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jennifer rose

Oct 28, 2004, 9:18 PM

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What are you reading these days? (About Mexico, that is)

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I'm reading Jeffrey Davidow's The US and Mexico: The Bear and the Porcupine and Earl Shorris' The Life and Times of Mexico. Who else is reading these books and would like to offer up comments?

Who'd like to give me Julia Preston and Sam Dillion's new book, Opening Mexico, for my birthday?



alex .

Oct 29, 2004, 8:18 AM

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Re: [jennifer rose] 29 again?

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Happy Birthday !


Carol Schmidt


Oct 29, 2004, 8:45 AM

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B. Traven's "The Night Visitor and Other Stories"

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For a book club in San Miguel I just read "The Night Visitor and Other Stories" by B. Traven, who is best known for writing "The Treasure of the Sierra Madres."

He used a lot of aliases in his day and said his books belong to the people, his private life is his own, but it seems clear he was born in Chicago, raised in Germany, was a radical anarchist who was jailed several times in his life, escaped and ended up in Chiapas at the time of the Mexican civil war of the 1920's, living with his Mexican wife in the far jungle for many decades, which is the setting for all of the stories in this book. He had his ashes scattered in the Chiapas jungle when he died around 1969.

I felt as I read that he had the best understanding of indigenous Mexican people of any gringo I've read--at times I thought I was reading Juan Rulfo's classic Pedro Peramo.

Magical realism, fatalism, twisted logic that makes perfect sense to someone trying to justify what it is he wants to do, outlandish characters, haunting memories, visits from the past, living on the run...I absolutely loved the book.

Carol Schmidt


sandykayak


Oct 29, 2004, 8:52 AM

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Re: [Carol Schmidt] B. Traven's "The Night Visitor and Other Stories"

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I've had Villasenor's Rain of Gold sitting on the bookshelf for several months and Carol's mention of it yesterday drew me to it last night.

I can't believe how much I read into the wee hours. It's his family's biographical history...t'aint easy reading about all the hardships...but it was hard to put down.
Sandy Kramer
Miami, Fla & El Parque


NEOhio

Oct 29, 2004, 9:11 AM

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Re: [sandykayak] B. Traven's "The Night Visitor and Other Stories"

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Started a couple of days ago - Nothing to Declare, by Mary Morris - a little too much personal angst and it begins to have a mystical quality which has me wondering where is this going to end up at....


Rain of Gold was just over all an incredible read. Enjoy!!


(This post was edited by NEOhio on Oct 29, 2004, 9:12 AM)


lbc

Oct 29, 2004, 3:02 PM

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Re: [jennifer rose] What are you reading these days? (About Mexico, that is)

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I am reading Cambio de piel (1967) by Carlos Fuentes. A Change of Skin deals with themes of Mexican identity and history, and is a synthesis of reality and the limitless powers of fantasy by transcending the limits of time and space. The novel depicts a group of people on a journey from Mexico City to Vera Cruz who trade various ideas and histories with one another (as well as sex). These folks are also on a long journey into a metaphorical past. There are long asides regarding the conquest of Mexico, the dilemma of national identity, fascism, and literature and also the promise and failure of the Mexican revolution.
I like Fuentes’ style of writing.


Carol Schmidt


Oct 29, 2004, 5:57 PM

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Re: [Carol Schmidt] B. Traven's "The Night Visitor and Other Stories"

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I wrote a report of the book for someone who missed the book club and thought I would add the contents to this thread, to flesh out why I liked this book so much.

Carol Schmidt

One of the stories was an allegory for friendship and the Mexican culture--a gringo restaurant owner sees a smiling dog at his doorstep, and the dog looks so open and friendly that he gives the dog a steak someone had left mostly uneaten. The dog makes eye contact as if to say thank you with that smiling face and leaves. The next day it is back. Same thing. Pattern continues.

One day the owner is upset over many things and when the dog arrives he is so pissed he throws a hard roll at the dog. The dog makes a long eye contact, then turns and leaves. The owner is horrified and rushes out to try to make amends but the dog is gone. It doesn't come back for several days.

When it does, it is not smiling. It makes eye contact, but when the owner brings it a steak, it just makes a long eye contact again and turns and leaves. The restaurant owner never sees it again.

