Last updateFri, 02 Jan 2015 5pm

Learning about Mexico realizing what you don’t know, being able to see in a new way

It’s “snowbird season.” Thousands of visitors escaping punishing northern cold are — or soon will be — enjoying Jalisco’s sun and more amiable temperatures.  And that means cultural collision. Last week I overheard several visitors exclaiming that there were fewer cultural differences than they expected, though a couple did concede that some things did puzzle them.

Beyond McDonald’s

Understanding Mexico — beyond the McDonald’s, yogurt and plastic surgery stands — isn’t and shouldn’t be, easy. Like many others early on, I ran into more than a little of bewilderment when dazzled by Mexico, and especially its folklore. Entranced by just about everything in this Republic, I roamed some often unlikely places, festooned with notebooks, pens and pencils, soon adding a camera, then a tape recorder, and for a while toted around a fold-up yellow carpenter’s yard stick. (I can’t remember measuring much with it, but I wanted to be prepared, just in case.)

A good informant

An early encounter had to do with “Los Tastoanes” in the pueblo of Santa Clara de los Corrales. Weighty with serious intent, I went to the soccer field where the Tastoan performance was to take place and asked around trying to find a good local informant.

I finally got one, Don Eleuterio Toscano, who was the classical picture of what I believed an authentic carrier of oral tradition should be. Wrinkled, white-haired and bent, he had been a Tastoan performer for 50 years, but wasn’t dancing because he’d sprained an ankle.

Hideous masks

When the Tastoanes came howling out onto the soccer field, each wearing a hideous carved mask, well covered from neck to ankles in old G.I. overcoats and what looked like World War I puttees, Don Eleuterio hobbled onto the field to perform with them, gimpy and grimacing. The Tastoanes smacked him and each other soundly with long rope whips, yelling and growling, and soon he came hurrying back.

“What are they doing,” I asked.

“They’re Tastoanes.” He grinned.

Two kings arrive

Suddenly two men marched onto the field. They obviously were kings because they wore cardboard crowns, long robes and amazing rubber Halloween masks. They strode regally from one corner of the campo de futbol to the other. Don Eleuterio said they were measuring land.

“Why two kings?” I asked, recording equipment at the ready.

“There are two kings,” he said flatly.

“Yes,” I agreed. “But why?”

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