La India MaríaTuesday, September 06, 2011
My mother had made a scouting trip a year before and had come back with stories of volcanoes, pyramids and of Aztecs and the Mayans. Since then and even today Mexico has been the ultimate exotic for me, very far from such concepts as beaches, piñas coladas, heaps of nachos and Corona Beer.
I have never been able to forget the colours of Mexico, the smells of tortilla factories and the fruit and vegetables of a Mexican street mercado.
Since I arrived in Mexico City when I was 14 I must accept the fact that I grew up in Mexico and feeling this attraction and nostalgia for Mexico is perfectly natural.
I read how the Roma or gypsies consider themselves superior (or at least different) outsiders to most everybody else. Many times, even in Vancouver, whith my knowledge of Spanish and having dabbled in reading Latin American and Spanish literature, I feel quite smug.
Columbus must have gazed upon the inhabitants of San Salvador as exotic natives from the Far East. I wonder what these exotics thought of the Spaniards. I look upon Vancouverites be they born here, the native Canadians, those from the Indian subcontinent, the Chinese, etc as people who live (to use the modern term) with an important app missing in their brain!
It wasn’t always like that. I remember being with my friend Robert Hijar in the grandstands of the Mexican Grand Prix sometime in the early 60s. We were discussing in English, comparing and contrasting the driving skills of the very British Graham Hill and the very Scottish Jim Clark. I remember distinctly, it was such a shock, that two Mexican men in front of us, one whispered into the ear of the other in Spanish, “I wonder what they are saying about us.” I was amazed and confused by what seemed to be a horrific inferiority complex.
At the time there was a flyweight boxer called “el Ratón" Macías who had won a bronze medal in the 1951 Panamerican Games. He often talked about being proudly Mexican. His career peaked in 1955 when in San Francisco he won the NBA bantamweight championship of the world. It was about that time that Macías was brought on board by a Mexican soft drink company that introduced Mexicola. It was proudly Mexican but it was taken out of the market in a year.
By the early 60s I started noticing that the National Mexican football team was sometimes called el equipo azteca (or the Aztec team) and sometimes TV announcers used the lofty sounding term “el equipo cobre” or the copper coloured team. A nationalistic pride had begun to seep in.
It was at St. Ed’s were a classmate of mine suffered for years my insults in Spanish. The young man, in spite of his Latino surname told me he spoke no Spanish. On the last day, the day of our graduation I said something offensive in Spanish and he said to me in perfect Spanish, “I have taken your insults just too long,” and this large guard in our football team floored me with a punch that hit my upper arm and shoulder.
As an Argentine born white guy who spoke in English without and accent, for four years I was in the middle of two camps at St. Ed’s. On one side were the Anglos and on the other the Latinos (from Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru, etc). I was deemed neither and ended up as a loaner for the duration not knowing that there were some who were camouflaging as Anglos by pronouncing their last name Reys when it was really Reyez, or Lops instead of Lopez! The chicano movement, which brought pride to these disenfranchised Latinos who were neither Mexican nor American was still in its infancy.
But by the early 70s while Rosemary and I were raising a family in Mexico City we understood that underlying the sense of inferiority of Mexican in relations to the US (So near the United States of America and so far from God) there was a keen sense of humour in which apparent innoncence and downright stupidity was simply a cloud to hide the Mexican superiority.
In my Argentina that term of superiority over others would be called vivo (or alive) or piola (sort of smart) or even púa (like a barbed wire). The Mexican who was the best example of this sort of intelligence was Mario Moreno “Cantinflas”. Americans might remember him in Around the World in 80 Days (as Passepartout) (1956) and Pepe in 1960 ( I fell hard for Shirley Jones).
Cantinflas in his Mexican films talked hard and fast and his lingo made no sense. He appeared to be stupid but we all knew better.
It was around the late 60s and early 70s that there appeared in the scene a female foil to Cantinflas. She was a very Indian sounding woman called La India María (born María Elena Velasco). Her protagonist, a silly and silly sounding native Mexican just in the big city just days from her birth place, San José de los Burros, spoke a Spanish very much like that ah-shucks and famous American comic, actor and people forget columnist, Will Rogers.
There are no signs that La India María has lost any of her popularity. A couple of years ago I attempted to direct my Mexican nostalgia in the direction of India María using as my subject the beautiful and very Mexican Ivette Hernandez. I believe that my efforts might have failed a tad as I photographed her as a beautiful and serious woman.
But perhaps in the end I may have been right. It is about time we foolish and inferior Latinos take over the world. Look at the mess the superior race has made of it.
If you want to learn a bit more about La India María look here. It is in Spanish but worth it. And for a short excerpt of her brand of humour look here