Another story describes how a priest tries to bring the message of Christianity to a group of Indians, who listen long and hard to the insanity of the tale, go away for a few days, and return with their decision. They will stick with their god who loves them unconditionally, who rises every morning full of warmth and promise, who allows them to sleep at night, and who does not have any suspicious accompaniments requiring belief such as a virgin birth, being on earth only 33 years, leaving to return some day to judge people harshly and throw most of them into a fiery hell, etc.

They tell the priest they have great respect for him as a person, but his religion is surely strange, and they'll stick with their own loving god, and they disappear into the jungle never to appear again.

My favorite was "Assembly Line," in which a gringo sees a native artist who makes a few handmade artistic baskets in his nights to sell in the marketplace for a few cents to supplement his work as a wood gatherer. The gringo recognizes true art, the man's soul simply shines through in the simple baskets, and so he buys all the man has and takes them back to the States to see if he can find a market.

The first storeowner he talks to orders 10,000. He and the storeowner will make several dollars per small basket, which will be used as containers for packages of fancy chocolates.

The guy returns to the small village and tries to negotiate with the artist, who shines him on in best Mexican fashion, giving reason upon reason why he cannot possibly make 10,000 baskets in his entire lifetime. His soul goes into every basket. And if he were working round-the-clock on the baskets, who would gather his wood, who would take care of his goats, etc. Hiring neighbors with all the profits wouldn't help--their entire lives and the village would be totally disrupted by such a thing. The guy sadly goes off.

The story ends, something like, "And so the United States was spared from having 10,000 tiny works of art containing the soul of ___ littering their waste baskets."


JRLankford


Oct 30, 2004, 6:52 AM

Post #8 of 24 (2973 views)

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Re: [jennifer rose] What are you reading these days? (About Mexico, that is)

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I'm easily reading a dozen books about Mexico but presently focusing on Distant Neighbors by Alan Riding. It's essentially a political history of Mexico, yet I am struck by its frequent eloquence:

"There is a magical, almost surreal air about the Mexicans that refuses to be captured. Still more frustratingly, when it is trapped by a description, it disguises itself as caricature. The key lies in the past, a deep subconscious past that stays alive in Mexicans today."

I'm finding "Mexican Etiquette and Ethics" a good springboard for approaching the other books. Thanks, Carol, for the recommendation.

Jamie L

http://www.facebook.com/authorjrlankford
http://www.jrlankford.com


esperanza

Oct 30, 2004, 7:10 AM

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Re: [jilla] What are you reading these days? (About Mexico, that is)

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A friend recently gave me On Mexican Time by Tony Cohan. I read it about five years ago and disliked it then. I thought maybe I'd take another look at it now. Sometimes my viewpoint changes over time. In this case, it hasn't. I think the book is overwrought and pretentious in several unpleasant ways. After reading about half of it again, I won't finish it.

http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com









jerezano

Oct 30, 2004, 9:55 AM

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The Bear and the Porcupine/ a MUST read

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Hello,

"The bear and the Porcupine" by our ex ambassador to Mexico Jeffry Davidow. "El oso y el puercoespín.

A very perceptive book. To me, it captures the essence of how America in general sees Mexico in general.

I have a gringo friend here who has just moved to Mexico. No more than two months now. She says that her Mexican friends (two families of illegal Mexicans she met in the USA before coming here) are always asking her "What do Americans really think about Mexicans?" This book, for me, has the answer.

But what bothers me most is that in the 16 years I have lived in Mexico I can't recall any Mexican ever asking me that question. All my Mexican friends are more interested in telling me "How they see America" and then telling me how they themselves percieve "How America sees Mexico". But then, I have found that most of my Mexican friends are not really interested in my opinions so much as they are interested in letting me know theirs. >>>They feel they need to explain themselves to me.<<< Which brings us right back to the book and the Porcupine attribute of the Mexican people. They are immediately on the defensive against any threat, implied threat, percieved threat, misunderstood threat, misconstrued threat, or read between the lines threat, or simply pulled out of thin air threat to their honor or to their sense of self worth. To me, it is all part of their culture and their---here in Mexico---government sponsered anti-USA education from pre-kindergarten through the University.

It is extremely hard for Mexicans to go against 18 to 20 years of such aculturation. Let me give you a good example, which has nothing to do with politics or internationalism, but is illustrative of the problem.

