Ask an old gringo about Frida Kahlo, Mexico contradictions, colorful protests

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Marvin West


I repeat: Contrary to rumor, many years and extensive travels in Mexico do not qualify me as a know-it-all, A-1 infallible expert. I apologize if I have faked you out.

I do try to answer all questions or redirect them to more knowledgeable sources. I thoroughly enjoy most exchanges with readers. I offer a few from time to time in a basic conversion to pesos (not many).

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A Frida Kahlo doll wears the artist's characteristic indigenous dress © Alvin Starkman, 2012
A Frida Kahlo doll wears the artist’s characteristic indigenous dress © Alvin Starkman, 2012

Question: What do you know about Frida Kahlo? Studies of her star-crossed life and paintings have led me to an interest in the Tehuana-style clothing she favored. Where might I find some?

Answer: Frida’s clothes? This is a new one for me but logic says look first in the markets of Tehuantepec for authentic Tehuana clothing. Juchitan, not far away, might be my second guess. There may be other dependable places in Oaxaca and even Puebla and possibilities at tourist stops all over Mexico.

If you do go shopping, look closely at quality. Indigenous women who still do hand-embroidered textiles are also artists and probably take great pride in their work. Beware of cheap imitations (spelled China).

Frida’s image and style have been hyped and re-hyped in recent years. The cost of anything Frida has gone up.

Short course in historical tidbits: Mexico City roots, July 1907 to July 1954, best known for self-portraits, Mexican culture, maybe folk art; major health problems; volatile marriage to artist Diego Rivera, controversial lifestyle.

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Question: Am I the only one puzzled by the Mexican brand of contradictions and other confusion?

Answer: I am often reminded of the Octavio Paz quote: “A Mexican’s face is a mask, and so is his smile.”

Translation: What you see and hear may be only an illusion, not even near reality.

Case in point: The Mexican Tourist Department wants you to know that a record number of tourists, more than 14.2 million foreigners, came calling in the first half of this year. That is 19.6 per cent more than the first six months of last year. Top resorts Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, etc. have supposedly been packed.

Visitors are pouring in from everywhere. Southbound Americans are arriving in flocks, droves or herds. No fear. Improved economy. Hooray.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government keeps issuing travel warnings.

“U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter organized criminal groups that engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico.

“Crime and violence are serious problems and can occur anywhere. U.S. citizens have fallen victim to criminal activity, including homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking and highway robbery.”

Think nothing of it, says the Tourist Bureau. Come on down.

Case 2: With one hand, Coca-Cola turned out the lights and closed the doors at a bottling facility in Guerrero. Too much strife. Workers were at risk.

Assailants, robbers and shakedown specialists celebrated the setback by burning four Coca-Cola trucks on roads near the town of Arcelia.

Elsewhere, big red trucks added armed guards to make deliveries. Acapulco, home of Mexico’s highest murder rate in 2013, was called a danger zone.

Mexican bottlers of sugary soft drinks bemoaned the new 12 per cent tax designed to discourage consumption and maybe reduce obesity. A third of the children and more than two-thirds of our adults are overweight, and the country is struggling with diabetes.

Some in the beverage business said loss of sales might lead to a general scaling back of operations and that would mean a loss of jobs. The industry was burdened.

A month or so later, with the other hand, Coca-Cola unveiled plans to invest more than $8.2 billion in Mexico over the next six years. That is serious money, as in billions.

“Coca-Cola has a long-term business plan and vision, based on a commitment of ongoing investment,” Coca-Cola Mexico president Francisco Crespo said.

Coca-Cola international president Ahmet Bozer presented a personalized Coca-Cola can to Enrique Peña Nieto. The real president smiled. In the background, somebody was singing softly, “It’s the real thing.”

Under siege? Indeed! Pepsi committed $5 billion in new money over the next five years. Mexico Nestlé said it will grow by a measly $1 billion.

Contradictions? Confusion? Things are not always as they appear.

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Question: Can this be true? Is the Mexican government working on law language to punish the theft of oil?

Answer: You got that right. Somebody convinced Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam that the feds really should do something about bandits who drill holes in Pemex pipelines and syphon off a few million barrels of oil or gas or liquid gold. The loss is said to be astronomical.

Land's End at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico © Joe Cummings, 1998
Land’s End at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico © Joe Cummings, 1998

What a country! Stolen oil for sale. Bring your own jug. There are often unpleasant side effects if you count explosions.

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Question: How bad are things in Cabo?

Answer: Cabo San Lucas, at the south end of Baja California Sur, took a hard hit from Hurricane Odile. The storm knocked out electricity which knocked out other services.

Some tourists got wet and inconvenienced. Vacations were spoiled but no lives were lost. Resort owners will likely recover. Little people are hurting. Tourism is the primary industry. No tourists, no jobs, no pesos.

Karen Faith of Way Cool Angels says many homes were damaged and some destroyed. The community center suffered a blow and flooding. Looting was rampant.

“Government was slow to offer any help, even food. That caused some panic. Our hearts are hurting for families and friends.”

Help wanted.

Published or Updated on: September 24, 2014 by Marvin West © 2014
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