Tag Archives: History & Traditions

The Power of Giving

By Russell T. Greene and S. Price

Every autumn people across North America eagerly anticipate Black Friday (weekend beginning November 25) and Buen Fin (weekend beginning November 18), the kick off for sales to begin their holiday shopping sprees. At the same time, people with a desire to support charitable and non-profit organizations have balanced retail spending with philanthropic giving. Giving Tuesday, which happens on November 29 this year (the last Tuesday in November), was created as “a day to encourage people to do good.”

In Huatulco many charitable organizations and community groups have benefitted from the generosity of tourists, snowbirds, and a growing number of permanent residents who look for ways to support their homes away from home. Donations of time and money have contributed to the local Red Cross, built and supported rural schools and provided much needed medical equipment. Each completed project, and the donations given, is a testament to the calling many of us have to help people living in vulnerable situations.

It’s with the calling of being a Christian that Randy Clearwater and his wife Kimberly were determined to feed the hungry, cloth the unclothed and provide shelter, especially to the widowed, the elderly, and single mothers. After volunteering themselves in Canada, Randy and Kimberly wanted to bring similar charitable work to Oaxaca, though on a smaller scale and in keeping with local culture.

To fulfill this ongoing mission, the generosity of individuals who see the life-changing results of their efforts is needed. Donations in the form of food, clothing, building supplies, and – of course – money are constantly needed. Without the continued support of all, nothing happens.

On September 7, 2017, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico, with its epicenter in the Isthmus region. In a rapid response, Randy delivered food hampers to the community of Chahuites, a small, impoverished mountain community east of Salina Cruz, four hours from Huatulco. While there, it became evident that in addition to food security, families were in need of safe housing and basic furnishings.

With the help of local residents, families in greatest need were equipped with material to rebuild their homes. Since 2017, the community has come together to give of their labour, skills and resources to construct 12 casas including making their own cement bricks, adding metal roofs, doors and windows. Randy and Kimberly have travelled several times to Chahuites to witness the progress and they are so thankful for the hearts and generosity of the donors who have made this possible.

Following the 2020 earthquake (magnitude 7.4), with an epicenter near Salina Cruz, and Hurricane Agatha in May 2022, which made landfall at Puerto Angel, access to safe housing and simple comforts like a bed to sleep in and a table to eat at became growing priorities. So, in 2022, Safe Shelters Huatulco was developed alongside the Huatulco Food Bank to give donors an option to support different projects in the community.

Safe Shelters Huatulco has been focused on building basic furniture like bunk beds, tables and shelving to provide the comforts of home. Local pastor Wilfri Justiniano serves as a community liaison and has been identifying families in the area that will benefit from this work. In many families, parents have a bed in which to sleep, but children often sleep on the ground. The cost to build a single bunk bed strong enough to hold the weight of multiple children and withstand the elements is substantial – the lumber alone is well over $5,000 mxn ($250 US).

While there will be volunteer opportunities to build the furniture in the future, there is a constant need for financial support through donations and fund-raising. Without the generous contributions of time and money, these projects are not sustainable.

This November 29, take a moment to consider what is important to you and find a local charity or nonprofit group that needs your support. And remember that while Giving Tuesday makes it easy to get the donations started, your support is needed all year long.

If you would like to support Safe Shelters Huatulco, please donate through PayPal (@rlclearwater) or Interac (rlclearwater@gmail.com).

Sandra Cisneros

By Julie Etra

I knew nothing about Sandra Cisneros when my Spanish teacher in the United States suggested I read La Casa en Mango Street (The House on Mango Street). Cisneros is a Chicago born Chicana, so the 1984 book was originally written in English when Cisneros was 30. I read it in Spanish as part of my ongoing study of Mexican culture and language; there have been at least three Spanish translations – one in 1994 by the renowned Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska. Coincidentally a great article and interview with Cisneros was recently published in the The New Yorker in September of this year http://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-interview/sandra-cisneros-may-put-you-in-a-poem). To save you from fighting with The New Yorker’s paywall, I’ll be quoting from the article.

Cisneros is perhaps best known for her poetry, although I am a fan of both Casa and the collection of short stories Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991; translated by Liliana Valenzuela in 1996 as El arroyo de la Llorona y otros cuentos).

Although I read both of these books in Spanish, Cisneros has the unique bilingual knack of bridging the two languages, inserting Spanish translations of the English. The 2021 bilingual paperback Martita, I Remember You/Martita, te recuerdo, is written in English on one side but the reader can flip the pages to read the Spanish translation. Clever.