Two or three years ago I gave to a Mexican friend a copy of a marvelously neutral, well-written, and very interesting book about Malinche. It was written from a slightly feminist point of view to show how important a role Malinche played in world history. In a discussion about why he had not been able so far to read "El oso y el puercoespín" (I had given him the book about five or six months ago) he brought up the Malinche book and confessed that he just could not bring himself to read it either. When asked why not, he replied that he had been taught all his life that Malinche was a traitor to the Mexican people, was a puta, and a woman of despicable value. My friend himself is not a pure indigina but the true Mexcian mestizo and while he takes pride in his heritage, both Mexican and Spanish, and talks about the Mexican mestizo as a new race for which Malinche ünfortunately must be credited with a great responsibility, he cannot break away from that 20 years of official aculturation.

Getting back to The Bear and the Porcupine, an english copy of which is just now circulating through our local gringo colony, I have not yet met one gringo here who disagrees with Davidow's main point. The "touchiness" of the Mexican Government (in this case) which he does extend by implication to the Mexican people.

And Jennifer, you who have been here for so many years, as well as so many of our compatriotas on this board must have had experiences similar or very different from my own or from my gringa friend's. What do you all think of Davidow's book and conclusions? Does he document sufficiently well his main point, or do you think his conclusion is absolutely wrong and that he is off-base? Remember, his conclusion is that of an experienced world diplomat who has worked with many different countries and peoples. Davidow is one of the very few career diplomats who ever received Ambassadorial rank which is usually a political appointment. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the US State Department and the administration is not reading this book either.

Adios. Jerezano.


(This post was edited by jerezano on Oct 30, 2004, 9:57 AM)


julian3345

Oct 30, 2004, 9:20 PM

Post #11 of 24 (2901 views)

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Re: [jennifer rose] What are you reading these days? (About Mexico, that is)

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I'm waiting for delivery of my copies of the Davidow book and the Preston/Dillon volume which got very positive reviews in the West Coast press when it was published last year. I'll drop a line after I have read those, meanwhile I have four recommendations: Life in Mexico Frances Calderón de la Barca. classic. must read! letters written by a Scots woman married to a Spanish diplomat posted to Mexico City in the early 19th Century; A Mexican Elite Family 1820-1980 Larissa Adler Lomnitz and Marisol Perez-Lizaur, fascinating ethnography..other side of the Children of Sanchez coin; Tear this Heart Out by Angeles Mastretta (Arráncame la Vida in Spanish) roman a clef about the post revolution period; Beyond Smoke and Mirrors by Douglas Massey, Jorge Durand and Norman J Malone...Mexican migration and US border policies. Enjoy! Joan


JRLankford


Oct 31, 2004, 9:27 AM

Post #12 of 24 (2855 views)

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Re: [jerezano] The Bear and the Porcupine/ a MUST read

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What interesting posts. To my still-learning eyes, isn't asking someone of Mexican heritage to read a sympathetic treatise on Malinche much like asking an American to read a sympathetic history of Benedict Arnold?

Maybe that's not the best comparison because there's probably no emotional component remaining for today's Americans there.

Probably a better analogy is what's happening in American politics right now. Many "conservatives" wouldn't be caught dead watching CBS, even CNN, much less reading The New York Times. Many "liberals" won't listen to Jerry Falwell or watch FOX news. Sides have been drawn and it's a matter of allegiance, now, not good or bad information. It's what happens when polarization occurs.

Has the Mexican psyche performed a deep internal polarization to survive the brutalities of the conquest and later years? In that light, defensiveness could be understandable because the brutality doesn't seem to be over. Classism still exists. It can mean poverty, even life or death.

I must say I'm feeling like Zapata as I read about Mexico ... yearning to rescue people I've never even met, and who would no doubt look askance at such a sentiment.

In fact, I'm having a mini writer's block, having just penned these words:

"There were a good three dozen men in the penthouse that night, all related to Luis: cousins upon cousins, uncles, grand uncles, nephews, once or twice or thrice removed. It didn't matter. They were the men of Luis's familia and Coral could see he trusted them with his life."

In the next paragraph I must describe these men, but I find myself temporarily too emotional to write. I can imagine them. I can almost feel the centuries of unspoken wounds behind their stares.

