Tag Archives: Ajijic

Lázaro Cárdenas

24 Mar

The house we’re renting here in Ajijic is located on the corner of Avenidas Lázaro Cárdenas and Revolución. You can imagine how pleased that makes me, especially when I learned that Cárdenas was the best, most committed, of the Mexican presidents to come out of the 1910 Revolution. When I learned that Cárdenas was responsible for nationalizing the oil industry in Mexico in the 1930s, kicking out the British and American fat cats, I couldn’t help but be amused by the photo above–with Cárdenas’s name juxtaposed with the name of one of the snazzy gated communities, filled with ex-pats of whom many are probably from the American and Canadian oil industries, across the street from our house. The other photo shows the street signs on our house.

While in Ajijic, I have been reading Alan Riding’s Distant Neighbors:  A Portrait of the Mexicans, written in 1989. Riding was for many years the bureau chief of the New York Times’ Mexican office, in the days when American newspapers still had international bureaus.  While now a bit dated–and in our current political state, extremely depressing, since Riding just assumes that America in the 1980s is still the model of democracy to which all nations should aspire–the book gives the author’s insights into the Mexican character in enlightening and persuasive passages, if one would now perhaps consider them provocatively stereotypical. His grasp of Mexican political history is excellent, and he writes easily and with dispatch about the complexities of Mexican personalities and institutions that are so baffling to many Americans.

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Lazaro Cardenas. Courtesy of Aurelio Escobar Cstellanos ARchiuve

In Riding’s book I first came across references to Cárdenas (1895-1970) and his radical and astonishing reforms in the 1930s. A mestizo with Tarascan Indian blood, he came from the southern state of Michoacán; early on he aligned himself with the revolutionaries who came to political power in the 1920s, and fortunately for him, he chose the right ones to whom to give his loyalty. He became a well-respected military general under Plutarco Calles, dictatorial president and founder of the reigning political party, the  Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR). As Calles’ hand-picked successor to the presidency, Cárdenas was expected to toe the party line while Calles continued to maintain control, the usual situation in Mexican political life. Instead, as Riding writes, “…his style was not empty demagoguery, as Calles would soon discover.”

Eventually, in 1936, Cárdenas sent Calles into exile in the U.S. and began a conscious campaign of land reform, empowerment of the workers and peasants, and–most dramatically–the nationalization of the Mexican oil industry. He spent enormous amounts of time among the campesinos, often riding on horseback into the remotest of communities. He identified strongly with the peasants and workers, and personally lived a modest life, neither smoking nor drinking.

Among his other radical moves, Cárdenas:

–nationalized the railroads, and created a “workers’ administration” for its operations

–created the first Department of Indigenous Affairs, and remained committed to aiding the horrific conditions of Mexico’s Indian population, creating agragrian collectives, or egidos, that allowed for use of common lands–one of the original impetuses for the Revolution

–fought for women’s suffrage, although women did not get the vote in Mexico until 1953

–ended capital punishment, a statute that remains in place to this day

–supported the Republic during the Spanish Civil War, and welcomed more than 5,000 political Spanish refugees when the fascists took over Spain. He also gave Leon Trotsky refuge once Trotsky fell out of favor under Stalin’s regime. Trotsky said of Cárdenas, despite being far less leftist than he, that his government was the only honest one in the world (Trotsky, of course, was ice-axed to death by a Spanish Stalinist, in 1940 in Mexico City). A statue in Madrid and a street in Barcelona honor Cárdenas for these efforts against fascism.

–most amazingly, completely handed over the power of the presidency to his successor after his term ended, and after serving as Secretary of Defense during World War II, retired to his modest home on Lake Pátzcuaro, in his home state.

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Mural in Jiquilpan, Michoacan, showing Cardenas with campesinos.

He continued to fight for indigenous causes, and even served in the 1960s on the Russell Tribunal investigating war crimes in Vietnam. One of the only Mexican politicians not to become rich while president, Lázaro Cárdenas remains a revered figure in Mexican culture. Streets are named after him everywhere, including in this little town of Ajijic, now so beloved of the ex-pat community. I’m glad I became curious enough to want to know who this interesting person was for whom a street crossing one named Revolucion would be named.

Further impressions of Ajijic

16 Mar

One of the main reasons we like to stay for at least a month in all these places we visit is that it gives us enough time to accumulate experiences in the location so that we can weigh up the pros and cons, balancing the things we like with the things we don’t like.  Right now we are vacillating a lot between those pros and cons. Ajijic is so Americanized–well North Americanized, since the majority of the ex-pats are Canadian–that it is still a little unsettling for us that we hear more English, see more blondes, and shop in stores that are filled with products from “home.” Every week, Ajijic has an organic farmer’s market filled with supposedly organic products. We would have seen more Mexicans by far at the farmer’s market in Pasadena than we saw here, even as vendors. Mexicans wouldn’t be so spend-thrift as to pay the prices here in any case–about double what the same products would cost in the regular Mexican markets. Just my musings about the place. Is this really Mexico?