Technically speaking, Cisneros is not a Mexican writer since she was born in the United States. She grew up in a poor neighborhood on the west side of Chicago, the only daughter of a Mexican father and Mexican American mother, surrounded by six brothers. According to Cisneros, she felt isolated as a child and was lumped in with her brothers, described as siete hijos instead of seis hijos y una hija (seven boys instead of six boys and a girl) by her father. Her father was an upholsterer, her mother a book lover.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s her father took the family back and forth to Mexico on a frequent basis; thus she developed the self-identity schism between the two cultures. This was further exacerbated when in 1976 she entered the writer’s program at the Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences where she continued to feel like a misfit. She went on to write Casa and then began teaching in San Antonio where she lived for 15 years and founded the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, named after the fictitious town in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967).

Cisneros never married nor had children, her rationale being that she did not want to be distracted from her writing and that she was a bit old fashioned in her belief in the sanctity of marriage in that she didn’t want to have a future divorce. According to The New Yorker, she is relieved and apparently happy that she never selected the wrong guy: “It’s hard to live with someone, and it’s hard to live alone. But I prefer living alone. … I’ve never seen a marriage that is as happy as my living alone. My writing is my child and I don’t want anything to come between us.” She has said that the greatest love of her life was her dog Chamaco.

Tired of living in San Antonio, and in particular provincial Texas, she returned to her mother’s Guanajuato roots and now resides in San Miguel de Allende, México, immersing herself in Mexican culture, but not without challenges. She did not take much time to explore the town before she moved there following an auspicious visit.

When the interviewer from The New Yorker remarks, “So you decided to move to San Miguel de Allende,” Cisnero answers, “Yes, I came here. I didn’t know the town was colonial and had a very colonial writing program, all white and expensive and structured in a very colonial way. I didn’t realize it was San Miguel apartheid, and, when I told them that, they were offended and shocked, so I lost my enthusiasm for the book fair. I’m going to be onstage there next spring. I’m only going to do it if I can donate my honorarium to the Spanish-language portion of the fair, so, you know, that’s my way of making my peace with them. I came because this is the land of my mother’s people. I wanted to investigate those roots.”

She named her house in San Miguel Casa Coatlicue. In Nahuatl it means “Serpent Skirt”; Coatlicue is the Nahua mother goddess, symbol of the earth as both creator and destroyer, mother of the gods and the goddess of childbirth, fertility, life, and death, and one of the most important Aztec or Nahua gods. A fitting name for a house of this remarkable and independent woman.

One of my favorite short stories in Woman Hollering Creek (a real creek located behind her house in San Antonio) is “Ojos de Zapata,” (Eyes of Zapata), as told by Inés Alfaro Aguilar, the primera mujer (first woman) of the famous Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. Reports indicate that Zapata had anywhere from 9 to 16 “wives” (some of whom he may actually have married); he did not marry Inés, with whom he fathered at least three sons and one daughter.
(That of course stimulated my interest in both Zapata and Inés and led me down the rabbit hole of a chapter of Mexican history before I eventually returned to Cisneros’ next story.) “Ojos de Zapata” is fascinating not only from Inés’ perspective as the neglected “wife” of this famous revolutionary general, but for its sensual descriptions of a time, a place, and a relationship.

Back to The New Yorker interview regarding her residence in San Miguel:
Interviewer: “Is this it? Do you think you’ve finally found home?”
Cisneros: “I think I have one more house in me.”
Interviewer: “Where would it be?”
Cisneros: “Oaxaca, maybe.”

Zapotec Writers:
Not as Boring as History Class Led You to Believe

By Brooke O’Connor

An issue about Mexican writers would be remiss if we didn’t include some original writers in Mexico: the Zapotecs. Although Spanish is the legal and most widely spoken language, Zapotec is still one of the largest indigenous language groups spoken, comprising 58 different variations among different communities.

Many dialects and traditions are being lost to modernity, but there are some champions of Zapotec, publishing bilingual and trilingual books. More on that later.

The earliest preserved Zapotec writing is from 600 BCE, and we know this Mesoamerican script was used for well over 1,500 years. Just as they do today, Zapotec peoples had many uses for writing in the ancient thriving society. However, time has left us more monolithic billboards than personal journals.

The earliest known inscription comes from San José Mogote, northwest of present day Oaxaca City; San José Mogote reached its political peak before the establishment of Monte Albán, southwest of and closer to Oaxaca City (more writings have been preserved from Monte Albán than from San José Mogote). Many of the large engravings from San José Mogote detailed competitions and the development of urban life. They chronicled the succession of leaders and winning of battles. This led archeologists to believe that writing during this time was used mostly for political and civic education. They’ve since found those conclusions to be false.

The earlier (600 BCE to 200 ACE) writings in San José Mogote appear to be related to sacred topics; self-sacrifice, the proper oral invocation of ancestors to ensure success in warfare, the taking of captives, ritual combat with captives, and how-to manuals on burning humans alive to petition for agricultural and human fertility. Political topics included strategies and plans written by members of the elite class, designed to create division in society with the aim of developing more power as leaders.