But then, I'm a novelist, given to drama. Back to the unwritten page. Can't wait to read Davidow's book [but -- dilemma -- if I keep reading, when will I write?]

Jamie L

http://www.facebook.com/authorjrlankford
http://www.jrlankford.com


JRLankford


Oct 31, 2004, 9:34 AM

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Re: [julian3345] What are you reading these days? (About Mexico, that is)

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If everyone hasn't already found it, simply heart-stopping reading are the original Spanish and Nahautl accounts of the conquest. I found them posted here:

http://www.acoyauh.com/index.html

Jamie L

http://www.facebook.com/authorjrlankford
http://www.jrlankford.com


NEOhio

Oct 31, 2004, 9:38 AM

Post #14 of 24 (2850 views)

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Re: [jilla] What are you reading these days? (About Mexico, that is)

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I am going to find this site absolutely fascinating - thanks for sharing it.


julian3345

Oct 31, 2004, 10:34 AM

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Re: [jilla] The Bear and the Porcupine/ a MUST read

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The impact of Malinche is hard-wired: emotional - yes! but the language is littered with references, many of them coarse and insulting; I have an old wooden kitchen chair that is stamped Malinche on the bottom...manufacturer's name. I had to explain to the young guy who does carpentry and wood repairs for me what it referred to, but why a furniture company bears that name..I couldn't explain that. IMO- if more Mexicans really understood who Doña Maria was and why she helped Cortez to build the successful alliance that he put together to overwhelm the Aztecs - maybe there would be some balance to the national defensiveness Mexicans indulge in which leads so many times to shooting themselves in the foot.
I notice my soapbox is rising heavenward, so that's all for today! JEM


JRLankford


Oct 31, 2004, 12:39 PM

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Re: [julian3345] The Bear and the Porcupine/ a MUST read

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The Aztec called Cortes Malinche as an insult, so Mexican rejection of her has a long history indeed. From the original accounts, I couldn't guess her motive. I assumed she was initially compelled to do as she did then later sided with the Spaniards when she saw they would win? Can anyone recommend a good book about her?

Jamie L

http://www.facebook.com/authorjrlankford
http://www.jrlankford.com


gpk

Oct 31, 2004, 2:37 PM

Post #17 of 24 (2804 views)

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Re: [jilla] The Bear and the Porcupine/ a MUST read

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With regard to Davidiow's book, which I haven't yet read, I would guess that his contacts within Mexico were almost exclusively within the wealthier classes of politicians and businessmen. I would be surprised if he had more than a passing acquaintance with any of the poor, uneducated people who make up the majority of Mexicans. I'm sure you know how to "consider the source" when doing your research.


julian3345

Oct 31, 2004, 3:55 PM

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Re: [jilla] The Bear and the Porcupine/ a MUST read

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I really can't remember exactly where I learned the story/myth? of Malinche ( Maybe in de Las Casas) but it seems she was a member of the Aztec nobility who was sold to a tribe on the east coast by her mother to make way for a brother to achieve status that she might have gained had she remained in Aztec society. She learned language 2 as a captive and was then given, with a small group of other females, to Cortez as tribute. She was able to translate into Nahuatl (her first language) the languages spoken by the tribal groups between Vera Cruz and the Valley of Mexico. A priest in the Cortez entourage who knew both Spanish and Nahuatl took it from there. (Very similar story linguistically of Sacajawea and the Lewis & Clark expedition!) One can speculate that Malinche had a very powerful motive of revenge and retribution and probably had learned how much, in general, the Aztecs were hated and feared. The mythic part is that she then became Cortez' mistress and subsequently gave birth to the first mestizo, the first Mexicano. Of course, by that time there were probably other less well-known contenders for that singular honor!

I find it interesting how quickly Cortez saw her worth as an intepreter and diplomatic aide...my specialty as an ethnographer is Elites...who they are, how they establish and negotiate status, how they recognize one another...etc. In my view, nothing that happened between Cortez and Malinche is surprising.

Those of you who have not looked into Volume 8 of the Artes de Mexico series , La Pintura de Castas should do so ASAP. Learn about the 53 possible racial castes that were devised by the viceregal establishment. Several of these "didactic" portraits graced the cover this year of the 3rd grade public school Spanish textbooks issued by the Mexican government and in use here in Zacatecas! What makes this whole effort to categorize phenotypically the population of 18th century New Spain completely ludicrous is the fact that the peninsulares who considered themselves "white" were actually one of the most genetically mixed populations in Europe at that time. By contrast, the population in place in the "New" World was much less mixed. JEM

By the way, on my cat's international vaccination certificate his race is listed as criollo... He is black and white so I would expect him to be mestizo...go figger!