I can certainly understand why Americans, and especially Canadians, would find Ajijic to be paradise on earth: the weather is absolutely splendid, with lush vegetation, cooling breezes from Lake Chapala, and clear skies almost every day. Because it’s at such a high altitude, it never gets humid, either. To us, Southern Californians that we are, these benefits are not so overwhelming; it just reminds us very strongly of San Diego.

Of course, there are great benefits to being in such an Americanized place:  The Lake Chapala Society offers all the cultural advantages of home, with a library, cafe, lectures, bus tours, musical performances, Spanish classes and information about medical facilities and access to all kinds of information and discounts that would be hard to find on one’s own. We have become members for one month (100 pesos–$5)!  Ajijic itself has only one tiny bookshop, no museums, and no cultural institutions to speak of. Tomorrow (our 43rd anniversary!) we will go to Guadalajara–35 miles away–for the first time, and may find that the city will provide a source of intellectual sustenance.

What this place has also made us realize, at least in our thoughts today: we are not ready for a retirement community! None of the Americans/Canadians here are under 50, and even 50 is quite young. I haven’t seen a single American young person or child. Without nearly perfect Spanish, we miss having a variety of ages and  access to Mexican families and students. Even with the language, it is difficult to imagine how we could easily have those experiences. I’m hoping that when we visit other parts of Mexico, we might see if those kinds of interactions are possible.

Here are the very real positives for us:  the costs of things!  George is now writing up a detailed list of “Stuff in Ajijic”, which he will (hopefully) post as a blog soon. As some of you may remember if you have been reading our blogs all along, we have started this round of travels for two reasons: first, in the decision to rent out our house again, our immediate reason was that we felt we had to be out of the country for this odious administration’s first 100 days, in hopes that we could escape the unbearable effects of the destruction of American democracy (we can’t) and find out possible places of refuge if and when family and friends needed to flee. We will indeed write up the steps needed to come to Mexico on a long-term basis, should it come to that.

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Sending my Dump Trump postcard to the White House on the Ides of March. Word is it will probably take two months to get there.

Our second reason is a more practical one: since we have both retired, we can no longer afford to live in our Californian home. We are consequently seeking out places that may be more affordable for us; I know we are not alone in this search. Since it is easy to rent out our house to Huntington scholars and others, we can cover those expenses while (hopefully) living elsewhere for less money. And for this reason, Mexico is indeed the winner so far: we can live much more cheaply here, and it’s only a three-hour flight to Denver to see our kids and other family.  So today, one week into our one-month stay, we are still tossing up all these factors. Still on the agenda, after Mexico, is another visit to Europe (which, let’s be honest, is where we really want to be!), some forays into small-town California, and even Taos, New Mexico.You can see, then, that we are adrift, still wandering gypsies who would really like to be settled.

Meanwhile, the sun shines, we have a construction site next door with pounding sledge hammers, the birds on the lake and surrounds are a delight, and the ATMs sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Finally, for those friends who want to know where my picture of cats is:  we have only seen one cat on the street, an adorable kitten who rushed right up to us in hopes of finding food. There are lots and lots of stray dogs on the streets of Ajijic, which may be why there are no cats!

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First impressions of Ajijic

11 Mar

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The picture above is a perfect metaphor for our first impression of this lakeside town. The horses, from a corral just down the street from our rental, are brought up here to graze on the grass in front of the entirely gated community across the street from our house here in Ajijic.  The gated community could as easily be in Palos Verdes or San Diego. The place is a fascinating mix of Mexican rural/small town and North American (mostly Canadian) ex-pat community. In the morning, we see very proper, usually older, country-club English speakers walking their little dogs along the street. In the afternoon, young charros come and sing to herd the horses back to the corral, and later men in cowboy hats ride the same horses down the same street. We really like watching the seamlessness with which these two very different worlds coexist.

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Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest natural lake, is right down the street–the photo shows the view from our third floor balcony.  The lake is, alas, rather polluted, but the walk along the malecon–the boardwalk–is very pretty. Ajijic itself is small, filled with restaurants, boutiques, and charming street scenes. While the town, according to a big mural in Centro, was founded by the Aztecs in 1472, there are few colonial buildings here.

To the north of our place–we are in Upper Ajijic–are the mountains–Sierra de San Juan Cosala. Unlike many mountain ranges, we are finding these gentle hills to be embracing, protecting, and benevolent.

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rentsigninenglish_ajijic_mar10A sign of how overwhelmingly North American the place is:   almost all the signs are in English, including the For Rent signs! Our landlord for this wonderful three-story house with all the mod cons is from New York via Florida and has lived here 14 years. He’s the perfect landlord: here if we need him and not here if we don’t need him.  A very laid back place.

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We have been well looked after by my dear Facebook friend Leslie, another American who has lived here for 12 years. She picked us up at the airport in Guadalajara, she brought us food, and has shown us the ropes in town. Today she is taking us into Chapala, the bigger town on the lake, where we will go to the markets and learn how to take the bus back to Ajijic.

Finally, in another sign of how ex-pat the place is, the grounds of The Lake Chapala Society is the prettiest place in town. One has to become a member to have access to libraries, lectures, classes, and bus tours to other parts of Mexico. The grounds include a pond, a pavilion, and lovely gardens.

There are more AA meetings here than you would find in a comparably sized American town, both in English and in Spanish!  I’m set!