Venezuela to Peru and Brazil, Blatchford went home and became Director of the Peace Corps. ACCIÓN International became just Accion and started focusing on microlending. In less than five years, Accion’s program in Recife, Brazil, made 885 small loans; those businesses employed 1,386 people.

Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Accion began to build a network of financial institutions willing to lend to the poor. The great majority of microlending is conducted through the lending-circle model (now also called a “communal bank”). The networking strategy allowed Accion to expand its microfinance programs to 14 Latin American countries – Mexico among them.

In Mexico, Banco Compartamos (the “We Share” bank) opened its doors in 1990, and Accion invested. Accion also partners with CrediConfia in east central Mexico (Mexico City and the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, Puebla, and Michoacán), as well as the online microfinance platform Konfio, which started up in 2016. There are branches of Banco Compartamos in the Huatulco area in Chahue, Santa María, and Pochutla. Moreover, Oaxaca is almost unique among Mexican states in having a growing universe of credit unions (casas de ahorro, caja popular), often located in remote locations and quite willing to set up lending-circle-type financing. The biggest credit union, Caja Popular Mexicana, has branches in La Crucecita and Santa María.

The Microfinance – Microenterprise Development Connection

Mexican statistics indicate that very large businesses (over 250 employees) make up less than 1% of all Mexican businesses. The remaining 99% comprises medium (51-250 employees), small (11-50), and micro (1-10) businesses. The microenterprises are about 94% of all businesses and provide half of all the jobs in Mexico.

What does it take for a woman to get started on her own business? Here we should note that microfinance and microenterprise development are not the same. Microfinance provides a key tool for business expansion – without money, even if a business owner only needs enough money to stock 20 more scarves in her shop, there is no growth. Starting up a microenterprise is something else entirely. Like poor women everywhere, Mexican women face institutional barriers to getting financing, and the pathways to education and training are often blocked. But they also face cultural barriers.

Gender discrimination in Mexico is far more explicit (and can be extreme, see the article “Hits, Blows and Coffins,” on page 18 in this issue) than in other countries. Sociologist Gina Zabludovsky Kuper, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), researches gender and power, and has written extensively about women as entrepreneurs and executives. In terms of microbusinesses, Zabludovsky Kuper points out that there’s a cultural perception about “women who start microbusiness in order to contribute to the family economy or get out of poverty” – they have to stay at the micro level because “their work is only viewed as auxiliary”; the women themselves often buy into the notion that just being a sideline business “is what is reasonable for them.”

Microenterprise – Making It Work

Nonetheless, in some places in Mexico, the programs to train and encourage women do come together with microfinance institutions, and women-owned microenterprises do start up and succeed.
The Mexico City nonprofit Crea Communidades de Emprendadores Sociales is typical of a microenterprise development organization. It offers programs to empower women entrepreneurs with training in business skills, technical assistance, and business support; it also brings participants into a support network for each other. It serves central Mexico (CDMX, and the states of Mexico, Aquascalientes, Guanajuato, and Querétaro), offering online services across the country as well.

From 2002 to 2006, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Michigan funded a program in Oaxaca called Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo … Empezar Mi Propio Negocio (I Want to, I Can … Start My Own Business). Yo Quiero arose out of a women’s health initiative founded in 1985, added life-skills training in 1990, and started Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo as a school-based self-efficacy intervention in 1996. With Kellogg Funding, the microenterprise program served 600 rural women, started 17 bancos communal and 300 women-owned businesses, and had a 100% loan repayment rate. It included training 25 “social promoters,” who continue to run the program in Oaxaca, and have added a youth microentprise program that serves Oaxaca, Puebla, and Michoacán.

South of Oaxaca City, Villa de Zaachila is the site of the largest landfill in the state. A project named Mujeres A.V.E. supports solidarity networks for women to help them start and grow microenterprises that support their families and contribute to the community. Organized by the SiKanda Foundation (Oaxaca) and supported by the British Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, among others, Mujeres A.V.E. helped 45 women build the skills to strengthen their businesses and access new markets in its first year of operation (2018).

See for Yourself in Oaxaca!

There’s a new way to learn about Mexican microenterprise – visit one. Independent women micro-entrepreneurs, along with long-standing family businesses, abound in the craft towns around the state capital, Oaxaca de Juárez, and at least a couple of travel companies will arrange a tour for you.

The online Spanish travel company Authenticities (www.authenticitys.com) has a tour specifically focused on the entrepreurial women artisans – weavers, chicken-raisers, flower-growers, tamale-makers, potters – who participate in a micro-finance program to which Authenticities contributes.

Fundación en Via, which itself runs microfinance and microenterprise developments programs (https://www.envia.org/microfinance-tours), takes you to visit microenterprises where the owner is ready for her next En Via loan. The tour takes nearly all day, visits two communities, and gives the owners the chance to show you what they do and explain how previous and upcoming loans have helped build their businesses.

Goliad, Texas:From “Remember the Alamo” to The Ox Cart Wars

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Should your travels to Huatulco be by land, and should they take you through east Texas via the tiny town of Goliad, you will find some outsized Mex-Tex-Mex history.

Located a little over a hundred miles southeast of San Antonio on the San Antonio River as it flows to the Gulf of Mexico, Goliad (pop. 1,908 in 2010) is the site of Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía, a presidio, or fort, built to defend what was then the border between Mexico and the United States. Northerners don’t often think about this, but after the Mexican War of Independence (1810-21), Mexico included much of the southwest – nearly all of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

The Texas Revolution

In the governmental chaos that followed independence, Mexico started out with a short-lived empire, followed by a republic that set off a struggle between conservatives (“centralists”) and liberals (“federalists”). The centralist President Antonio López de Santa Anna enacted policies that ticked off the folks living in what is now Texas; the settlers in this area were both Mexican and Americans; the latter had settled there when Mexico opened up land to immigrant settlers shortly after the War of Independence. On October 2, 1835, the settlers declared their independence from Mexico, and the Texas Revolution was on.

The Texas Revolution was only one of several armed insurrections against Santa Anna’s conservative government, but it was the most dramatic, the most deadly, and the only one that worked. Santa Anna – not without evidence – saw a U.S. plot to annex Texas, and decided this was his war. Following several months of skirmishes along the San Antonio River between San Antonio (then called Villa de Béxar) and Goliad, on February 23, 1836, Santa Anna led his troops to rebel headquarters in the Misión San Antonio de Valero, known as “The Alamo.” Thirteen days later, Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and nearly 200 other Texas fighters lay dead.

