Would You Like Culture With That? (Location: Mazatlán, Mexico)

In a city engulfed by corporations and Americana, the essence of true culture is always changing.

Mazatlán, Mexico.  It conjures a precision of memories.  For many years my family met once a year to live, laugh, eat and drink, recounting memories beneath the Mexican sun.

We lounged like the afternoon’s iguanas, strolled and swam like leaves in the fall, shopped the Zona Dorada with red eyes, rode horses through the waves and parasailed as if we were birds.  For once a year, The Inn at Mazatlán became our home for two weeks, where we relished in relaxation as a family conglomerate stuck together by the sticky juices of squeezed limes and empty Margarita mixes.

But every once in a while, certain members would miss the reunion and due to my direction in various travels, I was one who often missed these annual Mexican fiestas.  After three consecutive absences, I was looking forward to the next year’s, which reintroduced me to a culture buried within the memories of youth.

As I sat in the back of a taxi outside General Rafael Buelna International Airport, located seventeen miles south of downtown Mazatlán, heat and dust drew in through the open windows and swirled around my head.  It smelled hot.  It smelled tropical.  I thought I caught a scent of a distant sea as a faded CD hanging from the rearview mirror flashed in my eyes.  On one side of the disc, Mother Mary gave me a reserved glance before rotating out of view.

An Unrecognizable Return

I watched out the window: a beloved Mexico and its culture, passing high-walled penitentiaries, catching drafts of burning trash and the odd pile of rubber.

The land was sparse to the city, impoverished with corrugated roofs and sheds, wiry fences enclosing pigs and cattle while chickens roamed freely.  Then, broken by an obtrusive power, gorging the expanse of the countryside, were paved lots of multinational corporations.  They found their way into a culture as Mexico fell to the global faces of Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Noise and debris, rising dust-clouds of eternal heat, rapturous signals, stoplights and padded feet across cracked asphalt. Then the next race of unholy exhaust pipes flooded the streets.

I breathed in, and as tin and brick and corrugation turned to unfinished concrete harboring spikes of rebar, the city-center approached.

A culture, historic in its patternless flow of work, family and tradition.  Mix in nutritious rice, beans, corn tortillas and a few cooling cervezas.  And then birth the working-class as a mother interlinks her arms throughout five children before dodging traffic, and los federales rolling in their crisp black ’06 GMC pickup trucks and waxy Ford Mustangs, circling fat signs and stripped lands with their sweating asphalt and gymnasiums of cheap simplicities.

My heart skipped a beat at their infiltration.  But as I drew another inhale and observed the life surrounding, I continued witnessing a thriving Mexico.  The dust tickled my throat.  I coughed.

How unburdened can a culture remain?  I was about to find out.

Arrival at the Inn

The Inn dressed as usual.  Elegant in contrast with the streets beyond its whitewashed walls.  A new tower touched the sky with 215 luxury rooms crowned with one three-bedroom ten-person penthouse.   Larger pools.  Fully functional waterfalls.  Yoga classes in the morning and increased prajna after a night of drinks, chips, salsa and guacamole.

There were painting classes, weekly Bingo for the crowds accompanying time-shares in Branson, Missouri, as well as Mexican piñata fiestas for the kin Wednesday nights at seven.  With a restaurant on premise, The Inn was a self-sufficient community of lounge-chair tortillas here for a deep-fry.

I searched a meat menu for a vegetarian plate.

Culture? I ask:

¿La cultura? ¿ Dónde está la cultura?

Indeed, it wasn’t to be found within the walls of the large resorts and hotels fabricated for the broadening American and Canadian tourists, unless, say, you worked your Spanish with the maids and gardeners.

But outside, in the heat and noise, Mexico awaited.

Mazatlán Idol

One evening the family piled into two pulmonias (a crazed golf-cartesque taxi blaring an ungodly noise of music ranging from YMCA to CCR’s Bad Moon Rising). We drove north to La Costa Marinara.

Inside the seafood restaurant, I scanned for something traditional, simple, clean.  I came up empty.  Drink, talk, laughs of the previous evening, and then to eating.  After our meal, the American music toned down and the DJ slapped on a record of classic Mexican rhythms.

Suddenly, as if transformed into Mexico’s next “American Idol,” a waiter stepped onto the patio platform with microphone in hand.  He held it tight, not in nervousness, but passion.

With reverence, he sung his heart out, swooning the customers in love song.  One local, loaded with two of his buddies at a game table of empty beer bottles, joined and grumbled to the melody.  I cringed.

“Tom Jones!” my sister exclaimed.  Reborn and alive, south of the border in Mazatlán.

In all the years we had been coming to this restaurant by the sea, we never saw the bills paid and tables emptied as quickly as they had that night.

Visit From the Country

Señor Jones was not the only performance.  Directly afterwards, six blonde children dressed as Midwestern cowboys appeared.

Between the ages of five and fifteen years, they appeared out of place from the average Mexican; not only the pressed red-squared collared shirts, jeans and boots, with chaps, bandannas and dresses, but also their faces.

These six little children seemed to have come off the beaches of Santa Cruz with tanned white skin and sandy hair.  Let alone, it was nearing ten o’clock on a school night.

The DJ queued the music.  Georgia-born Alan Jackson, in thick accent, rolled with Chattahoochee.  In practiced timing, they kicked their boots’ heels in square dance.  Suddenly, I was transported on a stagecoach time machine to a backwoods Montana bar.

An American woman, apparently from a similar locale, clapped in dramatized exuberance.  “I love this song!  Love it!”  I didn’t dare look over, but from the far corner of my eye I spotted her Margarita bowl near bottom.

Signaling the end of the dance, the youngest three removed their plastic cowboy hats and bowed, before turning them upside down and requesting alms from each table.

Old Streets, Same Bathrooms

I walked back to The Inn that evening with my uncle on the main Avenue Cameron Sabalo.  We passed Japanese restaurants, American burger joints, tapas of Spain, and I thought of the real Mexican dishes in los pueblos y montañas: the simple rice and beans of the Latin world.

The previous day, my mother recalled the sole brilliance of the establishment known in more languages as simply: McDonalds.

“At least we can rely on a clean bathroom no matter where we might find ourselves in the world.”

Yes, Home Sweet Mickey D’s, along with other chains, soon to include Dairy Queen, Domino’s Pizza, Subway, Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Culture.  Mazatlán.  The input of the West’s power, yet out on the streets, there was Mexico at its finest.

Yesterday’s Today

Blocks are now splashed with the primary colors of the restaurants’ and consumer stores’ façades, but the dust still rises, trash still burns, with the Chevy trucks and the workers down in the shades, mothers sprinting across traffic with young flailing and babies wailing.

Things and their monsters.  They let loose to dilute the beauty of this original culture. Yet cervezas y guacamole, no matter how diluted, still reinvigorate the Mexican culture of memory to the old and young.

Culture is life.  Life is change.  Change is Culture.

It is the beauty of the world, no matter how desperate, no matter how congested and overflowing, omnipresent like a McDo, in Mexico, India, China, France or across the street from your Ace Hardware chain.

Comments

  1. The most beautiful moment is when we can get together with people close to us; More over if you have not met a few years and finally met.
    Eating together – remember the past together, laughing along with a cup of hot coffee brings its own atmosphere.
    Much more if it can see the beautiful scenery outside the home, because it is a gathering place is located in the beautiful sights.

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