In addition, these elites promoted an elaborate ideology that centered on a primordial covenant between humans and the divine; the ideology depended, of course, on the populace following the elites. The authors masked the inequalities between the classes, and used these ideas to create messianic movements, binding the people to one political party or another. There are other writings showing resistance to these movements, and how the elite plans didn’t always unfold as expected.

People wrote on many media – wood, pottery, leather, cloth and paper bark. These items were more portable for trade, as well as written communication between elites in all areas of ancient Oaxaca. Unfortunately, the soft nature of these media makes them highly perishable. With the ravages of time, most are lost to us.

A few items survived, or were documented when the Spaniards came. Translation can be tricky, and sociologists are taking a second look at Spanish accounts of ancient writings. It seems there may have been some creative liberties taken, to promote the narrative that “Savages need to be tamed.” The friars sent information back to Spain, and the more exotic and titillating the better.

The characters of early written Zapotec were not like the written language seen today. Many symbols represented an idea, rather than denoting the phonic sound of a letter, group of letters, or a syllable. Numbers were portrayed with lines and bars.

When the first Spaniards came, the indigenous wanted to communicate freely (arguably more than the Spaniards did), so as early as the late 16th century, Zapotec peoples appropriated the Spanish alphabet to render their own language graphically. They wrote stealthily about their traditions though. They hoped to come to an amicable agreement for the Spaniards to leave, in peace, after learning a bit about the culture. By subverting the colonial gaze, they were able to keep intact some of the important cultural identity and family issues, and still talk about exploitive political practices. Lucky for us, the Zapotecs have continued to use the alphabetic script today, and we can begin to understand more of this rich culture.

Zapotec language is full of imagery and deep meanings. It is formal and respectful, particularly to elders and people not in your immediate family. It’s a language that commands a level of humility on the part of the speaker. The natural world is invoked regularly. There is a sense of connection to the earth, the ancestors and human kind.

If you want to experience this magical, dream-like writing I highly recommend Red Ants by Pergentino José, who was born in 1981 in the Zapotec village of Buena Vista in the municipality of San Agustín Loxicha, in the mountains a couple of hours north of Zipolite. He writes both poetry and prose in Loxichan Zapotec, which he has described as “the Zapotec of the coast,” and Spanish. In 2006, he wrote the bilingual Spanish/Zapotec Y supe qué responder /Nyak mbkaabna (I Knew What To Answer); in 2013, he published a tri-lingual (Zapotec/Spanish/English) collection of poems, Ndio dis mbind /Lenguaje de pájaros /The Language of Birds. The volume is beautifully illustrated with paintings by Raga Garcíarteaga. It is difficult to find as a book, but you can download it from the publisher: http://www.avispero.com.mx/storage/app/media/libros/lenguaje-de-pajaros.pdf.

Red Ants was first published in 2012 in Spanish as Hormigas Rojas, but included expressions in Loxichan Zapotec; it was translated to English in 2020 by Thomas Bunstead, who chose to keep the Zapotec passages. Red Ants is the first ever translation of a Zapotec author. It’s a collection of short stories that are neither linear nor logical, but rather surreal, with an intoxicating perfume of culture and connection to the land. Each story builds on the last, from a different angle and perspective. There are underlying themes in these modern stories that speak to the Zapotec people’s experience through history: forced change, imprisonment, longing for a simpler time, loss of autonomy, grit to overcome even when bruised and broken, but never losing connection with the natural world.

I invite you to take time reading this. Think about the complexities of translating one language to another. Translation is always less about the actual words, and more about meaning in a sentence. Hence, translated into stoic English, we have a mystical sensation, with animals and imagery expanding in ways we may not immediately grasp. Sit with it, and let the ancestors of this land breathe understanding into you.

If you’re interested in hearing what Zapotec sounds like, and see some of the work being done to preserve and understand these languages, check out this site from the Zapotec Language Project of the University of California at Santa Cruz: https://zapotec.ucsc.edu/. The University offers an online dictionary, monthly language classes, and audio samples of native speakers. For example, this “scary story” spoken by Samuel Díaz Ramirez: https://zapotec.ucsc.edu/slz/texts-query.php?lg=&content=&query=match&text=SLZ1089-t1&parse=no

Spanish Lesson:
Masculine/Feminine

By Julie Etra

Spanish is a gender-inflected language, which means that the forms of nouns, adjectives, and articles change according to whether someone or something is considered masculine or feminine. In general, but not always, an ending of ‘o’ indicates the masculine, and an ending of ‘a’ indicates the feminine. Sometimes the word for an obviously gendered noun is completely different in the masculine vs. the feminine.

The very language is macho in that Spanish favors things and people being male – if there is one boy present in a group of girls, just ONE, they are all niños or hijos, etc. Now, linguistically speaking, that’s not really offensive, because the masculine gender includes words that in another language – e.g., Latin, from which Spanish is descended – would have been neuter. The feminist perspective, however, finds it really offensive. Efforts at language neutrality in Spanish are underway in Argentina, but that’s a long and complicated story for some other time!