JRLankford


Nov 1, 2004, 5:41 AM

Post #19 of 24 (2747 views)

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Re: [julian3345] The Bear and the Porcupine/ a MUST read

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In Reply To
I find it interesting how quickly Cortez saw her worth as an intepreter and diplomatic aide.


Thanks for the info on Malinche. From reading the initial Spanish accounts of the conquest, I've concluded Cortes was an unusually intelligent, perceptive, and capable man who would have accomplished the conquest with far less barbarity but for the greed of the then governor of Cuba and the stupidity of the man he left in charge when Cortes was forced to leave the Aztec capital and confront the troops from Cuba. He was a product of his time, of course, but an admirable one. If Spain had had the sense to put him in charge, I think the initial slaughter would have been far less than it was though -- given the disease and enslavement -- the ultimate outcome would have been the same.



In Reply To
By the way, on my cat's international vaccination certificate his race is listed as criollo... He is black and white so I would expect him to be mestizo...go figger!


Amazing. Traveling animals are labelled by their owner's race in Mexico?

Jamie L

http://www.facebook.com/authorjrlankford
http://www.jrlankford.com


thfarrell


Nov 1, 2004, 2:09 PM

Post #20 of 24 (2702 views)

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Re: Martín, son of Hernan y Marina...

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Hi...

> The mythic part is that she then became
> Cortez' mistress and subsequently gave
> birth to the first mestizo, the first Mexicano.

"The New World of Martin Cortes" by Anna Lanyon is, in my opinion, a not-very-good book about Martín Cortés, his attendance at the royal court in Spain, legal problems, etc. ISBN 0-306-81364-5

tom
---
"Beauty is in the i of the Beholder"
(Julia Mandelbrot)


julian3345

Nov 1, 2004, 3:20 PM

Post #21 of 24 (2692 views)

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Re: [thfarrell] Martín, son of Hernan y Marina...

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Did that book explain why Cortez named both of his sons, Martín? According to Meyer and Sherman in The Course of Mexican History, both were considered criollo. Even though the son of Doña Marina and Cortez was illegitimate and mestizo, he was given the casta of criollo because of the high status of his father. Both sons were, of course, born in New Spain. JEM


jerezano

Nov 3, 2004, 6:24 PM

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The Malinche book

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Hello,

The book is in Spanish and for that reason I never recommended it before. However, several of us have asked for its name so here it is:

Doña Marina la Malinche, Ricardo Herren, Editorial Planeta Mexicana, Mexico City, 1993. I forget the price but it is not expensive.

Adios. Jerezano.


Cynthia7

Nov 3, 2004, 7:20 PM

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Re: [jerezano] The Malinche book

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Where are the remaining relatives of Cortes or Cortes and Malinche? Anyone know anything about them?? Death of the Fifth Sun by Robert Sommerlott is an interesting read about Cortes and Malinche..I often wonder about the children and grandchildren, great great.. of the early Popes in Italy-what are or were they like, who are they..etc. I wonder the same about Cortes.


julian3345

Nov 4, 2004, 7:04 AM

Post #24 of 24 (2566 views)

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Re: [Cynthia7] The Malinche book

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The book mentioned by jerezano, Doña Marina, La Malinche has an excellent and extensive bibliography with titles mostly in Spanish, but includes a few in English. It also has a timeline of the main events of the lives of Hernan/Fernando Cortez/s, Doña Marina (neé Malinalli Tenepal), Martín Cortez and Marina's husband, Capt. Juan Jaramillo with whom she had a daughter, Maria. This timeline states that Martín was legitimized by Pope Clement VII and eventually died in Spain fighting the Moors, but not before he married doña Bernardina de Porras in Mexico..... I wonder if there is a Debrett's Peerage for that epoch of Spanish Colonial history? :)

I found the epilogue of this book to be VERY interesting in that the author poses questions about the traditional (macho) interpretation of the life and actions of this crucial historic personage. JEM
 
 
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