About a month later, down the river in Goliad, Mexican General José de Urrea and about 1,400 soldiers approached the La Bahía presidio. Although the head of the Texas army, General Sam Houston, had retreated and warned Colonel James W. Fannin to evacuate his forces from Goliad, Fannin failed to do so in time. Despite fighting Urrea’s advanced forces fiercely over a day, and regrouping overnight, Fannin’s men woke up to find that Urrea’s main army had arrived. The Texans surrendered and were marched back to La Bahía, where they expected to be treated as prisoners of war. Santa Anna was having none of that. All the Texans who could walk were marched out in different directions from the presidio, where they were shot or had their throats cut. Wounded Texans were lined up against the wall or left in their beds to be executed. Over 350 Texans were killed in the Goliad Massacre.

Santa Anna was in serious error if he thought the fate of those who died at the Alamo and Goliad would bring the Texas rebellion to an end. Men flocked to sign up with Sam Houston’s army; he led them out of retreat and towards Santa Anna’s army, which had made it to present-day La Porte, on the Gulf southeast of Houston.

This time it was Santa Anna’s forces who weren’t ready. They had backed themselves into a corner to achieve high ground behind Buffalo Bayou on the San Jacinto River. At 3:30 on a clear afternoon on April 21, 1836, Houston massed his forces and gave the order to advance in silence. It’s been suggested that Santa Anna had no lookouts and that many of his soldiers were taking their afternoon siesta. For whatever reason, the 910 Texans who attacked, raging in revenge and screaming “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” met little resistance. They gave no quarter, slaughtering Mexicans who were crying “Me no Alamo, me no Goliad!” The Battle of San Jacinto lasted about 18 minutes. Houston’s army lost 9 men and had about 30 wounded. They killed 630 Mexicans, wounded 208, and took 730 prisoners.

The Mexican-American War

The independent Republic of Texas was born, the United States annexed it in 1845, Mexico declared that an act of war and started skirmishing along the border, and President Polk got the U.S. Congress to declare war on Mexico on May 13, 1846. The mostly volunteer army handily vanquished the Mexicans, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848.

When the treaty was ratified on May 26, 1848, Mexico ceded nearly half its territory to America, handing over all the lands that now make up the “lower 48” states. The U.S. compensated Mexico to the tune of a little more than $18 million.

The repercussions of the Texas Revolution did not end with the Mexican-American War, at least not in east Texas. As a tremendous influx of northerners and immigrants arrived, east Texas quickly became majority Anglo and began rapid development – creating complicated social, economic, and racial tensions that frequently ended in murdered Mexicans, a long and tangled tale for some other time.

The Mexican-American War also kick-started the regional transportation system. Because there was neither rail transportation nor navigable water routes, the war effort was a huge headache for the military quartermasters who built military outposts and sent supplies to the troops. What there was, was a wagon “trace” – a vague idea of a road marked out by wagon tracks and word of mouth.

The Chihuahua Road ran about 140 miles from Indianola on the Gulf of Mexico to San Antonio; from there, it ran westward to the rich silver, copper, zinc, and lead mines of Chihuahua; a northern section would soon reach what is now San Diego. Different sections of the 1100-mile road had different names; one of them was the Goliad Cart Road.

Cargo offloaded in Indianola and Lavaca a little up the river included millions of dollars worth of construction materials – lumber, shingles, and rails, ties, and equipment to build railroads. Barrels of retail goods headed for the growing number of stores along the route. There were loads of “mixed freight” – barrels of essential and then luxury goods for retail sale, and German, Swiss and French immigrants, not to mention two shipments of camels ordered up by the U.S. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, a mere four years before he became President of the Confederate States of America. Coming back to Indianola from the interior were pecans, cattle, hides and horns, cotton, wool, salt, leather, sugar, molasses, and silver bullion bound for the U.S. Mint in New Orleans.

The Ox Cart Wars

And how did all that stuff get to and from San Antonio and points west? Overland freight drawn by horses, mules, and oxen. There were military wagons, commercial freight wagons, Wells Fargo wagons, stagecoaches, and the classic covered wagons called “prairie schooners,” drawn variously by horses, mules, and oxen. The Chihuahua Road made for a tough and dangerous trek. Wagons had to ford swollen streams and rivers during torrential rains, and were sometimes swept away. There were mountainous hills on the routes; teams and drivers sometimes died when carts slipped, overturned, and crashed over the side.

The star of them all in coping with the trip was the Mexican ox-cart driver, the carretero, whose teams of two, four, six, or eight oxen drew different-sized carretas. The smallest ox-carts were two-wheeled, drawn by a team of two oxen. The largest ox carts were about 6 feet wide and 15 feet long, with thick, 7-foot-high wooden wheels; these carts could carry up to three tons of freight.

Travelers at the time counted anywhere from 160 to 1,000 Mexican-driven ox carts during a day on Goliad Cart Road. The merchants of San Antonio were unsparing in their praise of Mexican carters, preferring them to Anglo teamsters. They were considered efficient, honest, and skilled at handling and caring for their oxen. America’s most famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, traveled widely – and wrote about it. In A Journey through Texas: Or a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (1857), Olmsted’s impression that Mexicans “with oxen and two-wheeled carts” carried “almost all the transportation of the country.” He noted that they cut travel expenses by living off the land, had their families working as assistants, and passed their businesses on to family members, increasing skills and efficiency as time went by, enabling them to charge less than the Anglo teamsters.

Mexican carreteros provided about two-thirds of the cartage services and comprised the largest occupational group in Bexar county, of which San Antonio was the county seat. Most carters lived in San Antonio, where the folks with Spanish surnames made up half the population. Few people of Mexican heritage lived in the towns along the Chihuahua Road between San Antonio and Indianola; for the Anglos who did, the carreteros’ success was galling – they “remembered Goliad” all too well. They went to war again, this time against the Mexican ox-cart drivers. The “cart-cutters” from Goliad betook themselves to ambushing the carreteros, cutting the axles and destroying the wheels of the carts, stealing or destroying the cargo, and escalating into shooting the drivers down.

From July through November of 1857, there were five documented attacks. On July 3, men in disguise attacked a train of six carts, wounding all six drivers. On July 14, about 20 cart-cutters attacked another train, cutting up the wheels of the carts. On July 31, three carreteros were wounded and an Anglo named C.G. Edwards, whose freight was being carried, was shot as he lay sleeping under one of the carts; he later died of his wounds. On September 12, about 40 men, most in masks, opened fire on a cart train carrying military supplies. Antonio Delgado, a prominent Tejano from San Antonio, was shot dead by 14 bullets. Finally, on November 20, cart-cutters opened fire on a cart train as the carreteros were “getting up” their oxen to start the day’s trek, killing either two or five of them.

