Aguilar Perez is my favorite Mexican historian, in part because she knows all about our favorite small town, Jocotepec, at the west end of picturesque Lake Chapala, in the colorful state of Jalisco.
She and we are near enough to the Guadalajara airport for quick getaways, but a reasonable distance, we think, from other congestion and strife.
Aida exudes authenticity. She actually lives in Jocotepec. She was born there, last in a sizable flock of 13 children. Her father’s family goes back to before the Spanish came calling. Her grandfather was shot during the Revolution. That is historic!
Aida is a terrific story teller. She remembers when there were few cars in the area and no phone at her house. She said that wasn’t a major inconvenience.
“There was nobody to call.”
Her description of the original bus line along the lake is pure, 99.9 per cent Mexico. The fee was reasonable but there was no way of knowing when or if the bus would run. The dirt road was particularly unpredictable during the rainy season.
“Passengers were often invited to get off and help push the bus when it was stuck in the mud.”
Aida understands Jocotepec. She has been many other places so she has points for comparison.
She recalls that her town had movies, black and white silent films, before there were movie theaters. The shows were part of fiestas, projected onto white bed sheets tied off at four corners. Patrons brought their own chairs.
She tells about the presentation of The Passion of Christ. When the Romans tortured Jesus, good neighbor Don Luis Duron pulled out his pistol, shot the sheet and called out, “Let Him be. He is not alone!”
Aida Aguilar Perez says Joco could have been a beautiful town if they had saved the trees — and far more relevant if historic buildings had been preserved. She is still ticked (she used a different word) about a famous inn that was torn down without so much as a second thought. French military commanders had stayed there in 1864 and General Francisco Villa was a distinguished guest in 1914.
Meson del los Naranjitos was at the corner of Miguel Arana and Matamoros. It could have been a museum or a cultural center. They demolished it one night and put in an unsightly parking lot.
Aida is almost certain the action was illegal as in no un-building permit.
The Jocotepec historian is not particularly pleased that the annual religious festival is eroding into an overgrown street market. The ceremony was rooted in an 1833 oath of praise and thanksgiving. The people had prayed for an end to a cholera or influenza epidemic that had killed many in the village. A carved statue of Christ was credited with bringing about a miraculous conclusion.
In all the years since, Jocotepec has remembered and honored The Lord of the Mountain with a devout procession. Most walk. Many carry candles. Some, more serious about repentance and forgiveness, crawl.
It still happens but the route is clogged by sidewalk merchants selling everything from pots and pans to cotton candy and trinkets made in China.
Indeed, Jocotepec is changing. The Sunday evening plaza ritual of boys and girls circling in opposite directions and checking each other out for future conversation has been gone for 20 years or more.
Aida says no-kill bull fights, once upon a time rather entertaining, are now just an excuse to get drunk. She recalls the day the spectator stands collapsed. That is not a happy memory.
She knows about the triple tragedy, a frayed wire at the popsicle store. Dona Luisa was electrocuted. Her husband and son tried to rescue her and also died. That was 1957.
You may not know that Jocotepec once had an orchestra. It strayed from Bach and Beethoven. It played some mambo which church fathers thought was a bit too sensuous.
There is a maybe true tale of a shocking discovery in a change of political administrations. The outgoing mayor left a deficit of 70 million pesos. That sounded awful but turned out to be not so bad. When the next mayor moved on, the town was 107 million in debt. Does this sound familiar?
Aida’s hometown of 15,000 is not sound asleep. The berry business is flourishing. The malecon is a happy family place on weekends. A hospital has been and still is under construction. Any day now, some of the roads may be repaired.
Aida Aguilar Perez is monitoring this and other minutia. She fully expects somebody else to sometime ask for a history lesson.
(Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is email@example.com)