Baby: el nene, el bebe (masculine), la nena (feminin- also means girlfriend, like babe), la bebe
Boy/girl: muchacho/muchacha. Muchachos can also equate with fellas, boys, as in ‘let’s go boys’: ‘vamos muchachos’
Kid(s): chavos/chavas,chamacos/chamacas, esquincles/esquinclas
Child: el niño, la niña
Man/woman: el hombre/la mujer
Son/daughter: el hijo/la hija
Son-in-law: yerno
Daughter-in-law: nuera
Stepson/daughter: hijastro/hijastra
Male/female dog: macho, hembra.

Here’s a funny story on the sex of dogs. Many years ago, before I spoke Spanish, we drove down the Baja Peninsula with our male dog. When the cops asked us if the dog was macho, which was obvious as he was intact, I thought they meant aggressive. So I answered, “No es macho, es muy amigable” (“He’s not male, he is very friendly.”) No wonder the cop looked confused!

Next month I’ll continue with other family members and friends. Maybe more animals.

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Kary Vannice
Kary began writing for The Eye a few months after the initial publication. Her deep curiosity about the world around her led her to contribute a wide range of articles, including a series of articles – each on a different topic but all under the title “Rattlesnakes and Scorpions.”

Kary was born in Moscow, Idaho, which frequently led to scrutiny at international borders. She was raised and educated in Grass Range, population 110, located in the geographical center of Montana. After high school, Kary matriculated at a junior college in Wyoming for two years and then went on to the University of Montana, Missoula, graduating with a BS degree in Forestry with a concentration in recreation and resource management. In the following years, Kary was employed by the US Forest Service in a number of national forests including Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington, Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho, Earthquake Lake, just west of Yellowstone National Park, and Gallatin National Forest, both in Montana. Her roles ranged from resource education, giving tours and talks to visitors, to fire fighting. To supplement her income Kary started a private outdoor educational camp and worked at the Big Sky Ski School.

While fighting a fire in Montana, Kary noticed another fire fighter, a handsome boy from Chile. Naturally, the relationship heated up and Kary moved with him to land that his parents owned in Patagonia. After about 18 months, the couple moved to Seattle where they bought and lived on a sail boat. Kary’s first trip to the Pacific Coast of Mexico was on that boat. While sailing to Chile, the mast on the boat failed, which required
extensive repairs at Easter Island. Once back in Chile and the boat was docked, the five-year relationship cooled and Kary headed back to Montana with a knowledge of Spanish and refined and tested nautical skills.

Kary exercised those skills by teaching English in Mexico in Orizaba, Veracruz, for three years. It was on a school break that she revisited the Oaxacan coast and realized that she would like to live in Puerto Escondido during most of the year. During the summer, Kary headed to Alaska where she worked on fishing boats and was often second in command, gaining the respect of boat captains and seasoned seamen alike.

During a trip to Huatulco to work on a project to create all natural health clinics, Kary participated in a Red Cross fundraiser where she met a resident of Huatulco who had started a business teaching people how to work online while living in other countries. Impressed with how Kary rapidly organized the fundraiser participants, the businessman
hired her. When the business began to increase rapidly, commuting from Puerto Escondido became cumbersome and Kary moved to Huatulco over nine years ago, first living on a boat in the Chahué Marina.

Today Kary has her own company, Rambladera Inc., which teaches people what they need to know to work while living in other countries. She also is a life coach for women and practices emotional vibrational healing. Outside of work, Kary loves to travel and has been throughout the Americas and Europe but not yet Asia, Africa or Antarctica. She also enjoys water sports and, like the other women of The Eye, reading. Kary thinks her Eye article, “Violence Against Women in Mexico” (February 2017) may be the most important she contributed, since she herself was affected by the distressing research results she presented and believes it is vital for other people to have this information.

B. Traven – A Mexican Writer with A Mysterious Past

By Randy Jackson

I was first introduced to the works of the Mexican writer B. Traven in a Spanish class. We were assigned a short story by Traven, titled “Dos Burros.” I found the story compelling. There was something about both the story itself and the style of narration that appealed to me. So, of course, I googled B. Traven, and immediately plummeted down a curiosity rabbit hole about this strange and enigmatic writer.

In 1952, the Mexican government granted citizenship to Berick Traven Torsvan, a person who, by then, was a well-established writer, living in Mexico and writing under the pen name of B. Traven. How Mexican citizenship was granted to a person as fictitious as a character in one of Traven’s own novels is a mystery in itself.

To confuse his identity further, in Mexico Traven never appeared as Traven, but represented himself as Hal Croves, a supposed friend and agent of B. Traven. When the Hollywood producer John Huston paid for the movie rights to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, he handed the cheque to a person claiming to be Hal Croves, a person with Power of Attorney for B. Traven. Both Huston and the main actor in the film, Humphrey Bogart, later claimed they always thought Hal Croves was B. Traven himself.