The documented attacks account for four to seven dead. Several sources, including two letters from Manuel Robles Pezuela, the Mexican Ambassador to the United States, to Lewis Cass, the U.S. Secretary of State, put the number of Mexicans killed in the Ox Cart Wars at 70 to 75.

On the north side of the Goliad County Courthouse stands a huge southern live oak tree called either the “Cart War Oak” or the “Hanging Tree.” The missing Mexicans in the Cart War body count? Apparently, they were lynched on this tree. A Texas Historical Marker for the tree points out that when the court handed out a death sentence, the defendant was marched outside and strung up immediately. However, in a masterpiece of euphemism for “lynching,” the marker also says, “Hangings not called for by regular courts occurred here during the 1857 ‘Cart War.’ … About 70 men were killed, some of them on this tree.”

The Ox Cart Wars came to an end when Secretary of State Cass called on Texas governor Elishu Pease – who had received several letters about the attacks – to take care of business. On November 30, 1857, ten days after the last major attack, Pease said, “It is now very evident that there is no security for the lives of citizens of Mexican origin engaged in the business of transportation along the road from San Antonio to the Gulf, unless they are escorted by a military force. … It will require an appropriation of about fourteen thousand and five hundred dollars.”

The legislature forked over the money, the Texas Rangers took over, and the Ox Cart Wars came to an end. The Cart War Oak wasn’t done with its hanging duties, however; local citizens were suddenly outraged, and turned the cart cutters in. They were speedily tried, condemned to death, and hung from the limbs of the tree.

Remember all that freight with steel and wood to build railroads? The railroad from Indianola to San Antonio did get started, continuing in fits, starts, and foreclosures until it was bought by Charles Morgan, a New York shipping magnate who had been landing his steamships at Indianola since 1848, and railroad entrepreneur Henry S. McComb. They consolidated six rail lines into one company by 1871; in 1875, Indianola was wiped out by a massive hurricane. Morgan and McComb moved their railyards upstream and soldiered on. Other railways connected with San Antonio. The turbulent days of the Chihuahua Road and its Mexican ox carts were over.

The Elections That Trashed America

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

What’s your picture of America, that great expanse between Canada and Mexico? A bastion of freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness? Hmmm … Nope! The American dream? Not so much! An idea, an ideal, a world leader? Not no more.

As one of those WASP-y folks with Mayflower and Revolutionary ancestors, I come from the people who have long believed in the American idea, the ideal, and the responsibilities of leadership. But our time is long gone, and it is long gone because America is no longer one country.

America the Schizophrenic

From the very beginning, the 17th-century “errand into the wilderness” that turned Europeans into Americans had schizophrenia. Established with slaughter and supported by slavery on the one hand, but lifted up as “a city on a hill,” a beacon of freedom and “a special kind of courage,” as Reagan put it, on the other hand, America – WASP America – thought it would be a model society built by the pure and chosen. Not surprising that America has suffered schizophrenic breaks time and time again.

At this moment, the two “personalities” of America are roughly equated with the Republicans and the Democrats, and each of those parties has its own schizophrenia. The Republican party has almost entirely been remade by Donald Trump into an extremely conservative, personal adoration machine – moderate Republicans are few and far between. The Democrats have had to contend with conflict between centrists like President-elect Joe Biden and a progressive movement revitalized by the two presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders, a senator from Vermont.

The two sides are badly split on many issues, with Republicans taking individualist positions on gun rights, immigration, race, assistance for the poor, etc., etc. The Democrats offer community-oriented policies on all those issues and more. The Republicans call the Democrats socialists, and the Democrats think Republicans are fearful of demographic change – i.e., the loss of white-dominated America.

It’s been a long time coming – the presidency of Donald Trump just laid it out in the open. Any number of U.S. elections, combined with demographic and socioeconomic change, have trashed the idea and ideals of America; the Trump elections, however, have raised the possibility that the trash can’t be cleaned up.

The split between individual and community

In 1800, President John Adams was challenged by Thomas Jefferson. Adams believed in strong central government, Thomas Jefferson in state’s rights and individual liberty. The difference in ideas led to Jefferson supporters saying Adams had a “hideous hermaphroditical character,” and Adams supporters calling Jefferson “a mean-spirited low-lived fellow.” Having been great and respectful friends (Adams had asked Jefferson to be his Vice-President, in a bipartisan gesture, but Jefferson turned him down), the two did not speak for twelve years. Adams left town before Jefferson’s inauguration.

Here we have not only deplorable rhetoric and bad behavior, but the beginning of the American conflict between the community and individual. Alexis de Tocqueville, a 19th-century French observer, noted in his two-volume Democracy in America (1835-40) that Americans had “habits of the heart” that supported family life, religious conviction, and local participation in community politics – the bedrock institutions of a free society. On the other hand, he saw that the American tendency towards individualism could divide Americans from one another, prevent positive collective action, and threaten the institutions of freedom.

In 1985, sociologist Robert Bellah and four colleagues published Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Their conclusion? “We are concerned that this individualism may have grown cancerous – that it may be destroying those social integuments that de Tocqueville saw as moderating its more destructive potentialities, that it may be threatening the survival of freedom itself.”

While the gun rights vs. gun control conflict is a good example of individualism vs. community, the anti-mask movement is a more current example, and comes closer to showing individualism attacking community. The beginnings of the anti-mask movement appeared on that ever-reliable indicator of popular sentiment, Facebook, and featured flocks of sheep with quotes about how people who wore masks lived in fear. By May 6, 2020, when Psychology Today asked why the mask issued triggered such rage, retail employees had been assaulted for asking a customer to wear a mask, and an 80-year-old man in a New York City bar was shot and killed for asking why another patron wasn’t wearing a mask. Three months later, Forbes reported continued physical violence and property damage, and a quick Google of news coverage found at least another three people had been murdered over the issue.