But why all this subterfuge? There are many reclusive writers, J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher In The Rye, for one, and Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, for another – there are many more. But Traven wasn’t the reclusive type. He actively sought to deceive others about his true identity. After his death (March 26, 1969, in Mexico City), we learned the identity Traven was trying to hide was that of Ret Marut, a wanted man with a death sentence on his head.

The Hidden Past of B. Traven

The early days of the Weimar Republic in German (following World War I) were tumultuous, especially in the state of Bavaria (later leading to the rise of Hitler). In April of 1919, a Bavarian Socialist Republic was proclaimed following a communist uprising. Ret Marut became a committee member of that new Socialist Republic. He was arrested just one month later by a Berlin-based militia, which crushed the upstart socialist republic. Ret Marut was put in with a group of prisoners who were being summarily tried and shot. Before his name was called, a sympathetic guard allowed Marut to escape. Marut found his way to London where he was imprisoned for a time for not registering as a foreigner. Eventually Marut found work shovelling coal on decrepit steam ships destined to be scuttled for insurance proceeds. That work brought him to Mexico in 1924.

In Mexico, Murat began using the name Traven Torsvan, writing stories under the name B Traven. Within about a year his stories began to be published in Germany, starting with the serialised The Cotton-Pickers (Die Baumwollpflücker, 1925, published as a novel called The Wobbly [Der Wobbly, the short name for Industrial Workers of the World union] in 1926).

The Writing Career of B. Traven

The stories of B. Traven quickly became popular in Germany (almost all his published works were written in German and published in Germany). He was seen as an adventure story writer. His writing was reminiscent of the very popular works of the American writer Jack London (1896-1916). Traven’s first major success as a novelist was in 1926 with the publication, in Germany, of Death Ship (Das Totenschiff). As a testament to this book’s enduring popularity, years later Albert Einstein is reported to have said it was the book he would take with him to a desert island. Death Ship is seen as autobiographical for Traven. It portrays the life of an international undocumented seamen who is treated like a slave, no doubt derived from Traven’s own experiences in getting to Mexico in 1924.

In 1927, Traven published his most famous novel, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Der Schatz der Sierra Madre). This was the first of Traven’s novels to be published in Mexico (1931). Later it was also the first Traven novel to be published in English (1934). This story was made into the award-winning film of the same name, now considered a classic, by John Huston in 1948. The story of two down-on-their-luck Americans in Mexico who follow a prospector in the search for gold is well-known, especially for an inaccurate version of the lines delivered by the Mexican bandit Gold Hat, “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”

Through the 1930’s Traven published a series of six novels that are generally referred to as The Jungle Novels. These books tell stories of repressed Mexican indigenous people, and their ill-fated attempts to push back against the harsh dictatorship of President Porfirio Díaz, leading up to the Mexican Revolution. It is for these Jungle Novels that the Peruvian novelist Luis Alberto Sánchez (1900-94) labelled B. Traven the author of the Mexican Revolution.

The last of the Jungle Novels, General from the Jungle (Ein General kommt aus dem Dschungel) was published in 1940, seemingly marking the end of Traven’s most productive period. His final four novels before his death in 1969 were Aslan Norval (1960; rediscovered after Traven’s death and translated to English in 2020), Stories by the Man Nobody Knows (published in Mexico as Cuentos de B. Traven, 1969), The Creation of the Sun and the Moon (published in English in New York, 1968), and The Kidnapped Saint and Other Stories (published posthumously, in English in New York, 1975).

Macmillan Publishers now reports that books by B. Traven have sold over 30 million copies and have been translated into 30 languages.

The Stories of B. Traven

As mentioned, my introduction to the writings of B. Traven was the short story “Dos Burros.” What I found compelling was his clear, down-to-earth narrative about a time and place in rural Mexico that were unfamiliar to me. I later read a number of his other short stories, the novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and I re-watched the movie made from the novel. I wish I had the skills to properly articulate what it was that attracted me to Traven stories. However, when I came across this description of Traven’s prose in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, I thought this nailed it:

Traven’s works are harsh, filled with descriptions of danger, cruelty, and physical and emotional suffering, but his lean, direct prose has a hypnotic immediacy, and the narratives and themes are clear and compelling.

In the world of literary criticism, there is a perennial unresolved question: Do we need to know anything about a writer to bring more meaning to the works of that writer? Traven, who so desperately wanted to distance himself from his past, certainly had an opinion on this issue: “The creative person should have no other biography than his works.” I wonder whether Traven was aware of how his past and his world view so clearly impacted the stories he told. Probably the best example of this is his novel The Death Ship, which emerged from Traven’s own experiences. Traven (Ret Marut) was an anarchist with clear political leanings towards the underclass and social injustices, and against capitalist exploitation and greed. The Jungle Novels in particular clearly demonstrate these sentiments.

There are no happy endings in Traven’s stories. Of my readings of B. Traven, all the stories ended with my feeling as if things were left up in the air. Nobody ever seemed to come out ahead. A good example? The ending of the novel and movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, when the main character Dobbs (played by Humphrey Bogart) is killed and the gold dust blows away in the wind.

It is characteristic of Traven to never come down on anyone’s side, there are no winners in his stories. In “Dos Burros,” for example, a landless peasant is befriended by a wild donkey so ugly and unruly that nobody wanted him. But once people saw that the donkey was working for this peasant, two different people claimed the same donkey (dos burros), and the peasant ended up with no donkey at all.

No matter his up-in-the-air endings, or characters that never come out on top, B. Traven is read for the content of his stories, the adventure of his tales, the richness of his hapless characters, and his compelling narrative voice. B. Traven is a Mexican writer well deserving of his literary popularity.

Don Miguel Ruiz Writes of Toltec Wisdom

By Kary Vannice

Don Miguel Ruiz was born in Guadalajara in 1952 into a long line of Toltec healers and shamans. He is most famous for his book The Four Agreements, originally published in 1997. Today, it still holds the #34 spot on Amazon’s best-seller list and appears at #3 in Mental Health, #3 in Success/Self-Help, and #4 in Personal Transformation.

Since his first publication, don Miguel has added ten other titles to his Toltec Wisdom series of writings.

The Toltecs were a culture of Mesoamerican people who preceded the Aztecs and inhabited the region of Mexico from 700 to 1100 CE. Often asked about his Toltec roots, in an interview Ruiz once explained, “They were artists and spiritual seekers who thrived in Mexico hundreds of years ago before they were forced to hide their ancestral wisdom from European conquerors.”

Despite having to hide these traditions for centuries at the risk of persecution or even death, Ruiz’s family passed down ancient spiritual knowledge and healing generation after generation. His grandfather and mother both practiced Toltec healing and teaching when he was a child. As a young man, however, don Miguel favored modern healing over ancient wisdom and decided his path to helping others would be through becoming a doctor.

In his final year at medical school, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car and drove himself and two of his friends into a concrete wall. When retelling the story, Ruiz reports feeling his consciousness leave his physical body. He says he looked down to see his body pulling his two friends out of the vehicle just before everything went black. When he woke up in a nearby hospital, he was astonished to learn that none of the young men were seriously injured. That was the day he started to truly believe in the spiritual teaching of his mother and grandfather.

Don Miguel went on to complete medical school and become a practicing surgeon, and at the same time, he dove deeply into Toltec spiritual tradition. After six years of practicing medicine, he decided to leave the field and begin teaching Toltec wisdom with his mother in Southern California.

Ten years later, he wrote The Four Agreements, which outlines four simple principles to live by steeped in Toltec wisdom. Don Miguel says if you can master these four agreements, you can set yourself free of anxiety, fear, and worry.

The four agreements are:

1) Be impeccable with your word
2) Don’t take anything personally
3) Don’t make assumptions
4) Always do your best

Ruiz admits to the simplicity of these statements and yet speaks of the subtle power they hold, acknowledging that, while these may be simple, they are not always easy words to live by. One of the main reasons is one’s own internal dialog. Most minds are dominated by the inner critic, which, ironically, Ruiz refers to as “the voice of knowledge.” He says, “Most of the time, the voice of the spirit is silent, and the voice of the internal storyteller is very loud.”

Talking about his book The Voice of Knowledge (2004) in an interview, don Miguel explained it this way…

“The voice of knowledge is the voice in our mind that is always talking — the voice that comes from all that we know. But that voice is usually lying because we have learned so many lies, mainly about ourselves. Every time we judge ourselves, find ourselves guilty and punish ourselves, it’s because the voice in our head is telling us lies. Every time we have a conflict with our parents, our children, or our beloved, it’s because we believe in these lies, and they believe in them, too. So much of the knowledge in our minds is based on lies and superstitions that come from thousands of years ago. Humans create stories long before we are born, and we inherit those stories, we adopt them, and we live in those stories.”

Don Miguel Ruiz’s books help his readers navigate the sometimes-tricky waters of self-awareness in a world that tries to tell you who you are instead of encouraging you to listen to your own inner wisdom and discover your true self.

His message is simple…

“I can tell you that we have only one mission, and that is to make ourselves happy. The only way we can be happy is by being who we are. We create our own story, but society also creates its own story, and it has the right to create whatever story it wants. If you know that, whatever they say will not stop you from being what you are. Just by being what you are, other people will change—but you don’t do it because you want to change them. You do it to make your heart free.”

Ghosts: From Manitoba and Mexico

By Randy Jackson

In Canada, back in the early 1980s, one could get a government grant to study French. Many college and university students, including me, did just that. I went to the University of Laval in Quebec City in the summer of 1982, a memorable summer of camaraderie amongst fellow students from across Canada.