Granted that the anti-mask movement got underway before we knew how much protection masks offered, but it doesn’t seem to have lost any steam. Why not? Psychology Today suggested the conflict and rage are triggered because masks are “visible markers of a political divide.” Being anti-mask is firmly allied with the much bigger, basic political idea that the individual comes first, and any attempt to make an individual do something for the benefit of others is an assault on freedom. From that ever-reliable source of information, Facebook in GIANT ALL CAPS: “The urge to save humanity is always just a method for politicians to grab power. Government has overreached so far, now they are coming into your home. This is training you to comply for total takeover.” Another theme is that the science is wrong, also in BIG letters: “Check the math and the science. Mask mandates do not work on slowing or stopping COVID. The only effect that masks have is spreading unreal fear.”

Pro-mask postings on Facebook are much less colorful, and usually involve scientific information presented as fact, and geared to guiding group behavior – e.g., asserting herd immunity doesn’t work unless 67-70% of the population has been vaccinated, reprinting of New York Times analysis on why states that locked down in the summer are doing better this fall, listings of the federal government’s failure to contain the virus, and love songs to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The geographical mismatch

In 1860, the year before America’s Civil War broke out, moderate Republican Abraham Lincoln campaigned not on eliminating slavery, but on preserving the Union by prohibiting the expansion of slavery in new territories. The Democratic platform, represented by candidate Stephen Douglas, ignored the issue of expanding slavery. The question of slavery vs. abolition was tied to the issues of states’ rights, including the right to secede. Lincoln won the election largely because there were two splinter parties that took more extreme positions pro and con slavery and states’ rights/secession.

The upshot of the November 6 election was secession (South Carolina on December 20, six more states by February 1, 1861, 4 more in April and May); Lincoln tried hard to reverse the secessions, but finally on August 16, he declared those states to be in “a state of insurrection” against the Union, and America’s Civil War began. Like all civil wars, it was an unspeakable horror; it also marked geography – the South vs. the North – as representing fundamental social and cultural differences.

In 1981, four years before Habits of the Heart laid out the split between individualism and collective interests, journalist-scholar Joel Garreau published The Nine Nations of North America, which argued that the economic and cultural characteristics of America divided it into nine different geographic regions; within each region, largely driven by the area’s economy, people shared cultural values that conflicted with those of other regions. According to Garreau, “The layers of unifying flavor and substance that define [each of] these nations still explain the major storms through which our public affairs pass. And ‘Nine Nations’ is also a map of power, money and influence, the patterns of which have only deepened.” More recently, journalist Colin Woodard has published two books that, read together, integrate the issues of incompatible regions and individual vs. community: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011) and American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good (2016). Needless to say, Woodard’s position is that we need to balance protection of individual liberty and nurturing community.

Woodard, the state and national affairs writer for my hometown papers (Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram), recently used his 11 regions to show that politics, too, are regional, with the strongest support for Republicans in “Greater Appalachia” and for Democrats in New York City and the surrounding area, plus the upper West Coast. Working on a county-by-county basis (which can look quite different from a state-level tabulation), Woodard finds little change in regional voting behavior – except some increase in urban vs. rural outcomes – since 2000.

This is surprising, since all 21st-century elections have been marked by tension and some outright controversy. In 2000, the Supreme Court ended vote recounts in Florida, effectively handing the election to Republican George W. Bush, who was re-elected in 2004 because America was embroiled in a war Bush started under intelligence that proved to be false. In 2008, we elected our first black president, which according to Democrat Barack Obama’s just-released memoir, set America’s racism simmering, if not seething. The whole point of the 2010 midterm elections, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was to see that Obama was a “one-term president.” It didn’t work out that way, but there was no way the 2016 election was going to follow a president of color with a female president, even without her considerable baggage.

These elections laid the groundwork for where we are when this was written: the incumbent president, even though he lost both the popular vote by over 6 million votes and counting, and the electoral college by 74 votes, is still claiming, that if Biden won, it was because the election was fraudulent. Trump said he will leave the White House if the Electoral College certifies Biden as the winner.

Alternative facts

On January 22, 2017, two days after Donald Trump’s inauguration and in the midst of a photographic brouhaha about whether or not Trump’s inaugural audience was the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe,” Kellyanne Conway, special assistant to the President, described the difference between the audience claimed by Trump and the observed attendance to be “alternative facts.”

Conway kicked off what is probably the most divisive aspect of electing Donald John Trump to be President of the United States. Alternative facts establish a different reality, and one Trump has exploited. As of July 9, 2020, he ticked past 20,055 confirmed “false or misleading statements,” firmly believed by his base. Add to that uncounted statements designed to provoke that base to action – statements supporting white supremacist and racist positions, statements encouraging violence, conspiracy theories. On Wednesday, August 11 and Thursday, August 12, 2017 (Trump had been in office seven months), far right groups staged a march in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of Confederate monuments and “unite the White nationalist movement.” On Thursday morning, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe declared an emergency, and the Virginia State Police declared the march an unlawful assembly.

At about quarter of two, in broad daylight, self-declared white supremacist James Alex Fields, Jr., drove his 2010 Dodge Challenger into the counter-protestors. He was going about 25 miles an hour, and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. He was charged with first-degree murder, malicious and aggravated malicious wounding (6 counts), felonious assault (2 counts), and federal hate crimes (30 counts). He is serving two life sentences plus 419 years in the federal penitentiary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania.

Nonetheless, since that incident, “vehicle ramming attacks” are on the rise. Worldwide, terrorists executed 17 vehicle ramming attacks between 2014 and 2017; between May 26 and September 5, 2020, there were at least 104 vehicle ramming attacks carried out on groups protesting the death of George Floyd under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Most (but not all) were executed by members of what the Department of Homeland Security calls WRM (white racially motivated) groups. Democrats put the blame for this squarely on Trump’s statement that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the Charlottesville incident.

Beyond generating the anti-mask movement and eliminating strong federal leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, “alternative facts” have embraced conspiracy theories of every stripe – former Congressman and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough killed Lori Klausutis, one of his Congressional aides? Phony science makes climate change a “total, and very expensive hoax” perpetrated by China? Joe Biden is out sniffing kids’ panties? The election was rigged and Trump really won?

The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School puts out the Mis/Information Review; this past June, it published a pair of articles investigating how conspiracy theories about the coronavirus shape how people behave about the pandemic. Conspiracy theories have ranged from accusing China, Democrats, the Deep State, big pharma, Bill Gates and George Soros of unleashing the pandemic to promoting the medicinal properties of disinfectants, ultraviolet light, and hydroxychloroquine.

Guess what? People are more prone to believing conspiracy theories “promoted by visible partisan figures” than they are to believing medical information that was wrong. In other words, people are more ready to believe that bad actors are harming them, than they are to believe health-related misinformation. The conspiracy theories were more readily believed by people with conservative ideology who supported Trump; those who did not believe the health information expressed a general mistrust of science and scientists; a general mistrust of science and scientists; about two weeks before the election, Trump said “Fauci is a disaster” and that “People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots.”

This is a mess. Can it be cleaned up? At the moment, 73,799,431 Americans like things the way they are – but there are 79,853,547 Americans who may never forgive them. A good percentage of them don’t believe they should expend the effort to meet Trumpers halfway. Go halfway to make nice with Nazis? People who don’t respect women? People who think kids in cages are a good idea? People who don’t respect science and fact? Doesn’t look good.

And by the way, the role of Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in handling the pandemic shows similarities to Trump’s approach – downplaying the seriousness, dissing preventive behaviors, etc. AMLO’s approval ratings are dropping across the board – not for his personal handling of the pandemic, but an August poll showed 66% of Mexicans surveyed thought the “government” did not have the pandemic “under control”; by November, 75% thought the country’s coronavirus strategy should be modified or completely changes. In the midst of all this, 63% thought the country’s problems (poverty, public safety, organized crime, violence) “had overtaken” AMLO’s ability to control them. Another one-term president?

Deborah Sampson Van Hoewyk is named for her great, great, great, great, etc., grandmother or aunt, whatever, from Sharon, Massachusetts, who got dressed up as a boy named Robert Shurtliff and fought in the Revolutionary War.

An Extraordinary Collection: The Pre-Raphaelite Paintingsof Mexican Billionaire Juan Antonio Pérez Simón

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

In 1946, a five-year-old Spanish kid moved to Mexico. He didn’t come from money, but Juan Antonio Pérez Simón would end up with quite a lot of it. His dad had a middle-class job in the beverage business, and Juan Antonio taught himself finance, starting his career in accounting. As a young man, his path crossed that of Carlos Slim Helú, whose business talents eventually made him the richest man in Mexico, and at times, the richest man in the world.

When they were both 25, Pérez Simón joined Slim as a partner in starting the investment banking company Inversora Bursátil. By the time they were 35, Slim had started the Carso group (“Car” for “Carlos,” “So” for his wife “Soumaya”); Pérez Simón held a 30% minority stake, but through Carso, he would become head of the interests and entities we foreigners call “Telmex” (Teléfonos de México), thus joining the global business class of Mexico and getting really, really rich.

And what did he do with his money? He bought art. He was a collector from his early teens; he and his wife, according to one assessment of the collection, could only afford reproductions and “cheap Mexican landscape paintings” when they started out. Current assessments reveal that Pérez Simón owns important, some very well-known, paintings from the 14th century on, although he finds “modern” (i.e., past maybe 1970) art of little interest – too devoid of emotions, too intellectual.

His collection contains any number of notable paintings, including paintings we might consider classically modern (e.g., American Abstract Expressionism). Among the works that arrived in New York City for a 2018 exhibition at Di Donna Galleries, “A Passion for Collecting: Modern Works from the Pérez Simón Collection,” were two he purchased from Christie’s in New York at the equivalent of a fire sale during the 2008 financial meltdown. Of course, for Pérez Simón, “fire sale” means $1,142,500 for Magritte’s Exercices Spirituels and $962,500 for Joan Miro’s Femmes devant la lune.

Less attention is usually paid to Pérez Simón’s collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, except when, in 2014, he sent 52 Victorian-era paintings to Europe. The exhibition started in Paris, went to Rome, then Madrid, and finally England to be exhibited in the London house of Frederic, Lord Leighton, now the Leighton House Museum.

A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón Collection,included five of Leighton’s own works, four of them painted at the Leighton House studio. Named head of the Royal Academy in 1878, Leighton was a social and political success; he was the only artist ever elevated to the House of Lords – unfortunately, he died at home the afternoon of the next day.

Lord Leighton knew and entertained most of the Pre-Raphaelites and the closely allied Victorian classicist painters; his own work falls more on the classicist side. The exhibit was most lauded for its unique combination of Leighton House – a monument to the wealth, status, and eccentric tastes of a successful Victorian artist – with the sensuous, romanticized paintings, which on closer examination, often showed a dark underbelly. One of the most famous paintings of the era, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadena’s The Roses of Heliogabulus, was painted in 1888, when Victorians saw themselves as heirs to the Roman Empire (remember “The sun never sets on the British Empire”?). The painting shows Emperor Heliogabulus (218-22 CE) indulging in his usual debauchery, amidst a deliciously pink shower of rose petals (history says Heliogabulus used cherry blossoms). Only thing is, the rose petals are smothering the guests, every last one of them, to death. Word has it that the painting, the last as you wended your way through Leighton House, was surrounded by the “scent of seven of the world’s most exquisite roses.”

That was enough to set off reviewer Waldemar Januszczak, who blogged that “Droopy damsels in distress take centre stage in A Victorian Expression.” Pointing out that Leighton was only a year older than Manet, who was busy founding French impressionism, Januszczak condemns Leighton and his contemporaries for engaging in “demented escapism.”

While he makes fun of the Mexican billionaire for collecting this particular movement in art, Januszczak makes no mention of the extraordinary breadth of the Pérez Simón collection as a whole.

We all know Carlos Slim is just as dedicated as his longtime friend Pérez Simón in collecting art – don’t worry, they apparently confer in advance so they avoid bidding against each other.

Berry, Berry Good!

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

If you’ve ever driven across the high plains of central Mexico, you’ve seen the signs. FRESAS con CREMA, FRESAS con CREMA, until you come to a weather-beaten shack that shades baskets of strawberries and coolers with crema on ice. Those strawberries used to make their way down the mountains to Huatulco, to be sold in the streets from impeccably arranged pyramids on wheelbarrows. Thinking “I’m too old for this,” I once chased one up Carrizal, against the traffic, to get a kilo weighed out on the scale that magically appeared from beneath the wheelbarrow. Well worth it.

Now we go to the Carrizal produce markets to buy Driscoll’s strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries – the “everyday” brand in American groceries. The berries come in vented, hinged, “tamper-evident” plastic containers called “clamshells,” stored in the commercial coolers on the back wall at Fruver or Hermanos Lucas.

What Happened to the Wheelbarrows?

They went big-time. Global big-time.

Mexico is now the world’s fifth-largest producer and the third-largest exporter of frutas rojas – “red fruits,” the category for straw-, rasp-, blue-, and blackberries; sometimes cranberries, sweet cherries, and grapes are included in the group (Mexico has begun to produce and export all three of these, especially and surprisingly cranberries, which boast a 50% return on investment.)

In 2019, the “true” berry exports were valued at US $800 million, employed about 100,000 people in – for the most part – stable, well-paid jobs, many of them year-round. Direct employment and another 100,000 “spillover” jobs (jobs indirectly related to the berry industry) were valued at US $900 million, for a total industry impact of US $1.7 billion. In 2016, more than half (53%) of the fruit in America’s markets was imported, and Mexico supplied 100% of those imported strawberries, 98% of the imported raspberries, 95% of the imported blackberries, and 9% of the imported blueberries.

The berry trade basically did not exist 25 years ago. One winter in 1995, J. Miles Reiter, now CEO/Board Chair of Driscoll’s, came to Mexico to attend the wedding of one of the company’s migrant pickers in California. Reiter looked around and thought strawberries would grow well in that environment. He did some testing and trials; when tensions over labor, immigration, and water supply soon started rising in California, Reiter realized that Jalisco could be the solution.

The growing fields of Jalisco are located above 4,000 feet, as they are in neighboring Colima and Michoacán, thus avoiding the severe heat at sea level; since they border the Pacific Ocean, these three states also have ready access to the “cold chain” (refrigerated storage and transportation) necessary to export fragile berries. The volcanic soil in the “fruit-belt” produces sweeter strawberries from the same varieties grown in California. It wasn’t long before acreage used for lower-profit crops, e.g., sugar cane, was being converted for strawberries, then for blackberries and raspberries, and most recently, blueberries.

Berries are also grown in Baja California, with climatic differences allowing for year-round fruit production, although growers in the two regions tend to use different cultivars. Strawberries are still grown all across the high plains, but production has begun concentrating in the fruit-belt states and Baja.

The Berry Biz

Driscoll’s is a good example of how the U.S. berry industry became Mexico’s most profitable agricultural sector – exports of tomatoes, avocados, and hot peppers may be bigger, in terms money and quantity, but profit-wise, berries are the winners.

Starting with strawberries in the 1880s, J.E. (Ed) Reiter and his brother-in-law R.F. (Dick) Driscoll are credited with starting the “Strawberry Gold Rush” in Shasta County in northern California. Ed and Dick got together with a marketing guy, Thomas (no doubt “Tom”) Loftus and developed a sales strategy that included a paper banner wrapping every last crate they sent to market. Voilà, Banner Berry Farm’s Brand incorporated in 1904.

The California strawberry business imploded in the 1940s when Japanese residents, the primary growers, were forced into internment camps during World War II. Next-generation Ned Driscoll and Joe Reiter kept planting strawberries when no one else did, so when the war was over, they were in a position to hire the released Japanese as sharecroppers. They started calling themselves Driscoll Strawberry Associates; the sharecropping model, along with hiring breeders from the University of California’s about-to-be-dropped strawberry program, represent key pillars of Driscoll’s current business model: contract growing and state-of-the-art research and development.

When they had to fend off takeover assaults in the late 1980s, Driscoll’s decided to go bigger, getting out of production and into organizing the industry. They worked on building their brand, developing the clamshell package largely so they could slap a big label on it. They did the R&D to create new varieties of blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries that suited the Mexican climate. They adopted the eminently suitable name of Driscoll’s, Inc.

Still a private, family-owned business, Driscoll’s has over 400 growers in 21 countries on every continent except Antarctica (their berries are probably served on polar cruise ships); they market their wares in 48 countries. Their major competition is half a dozen or so major berry-producing companies (e.g., NatuRipe, WellPict, Dole, SunnyRidge, Sunbelle), which also practice contract growing.

How It Works in Mexico

The Mexican berry business has been profoundly shaped by Driscoll’s (and their competition) – it is a world removed from what Miles Reiters saw when he went to that wedding in Jalisco. Growers are licensed by Driscoll’s, provided with plants developed by Driscoll’s, and required to return all berries from those plants back to Driscoll’s. Growers must meet federal, state, and local food safety regulations for their country, as well as additional U.S. requirements; performance is monitored.

Berries are handpicked, “decanted” into the clamshells, moved into coolers and chilled to 33°F, palletized, and moved on to the “cold chain” serving that location. According to a case study for the executive agribusiness seminar at the University of California at Davis, payment to the grower is based on a quality evaluation of 4 clamshells from every pallet. Under Driscoll’s Pay for Quality program, growers get paid by the tray (8 one-pound clamshells), according to their average quality score over a week’s worth of evaluation. Let’s say the tray sells for $12, Driscoll’s knocks off $2 for the clamshells and takes 18% as its share – that leaves $8.20 for the grower. But it’s not that easy – in order to make growers in a local area compete for quality, the $8.20 goes into a pool for all the area growers, and growers are then paid based on their evaluation score: $8.20 is for average quality, top quality gets a premium price of $8.50, low quality gets $7.90.

Very American business school, pairing pay with worker-generated quality improvement. And very American ag-tech university, all the innovations in “controlled environment agriculture” (CEA).

Using drip irrigation with filtered water and white plastic protective tunnels, strawberry growers in Zamora, Michoacán, have achieved a remarkable increase in production per acre – going from 60,000 pounds per acre to 160-200,000 pounds per acre, as opposed to 54,000 pounds per acre in California. The tunnels protect from the weather – too hot, too cold, heavy downpours, heavy winds – and most pests. A double layer of plastic mulch around the plants prevents soil-borne pests from damaging the roots.

In the San Quintin Valley of Baja California, growers use raised white plastic troughs lined with coco/coir fiber (the “substrate”) to grow their strawberries hydroponically, under screen houses for insect protection. The substrate reduces water use – always in scant supply in Baja – and lets growers reuse and regenerate the hydroponic solution, and of course eliminates soil-borne pests and pesticides to kill them.

Trough production is often called “table-top,” since it puts the plants at a height that eliminates “stoop work” for pickers. (If Baja berry production is to continue, it needs even more technology – current efforts to support wide-spread desalinization will have to come to “fruition”!).

Small is Still Beautiful

But it’s not all Driscoll’s (or Naturipe or Sunbelle) all the time. Alejandro Olvera manages Productores Qzar, a cooperative that grows certified organic blackberries (zarzamoras) in San Juan del Río in the state of Querétaro. There are four members – families or groups of friends – in the cooperative. Qzar’s website (http://qzar.mx/) emphasizes its outreach to the community through eco-agritourism (including U-pick visits), tours by school groups, and support for entrepreneurs. Olvera, in a 2016 interview with the online trade magazine Fresh Plaza, points out that as long as “more and more people want to eat healthy,” they will want to eat berries, and blackberries are a more economical source of antioxidants than blueberries.

Although Productores Qzar is a very small company, with perhaps more interest in social benefits than commercial success, Olvera is well versed in the industry, noting that Mexico’s status as a major exporter of berries requires “dependency on many foreign companies investing in Mexico.” For smaller producers, however, exporting doesn’t really work as their reason for being. “The exporting culture is not widely spread throughout the Mexican population … it is difficult for Mexicans to see themselves as exporters.”

Nonetheless, Productores Qzar does export its berries, on its own scale. “We are growing for companies that are our size, regardless of which country they are in. We love working with family businesses that don’t need a container, but a pallet.” The Querétaro location puts Qzar close to three airports, so it provides its own cold chain for exports.

When Qzar started growing blackberries, the crop was unknown locally. Their success has started other blackberry operations; their focus on community outreach had already brought 6,000 U-pick visits to the fields, and Olvera was predicting 10,000 visits within two years.

Future plans include setting up a hundred acres for new families to join the cooperative. “Just like we did when we started,” he said. “We don’t want to do it through large companies or for large supermarkets. What we want is for families here to work for families in other countries, … knowing other countries and getting other countries to know us.”

How the Jacaranda and Blue Hanami Came to Mexico – and the Japanese Paisajista Who Made It Happen

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

It was an accident, my obsession with the oh-so-blue jacaranda (pronounced hah-kah-RAHN-dah) tree. In February 1997, on a trip to Oaxaca City to run a session for a university conference, I thought, “I got this far, why don’t I just stay and go to the beach? I see this place called ‘Huatulco’ that’s only half an inch away on the Lonely Planet map.” Fortunately, others offered up Monte Alban as an after-conference activity (little did I know how very l-o-o-o-ng and difficult that half an inch would be – Huatulco had to wait until 2004).

So off we went to Monte Alban, which is probably the last time I climbed to the top of an ancient Mexican pyramid. And from there, I saw them. I saw blue-blossomed trees.

There are a few other trees with blue blossoms, and there are supposed to be about fifty kinds of jacarandas, but there is nothing like Jacaranda mimosifolia. They are native to a belt across South America that includes Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil (jacaranda means “fragrant” in the region’s indigenous guarani­ language).

In Mexico City, the jacarandas transform many streets into allées of soothing lavender-blue. While jacarandas are beloved by aphids, whose sticky poop turns fallen blossoms into a major nuisance, they also give the Easter season bloom time hanami, literally translated from the Japanese as “flower-viewing,” the ephemeral experience of enjoying the clouds of blossoms that cover trees before they get on to the business of being green.

The jacarandas seem other-worldly, reminding me of the cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City; at cherry-blossom time, Japanese families picnic on the petal-strewn lawn, transporting the casual observer to a state of hanami in some quiet Tokyo park. Oddly enough, it was the cherry blossoms that led to the installation of huge numbers of jacaranda trees in Mexico City.

Mexico’s president from 1930-32, Pascual Ortiz Rubio, wanted to symbolize the friendship between Mexico and Japan – with thousands of cherry trees. Considering the complex history of Mexico as a conquered, then independent, then revolutionary country, and the history of Japan as an imperial, then military, then functioning imperial country, it’s remarkable that the two countries have a relationship that goes back over four centuries.

Mexico and Japan – Way Back When

In 1598, the usefulness of a relationship between Mexico and Japan occurred to Tokugawa (Minamoto) Iyeyasu, the first shōgun (military dictator) of the Tokugawa Shogunate. In Yedo, now, centuries later, Tokyo, the shogun observed that the Philippines did a brisk trade with Mexico, and sought out a relationship with the Philippines that would allow their trans-Pacific shipping vessels to stop in Japan before reaching their destination in the Philippines.

Establishing said relationship was a rocky affair, since the Philippines were actually a Spanish colony from 1521 to 1898, and – based on experience – Spain didn’t think Japan had good intentions toward its merchant ships. It wasn’t until 1608, when a new Spanish governor, Don Rodrigo de Vivero, arrived in the Philippines, that negotiations got serious – but not for long. Recall that every European country with a navy was trying to get into Japan, and that the customs of courtesy in Japan were opaque to the Spaniards, which seemed to lead to offense at every turn. By 1636, the Spanish were excluded from Japan (as were the Portuguese, the first European country to trade with Japan). The Dutch, although confined to a small area of Japan, locked up trade with Japan until the mid-19th century.

In 1853, the role of the Japanese emperor was restored to primacy – no more military dictatorships with shoguns. Under Emperor Meiji, Japan began re-initiating diplomatic relations with other countries; the United States brought a great deal of pressure to bear, resulting in an 1858 treaty that basically forced Japan to begin trading with the West.

Mexico, independent from Spain since 1821, sent an expedition to Japan in 1874. The expedition was led by a scientist, Francisco Díaz Covarrubias, ostensibly to see a rare astrological phenomenon, the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. There’s little evidence that the scientific part of the expedition succeeded, but formal relations between the two countries resumed. In 1888, Matías Romero and Munemitsu Mutsu, the foreign ministers of Mexico and Japan, respectively, signed Japan’s first “equal” treaty with another country.

Back to the Cherry Trees . . . Not!

Remember President Ortiz Rubio’s request to the Japanese government to donate the thousands of cherry trees? Japan’s gift to the United States of over 3,000 cherries in 1912 had not been without botanical troubles of its own, so Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs contacted a Japanese horticulturalist/ landscape architect, who had been working for “all the right people” in Mexico for decades. Would the cherry trees be right for Mexico City?

Nope, the horticulturalist replied. To flower, the cherry tree would need a much sharper temperature change between winter and spring. The cherries were abandoned. But Tatsugoro Matsumoto (1861-1955) was not without a replacement suggestion – one he had been working on for quite a while.

Tatsugoro had studied to become an ueki-shi, or landscape architect, in Tokyo, and was so good that he never worked anywhere except in the imperial gardens. Japanese gardeners were sought after around the world. In 1888, at the age of 24, he was sent by the Japanese government to Peru to install a garden at a private residence called Quinta Heeren in Lima. Its owner, Óscar Agusto Heeren, the former Peruvian ambassador to Japan, had returned to Lima to work on enhancing relations between Peru and Japan.

En route to Peru, Tatsuguro visited Mexico, and was apparently impressed with the climate, growing conditions, and the national love of flowers and gardening. While working on his commission in Peru, he met José Landero y Coss, a wealthy rancher and mine owner from Mexico. Landero owned a hacienda, San Juan Hueyapan, in Pachuca, Hidalgo, that dated back to 1535 (built by one of the sons of Hernan Cortés); impressed with Tatsugoro’s work, Landero asked him to come to establish gardens at the hacienda.

The story gets a little hazy here, but Landero was influential in seeing to it that Tatsugoro went on to work in Mexico City, mostly for wealthy families. Tatsuguro decided to emigrate permanently to Mexico, although he returned briefly to Japan to say farewell to his family. Sending a shipment of Japanese plant materials from Yokohama to San Francisco to help with establishing himself in the nursery business, Tatsugoro decamped for California. His plants arrived after three months, dead as doornails, but in the meantime, he had received a commission for a Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park for a world’s fair in 1894.

The tea garden was so popular, it was almost immediately converted to a permanent garden – but by another Japanese landscape artist, not Tatsugoro, who had moved on in his plan to emigrate to Mexico. His certificate of immigration as a legal resident is a little loose with a few facts and illegible in spots. It is dated August of 1896, and reports that Tatsugoro was a widowed (really?) gardener; the birth date and age suffer from too much ink in the typewriter ribbon, but he would have been about 35. He is described as thin, a little over 5 feet tall, with black hair and eyebrows, brown skin and eyes, and a beard with grande moustache. He was of the “yellow” race and Buddhist religion.

From 1896 on, Tatsugoro worked in the most posh colonias (Roma and Condesa were developed right after the turn of the 20th century). A year after he had arrived in Mexico, Tatsugoro bought a house and set up a flower shop in La Romita, already being gentrified into Colonia Roma. While his immigration papers say Tatsugoro was a viudo (widower), there is other information to indicate that Tatasugoro’s wife had emigrated to join him and was running the flower shop. (Florería Matsumoto is still alive and well at Colima 92 in Col. Roma Norte, and is run by Tatsugoro’s great-granddaughter, Marie Furakaki Matsumoto – arrangements go from $700 to $1,000 mxn.)

The influential Landero may have provided Tatsugoro with a contact to introduce him to President Porfirio Díaz; in any event, by 1900, Díaz and his wife had taken note. Tatsugoro designed and maintained the gardens at the presidential residence, Chapultepec Castle, not to mention all the floral arrangements for inside the castle.

Life was definitely good – according to Tatsugoro’s grandson Ernesto, Díaz paid his grandfather 12 pesos a day, 240 times the minimum wage of 5 centavos. Ernesto says Díaz told Tatsugoro the salary was to enable him “to have a nursery to plant seeds and plants because in Mexico City there are prickly pear cactus and there are no trees.”

Jacarandas Needed

Trees there would be – blue-blossomed jacaranda trees. Tatsugoro certainly had obtained seeds and cuttings from South America well before the cherry-blossom consultation, but his role in introducing new species of flowering trees and shrubs got a big boost when his son showed up in 1910. Although Sanshiro Matsumoto, only about 15 or 16 when he reached Mexico, may never have actually seen his father, and no one has anything to say about why, if she actually did, his mother would hie off to Mexico leaving him behind, son and dad combined forces in the business.

Together, the Matsumotos enlarged the business from flower-shop to nursery, and undertook to import the plant materials needed to establish not just the jacaranda trees, but bougainvillea, camelias, hydrangeas, roses, and azaleas, along with bulbs (narcissus, tulips, gladioli) and chrysanthemums. Not to mention that they hybridized the poinsettia (noche buena) to the short, bushy Christmas-season form and installed the palm trees (not native to Mexico) that line Avenida Paseo de las Palmas in Lomas de Chapultepec. Sanshiro undertook to organize the business administratively, apparently not Tatsugoro’s strong suit, and they were able to buy fields and ranches for nursery properties. They grew on their trees, shrubs, bulbs, and flowers at Rancho El Batán, Hacienda de Temixco, and greenhouses in Tacubaya and San Pedro de Los Pinos.

Not only did Senshiro Matsumoto arrive in 1910, the centennial of the Mexican War of Independence, but Díaz decided to celebrate the centennial by inviting other countries to participate. Japan’s delegation, led by Baron Yasuya Uchida and his wife, coordinated their visit with a major exhibition of Japanese Arte Industrial at the Crystal Palace; beside the Palace (now the Museo Universitario del Chopo), Díaz had Tatsugoro create a small lake surrounded by a Japanese garden, which he himself, along with the Japanese delegation, inaugurated.

For the Matsumotos, 1910 was a good year; not so for Porfirio Díaz. The Porfiriato, while it modernized Mexico, was dictatorially oppressive and had lasted, with one interruption, since 1877. Having declared at one point that he would not run for President again, he reneged. Thus began the Mexican Revolution, which would last eleven years. The Matsumotos, however, were very astute at maintaining their connections with high society and ruling powers, and rode out the Revolution quite handily.

By the end of the conflict, and now amply supplied with jacarandas, Tatsugoro approached President Álvaro Obregón (term 1920-24) about the possiblity of lining important avenues and boulevards with the trees. The idea didn’t really take hold until President Rubio wanted the cherry trees, so the spring hanami in Mexico City and Oaxaca de Juárez turned out to be blue, not pink!

Beyond the Jacarandas

Later in the 20th century, the Matsumoto family, through their connections with Mexican presidents, along with their land holdings, would provide an important, unrelated service to Japanese immigrants during World War II. The United States pressured Mexico to follow its lead in creating concentration centers; Mexico decided that Japanese residents of Mexico City and Guadalajara should be interned. The Matsumotos served as go-betweens between the Mutual Aid Committee of the Japanese and the government of President Manuel Ávila Camacho. They offered up both the Rancho El Batán and Hacienda de Temixco as places for Japanese to live and grow their own food until the end of the war. One presumes the Matsumotos themselves stayed home in Colonia Roma.

Later on, Senshiro was approached by President Adolfo López Mateos (term 1958-64), who was looking for space for a housing complex. Where Rancho El Batán once grew jacarandas, now sits Unidad Independencia with 65 single-family residences, 35 multi-family buildings with 1500 apartments, three towers with 100 luxury apartments, social and educational services, a sports center, a supermarket, a medical clinic, an open air theater, and more. Senshiro’s only request was that no trees be cut down.