The Haunted Manitoba Farmhouse

One evening, on the terrace of the Le Pub Universitaire, a brother and sister (students at the University of Manitoba) held a number of us spellbound with the story of their parents moving their family into a haunted farmhouse. They witnessed numerous poltergeist effects. which terrified them initially, but over time they came to see this ghost as more of a harmless trickster. This Manitoba farm family got to the point they liked having the ghost around. They told us the house would seem empty without it, and it kept unwanted relatives away.

Normally though, it’s the ghosts (not the relatives) that are unwanted. On that warm summer night in La belle province, the brother and sister from the haunted Manitoba farmhouse explained that ghosts were the trapped spirits of people who had died unexpectedly, or by suicide, and most often they died violently.

I now know this is a commonly held belief across virtually all civilizations of all time, from Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica, from early Chinese civilizations to Polynesia. It seems that no matter what the various beliefs different societies hold about the afterlife, ghosts represent an aberration from whatever afterlife system a culture holds. As Obi-Wan Kenobi is supposed to have said, “I sense a disturbance in the force, Luke.” Ghosts are spirits that are not supposed to be here.

The Malevolent Ghosts of Mesoamerica

In all the pre-conquest societies of Mesoamerica, the cosmos, creation, and the afterlife, were the domain of malevolent supernatural forces. Chicunamictlán was the nine-level Land of the Dead to the Aztecs (for most but not all the departed). Here the departed suffered a four-year journey of great pain and hardships to reach Mictlán, their final resting place. At Mictlán they were met by the god of death who received them with vengeance. The departed lived (and suffered) there until finally being extinguished altogether. Spirits of departed people (ghosts), you’d think, would want out of an afterlife like that. But to the Aztecs, ghosts were feared and unwelcome spirits of the underworld who brought only bad news or the foretelling of doom.

To the Aztecs, even women who died in childbirth were not benevolent. These spirits (known as Cihuātēteoh in Nahuatl) returned to earth on five specified days each year where they were thought to steal children, cause madness, and induce adultery in males (I wonder how many Aztec men used that as an explanation for their infidelity). The modern-day Mexican legend of La Llorona may have had its origin in this Aztec belief. La Llorona is thought to be the malicious spirit of a woman who murdered her children. To some, she is believed to be a siren, who lures men to their deaths, or she steals children to replace those she had murdered. Hardly the phantom door knob rattler of that Manitoba farmhouse.

Another sinister ghost-belief of the Aztecs was the origin of the modern day El Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, although to the Aztecs, it was not the respectful, upbeat celebration of one’s ancestors, as it is practiced today. The original ritual was held in August, when family members offered food, water, and tools to assist their deceased relatives in getting through the difficult four-year afterlife journey to Mictlán where they were put out of their misery.

Christianity Rescues the Ghosts

Under European Christianity, this ritual morphed into the somewhat similarly purposed Christian observation of All Souls Day. To the Christians, All Souls Day was introduced in the 10th century for people to pray for their departed friends and relatives stuck in Purgatory. Purgatory was believed to be an afterlife realm for deceased persons who had sinned a little too much to enter the kingdom of heaven directly after death. So prayers on All Souls day were a type of appeal to the divine to reduce the amount of punishment for these souls, and get them released into heaven. And, although this can be seen as a kind of parallel to the original Day of the Dead ritual, there is one principal difference as well.

To the Christians, the afterlife is eternal. To the Aztecs (and earlier Mesoamerican civilizations), life after death was limited. It was believed, following a period of suffering, that existence in any form was terminated – full stop. And this distinction, I think, reflects back on the cultural view of ghosts overall. It seems to me, the ancient Aztec belief system where the endpoint of an afterlife is individual obliteration (ending one’s suffering), any ghost appearing in this earthly realm could only be malevolent. But in all other societies, including Mexico post-conquest, ghosts are seen as far less threatening.

In fact, ghosts in today’s western hemisphere, although generally considered scary, are not thought to be physically harmful. They even make great tourist attractions. And in this light, the story of a welcomed ghost in that Manitoba farmhouse has some degree of cultural believability. To an ancient Aztec though, such a benevolent spirit would be inconceivable. But then again, if this ancient Aztec first visited a modern-day celebration of Día de los Muertos, he or she could probably be convinced.

Storytelling: From Fairy Tales to Magical Realism

By Carole Reedy

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.
— Albert Einstein

STORIES
“Man is the storytelling animal,” says the master storyteller himself, Sir Salman Rushdie. During a prestigious, nearly half-century career, he has published 12 novels, among which the most famous are Midnight’s Children (1981) and The Satanic Verses (1988). Two children’s books and 13 nonfiction and essay collections complete his writing career thus far. His next innovative storytelling will be Victory City: A Novel, to be published February 9, 2023. It is described as an Indian novel styled as a translation of an ancient epic.

The oral history of storytelling most likely goes back to the Bronze Age, but written stories are the focus of modern man. Writing down stories allows them to become static so that they can be read again and again, and thus relegated to history.

Stories help us to remember, imagine, and solve problems. In addition, they evoke empathy and provide us with many hours of thoughtful enjoyment. All these advantages apply to fairy tales as well as to fine literature.

FAIRY TALES AND MAGICAL REALISM
Fairy tales derive from the folklore of a culture, the first iteration of an oral tradition in the form of a short story. As populations became more literate, however, fairy tales appeared in written form intended for an adult audience. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the enjoyment of fairy tales extended to children.

The first formally published fairy tales were those of Charles Perrault, written in 1697, for an aristocratic French adult readership. Among Perrault’s most famous are “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” Perrault is often recognized as the creator of the modern fairy tale.

Fairy tales throughout the world vary. Those from Europe have become staples in literature in most countries, especially for children. Besides those of Perrault, you will find the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, from what is now Germany, and the stories set down by Danish author Hans Christian Anderson.

MEXICAN FAIRY TALES
Mexico’s culture is filled with folklore that translates into colorful fairy tales for children and adults. Here are a few recent ones that will engage children of all ages.

Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales (2018): A New York Times bestseller, also named a Best Book by Kirkus Reviews, this richly illustrated and relevant story is based on Yuyi’s own experience of bringing her son and the gifts of their culture to a new place.

The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes, by Duncan Tonatiuh (2016): Tonatiuh is an award-winning author and illustrator. Here he reinvents one of Mexico’s most cherished tales, that of the two majestic volcanos overlooking Mexico City and Puebla, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The love between the princess Izta and the warrior Popoca creates the setting for this famous retold legend.

Also by Sr. Tonatiuh is a migrant’s tale, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (2013). This illustrated story tells of Pancho, a rabbit who travels with a coyote in search of his father who has crossed the border for work up north. It is an excellent way of increasing children’s understanding of the struggles and hardships of the people who need to cross borders.

Worth mentioning here as an aside is the marvelous children’s book, Danza, also by Duncan Tonatiuh (2017), which relates the story of Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet and its incomparable founder Amalia Hernández.

The Secret Footprints by Julia Alvarez (2000): I must mention this tale even though its origin is Dominican, not Mexican, because Alvarez is a well-known novelist of adult books, most notably How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (2010). In the Time of the Butterflies: A Novel (1994) is a fictionalized account of the four Mirabal sisters (the butterflies), who sought to overthrow El Jefe, the repressive dictator General Rafael Leónidas Trujillo.

The children’s book, The Secret Footprints, is a reinvented legend from Dominican folklore of the ciguapas, creatures who live in the sea with feet that are on backwards so humans cannot follow them. It tells of an encounter between one ciguapa named Guapa and a human boy.

Present Day Fairy Tales
Fairy tales continue to be written for adults today. Edited by Kate Bernheimer and Carmen Giménez Smith, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (2010) includes work by some of our most distinguished and beloved authors: Joyce Carol Oates, Karen Joy Fowler, Michael Cunningham, and Neil Gaiman, among others. I keep it available on my Kindle to entertain while on trains, planes, and automobiles!

MAGICAL REALISM
Magical realism reminds us of fairy tales with its mixture of dreams, imagination, and perceived reality. Here are some notable authors writing in this style:

Gabriel García Márquez has mastered the art, most notably in his best-selling One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, English 1970), in which the ghosts and spirits of Colombia’s history abound.

Yann Martel in The Life of Pi (2003) gives us a book about inner strength and creativity seen through animals on a raft in the ocean with the protagonist.

·

Present Day Fairy Tales
Fairy tales continue to be written for adults today. Edited by Kate Bernheimer and Carmen Giménez Smith, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (2010) includes work by some of our most distinguished and beloved authors: Joyce Carol Oates, Karen Joy Fowler, Michael Cunningham, and Neil Gaiman, among others. I keep it available on my Kindle to entertain while on trains, planes, and automobiles!

MAGICAL REALISM
Magical realism reminds us of fairy tales with its mixture of dreams, imagination, and perceived reality. Here are some notable authors writing in this style:

Gabriel García Márquez has mastered the art, most notably in his best-selling One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, English 1970), in which the ghosts and spirits of Colombia’s history abound.

Yann Martel in The Life of Pi (2003) gives us a book about inner strength and creativity seen through animals on a raft in the ocean with the protagonist.

In his Kafka on the Shore (2002), famed Japanese author Haruki Murakami combines dreams and pop culture.

Chilean Isabel Allende has become one of the most famous Latin American writers. Her most popular work is The House of the Spirits (1986), which follows three generations of a family in which Chilean political history and dictatorship play important roles.

To end – as this article began – with a quote from Sir Salman Rushdie from Midnight’s Children, a novel filled with magically realistic moments:

Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems – but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible.