many Basket weavers and family members can you fit into a 1960 Volkswagon
We began our journey early on the morning
of May 26th all arriving for departure from Sacramento International
airport. Passports, birth certificates, photo IDs, baskets
and materials in hand. Destination: Culiacan, Mexico. Purpose: To
take part in the multi-cultural indigenous peoples cultural festival
a.k.a. Quinto Encuentro: Yoreme Sinaloa.
We were invited to participate through
the California Arts Council and the Mexico/Sinaloa Arts Council
(Sinaloa is a state in Mexico). This would be the first time that
traditional California basket weavers would participate. The Smithsonian
would also be present to document the event, which with luck CIBA
would share in the recognition. This being the fifth year of the
festival, it has grown in size and participation among vendors,
demonstrators and the general public of Culiacan and surrounding
areas. The festival this year focused on traditional dance. Festival
coordinators wanted to include other forms of art to feel out the
climate for future festivals.
Which brought five of CIBAs members
together to bravely travel to foreign soils to share our art. (I
say bravely because of the heightened security of the country when
we began our journey). Weavers Jennifer Bates, Tina Johnston, Susan
Campbell, Eva Salazar and myself made this journey. (I have to admit,
I was coerced by my sister and husband to accompany her, and Im
glad they twisted my arm). Susans daughter, Mylah also joined
us, as did Charlie, Jennifers husband and Evas husband
JB and their beautiful children. Mylah flew with us, the remainder
of the group drove down from San Diego. Eva has family in Mexico
they wanted to visit and JB wanted to go shopping. Which left us
without any translators until our arrival in Culiacan. The only
one among those of us flying who knew any Spanish was Tina Johnston,
she passed one year of college Spanish with soaring grades. She
didnt let on to this fact until we arrived in Culiacan. I
think she was amused at our attempts to communicate with the nationals.
After a few minor difficulties with proper
papers and documentation* we were finally checked in and we were
off to board our flight. Our first destination was a two hour stop
over in Phoenix. Being that I was a late addition to the group my
ticketing was a bit more complicated than the others. When we arrived
in Phoenix I had to collect my luggage, collect my e-ticket at the
AeroMexico ticket counter and go through security to our connecting
flight to Hermosillo. Easier said than done, after going out in
the sweltering Arizona heat, a mere 110, to catch the shuttle to
Terminal 1- Delta/AeroMexico, from Terminal 3- American West, only
to be sent back to Terminal 1, AeroMexico, we were all totally exhausted.
The exhausting trek was worth the effort in the long run of things.
When I was checking in I requested adjoining seats for our group,
at this time we found that Mylah had a small problem with her documents.
The wonderful ticket agent at AeroMexico accommodated us and cleared
Mylah through Immigration in Mexico. We only had to find Pedro at
Immigration when we arrived in Hermosillo. Poor Mylah thought for
sure she was going to be sent home.
Our two hour layover in Hermosillo was
cut short to about an hour after going through Customs and Immigration
and waiting in line with the dozen others looking for Pedro. One
hour seems like forever when you are the foreigners. It is even
a longer time when you havent eaten anything but airline peanuts
and juice since leaving Sacramento. If any of you know me, you know
I dont go anywhere unless Im well supplied, the trick
was getting the goods from the right luggage. During our remaining
hour we shared crackers, peanut butter, from a tube no less, cheese
sticks and bottled water. Seems we all had apprehensions about drinking
local water. This would hold us until we arrived at our hotel and
hopefully some real food. As my dear friend Denise Davis always
Youve got to keep those baskets fed!
(*Note: If you plan on doing any traveling
abroad or below the states any time soon you might want to talk
to any one of these travelers for the details of our foray).
The flight from Hermosillo to Culiacan
is about an hours length. Upon our approach to Culiacan we were
amazed at the size of the city. Culiacan is one of the oldest cities
in Mexico, settled in 1517. It is the capitol of the state of Sinaloa.
Sinaloa boasts as Mexicos beef capital and is also known for
the quality produce grown there, among other products. Many of the
produce you find in your local markets in California may actually
come from this region during Californias off seasons.
Upon our arrival in Culiacan we were soon
greeted by our hostess, Lara and our driver, Chano. Both employed
by the Arts Council of Sinaloa to accommodate our needs during our
visit. Arriving at the hotel we only had to check in with the Yoreme
Sinaloa desk, everything was taken care of. We dropped off our luggage
in our rooms and met downstairs to eat at the hotel restaurant.
When we walked into the restaurant we
soon realized we were the only women present, we wondered if this
was culturally acceptable. Lovely Lara, (great resemblance to Selma
Hayeck) came to our rescue. She informed us it was okay, they were
just businessmen doing business. Mexicans eat their main meal normally
between 2 pm and 5 pm in Mexico. Eating a meal this late was not
common, but we were starving. Which brought us to our next hurdle,
reading the menu. Some items were easily recognized if you passed
high school Spanish, others were as foreign as we were. Lara translated
the dinner menu and explained the breakfast buffet served in the
morning. We ordered and ate the most wonderful Mexican meals for
less than $5.00 each. Not one meal resembled what is served in California
The following day was basically a day
to adjust to the climate. The temperature was near 98 degrees and
the humidity was near 80% if not more. This was going to take some
getting used to. This is early springtime in Culiacan, summer months
it is much hotter and even more humid. We visited the festival site
and were warmly greeted by the festival site director, Roberto Balcazar.
We were shown where we would be installing our exhibit and where
we would be seated for our demonstrations. Business taken care of,
we had other items on our agenda. We needed to find a store for
some much needed items forgotten or as in Sues case, she needed
a foam pad to place on the rock hard mattress at the hotel, Tina
needed some cooler clothing. Our driver and hostess take us to,
of all places, Walmart! I have to admit this is one of the cleanest,
most organized Walmarts I have ever stepped into, imagine that!
Visiting the local open marketplace later that afternoon was a whole
new experience for all of us. Talk about culture shock. There were
rows upon rows of fresh meats and fowl, fresh produce, bakery, spices
and fresh fish all under one roof. The whole area took up one city
block. Needless to say a few members of the group didnt get
past the entrance. They much preferred to shop in the many shoe,
clothing and trinket stores on the outer perimeter of the building.
The third day into our journey we installed
our exhibits of baskets and traditional California games. This took
a little longer as the information banner installed had very little
to say about CIBA and more about the Grindstone dancers who would
not be attending. Our California Arts Council coordinator, Lucero
Arellano had joined us by this time, her presence and command of
the language made everything easier for all of us and a new banner
was ordered in no time. When we arrived later that day for the opening
ceremonies everything was in its place and a new banner with
proper introduction of CIBA and the visiting basket weavers was
hanging from its frame.
Opening ceremonies of the festival was
full of pomp and circumstance, with introductions of dignitaries
and visiting officials. All of the performers marched onto the stage
as they were introduced. We were individually greeted by a Yoreme
(native people of Sinaloa) elder, and an official exchange of gifts
was made. We made a combined gift of various traditional California
items wrapped in one of the basketry handkerchiefs sold by CIBA.
In return CIBA was gifted a staff which was significant in identification
to the Yoreme people.
Including our group of California basket
weavers other indigenous groups represented were: Mayo-Yoremes of
Sinaloa; Seris Y Yaquis of Sonora, Mexico; Raramuris of Chihauhua,
Mexico; Huicholes of Nayarit, Mexico; Tohono Odam/Pima of Arizona;
Los Decimistas (musical group) of Cuba; Saraguros of Loja Provence,
Ecuador; and the Rapa Nui of Easter Island, Chile. The majority
were dance groups who traveled to nine different towns throughout
Sinaloa during the five days of the festival. I was personally awed
by their endurance in this climate as we were finding it difficult
to adjust to the high humidity and heat just sitting there weaving.
By the second day the organizers took pity on us and installed an
oscillating fan in our demonstration area, which helped immensely.
We demonstrated daily from 10 a.m. to
2 p.m. and returned in the evening at 5 p.m. and demonstrated until
9 p.m.. The morning hours were more for visiting school groups.
The students showed enthusiastic interest in our art and games.
Each group of students had a spokesperson who could speak some English
which helped us in answering their questions. Every student carried
a notebook and never missed a note. Their wish to gain in site and
knowledge of our art and culture made every minute of enduring the
heat of Culiacan worth it. The evening hours brought out the general
public whose enthusiasm matched that of the students. It was hard
to gage the interest between those weaving and those wanting to
learn about California dice, staves and handgame, we always had
an audience. Many were amazed at the different basket materials we
used and were always intrigued by the intricate twining of Tinas
On Saturday we were taken on a field trip
to visit one of Sinaloas hidden jewels. The Barras de Piaztla
in San Ignacio a scenic two hour drive southwest of Culiacan. No
one had any idea where we were going, it was only after we were
an hour into our journey did we learn we were going to the beach
on the Sea of Cortez. Approximately one hour north of Mazatlan.
When the bus driver took a sharp right turn off the main highway
down a very narrow dirt road we realized that we were going somewhere
remote. We were informed enough to know that they were taking us
to a petroglyph site, for some reason we envisioned cliffs and rocky
hillsides, not a picturesque beach. Driving through tall thickets
full of air ferns, iguanas and the most humongous beehive Ive
ever seen we came to a small remote village. There were no visible
signs of modern electricity and or plumbing. The walls of the homes
were built of intricately woven sticks and then mud was applied
to create walls. Villagers were not as curious of us as we were
of them and their simple lifestyle. We continued on the road, stopping
once to ask a passing vehicle if we were on the right road. Eventually
we arrived at our destination, a beautiful white sand stretch of
beach that continued to the north for a good two miles and to the
south a rocky shoreline as equally impressive with its huge
black boulders. An arbor had been erected to offer shade and a place
to enjoy the wonderful spread of delicacies offered to us for lunch,
tamales, fresh cerviche, guacamole and cactus fruit ice cream. The
ever present Policio were also there brandishing their huge AK rifles.
This was more for our safety as there have been a rash of kidnappings
of Americans and other foreigners in Mexico. During our stay in
Sinaloa the Policio were present every time we turned around. While
they did a little window shopping and roamed downtown this same
day Susan and her daughter were followed by armed police until they
returned to the hotel.
A Yoreme elder in our group adopted me
as one to educate of our new surroundings. He called out to me to
follow him down the rocky stretch of beach. He immediately began
pointing out rocks, taking a closer look I was amazed to see rock
after rock with petroglyphs etched into their smooth faces. Some
petroglyphs he translated for me as best he could in his limited
English and I in my failing Spanish. We were only half way down
this rocky beach when I ran out of film. I captured what I could
on film the rest will remain in my memories as something wonderful
Just prior to our departure that day,
an elder from the Tohono Odam group offered a blessing and prayer
on the shore of Barra de Piaxtla, it was truly a moving experience
shared by all in attendance especially when a group of four Brown
Pelicans soared above during this event. Among the seashells I collected
I also have the skull of a Jesus fish my mentor gifted me. As he
showed it to me he explained how the people of the region are devout
followers of the Catholic religion. This fish when it dies comes
ashore. The skull of the fish holds in it on one side the picture
of God as they know him and on the reverse side is a crucifix of
Jesus. One can plainly see these phenomenons without trying to envision
it on this skull. The natives consider having and or finding one
of these skulls good luck. My mentor must be an extremely lucky
man, as he found six of these on this day.
It was during the blessing that I was
separated from the rest of our group. While finding my way back
to our ailing bus, (the air conditioning belt broke), I came across
a large patch of sedge grass. Had the soil been more accommodating
I might have been moved to dig some up and check out the roots.
This little bit of information I eagerly shared with my mentor as
I had found something I had knowledge of that I could share with
him. Alas he found something new to share with me, his knowledge
of the plants that surrounded us. When the bus stopped to pick up
the belt to fix the air conditioning, my friend saw that I was not
feeling well from the heat. He exited the bus and came back with
a pod from a wild tamarind tree. He suggested that I suck on a seed
to refresh myself, he also showed me an herb to place on my head
under my hat which would relieve me of the headache from the heat.
I cant put into words how wonderful it is to experience sharing
knowledge and learning about native cultures
in a foreign environment with another native.
That evening after our demonstrations
we asked our driver to take us to his favorite restaurant for dinner.
He brought us to the oldest Asada house in Culiacan. There we shared
a sumptuous meal of carne asada, beans, homemade corn tortillas,
guacamole and salsa fresca. By this time I had become addicted to
Horchata, a cinnamon rice water drink, which is nothing like that
served in the states. We drank it by the pitchers full as it is
more refreshing than any soda, this thoroughly amused Chano. After
dinner Chano wanted to show us his city, this man is very proud
of this city and will go out of his way to share its sites
and history. We drove up a hill that overlooks the city. There on
the top was the Basillica de Guadelupe, a modern Basillica overlooking
a colonial city. It was a beautiful site to see even in the late
The next day was Sunday, our last full
day in this city of friendly people and beautiful sites. We made
our journey to the festival grounds only to find very few visitors
and decided to make an early departure. There were still a few sites
to be seen and items yet to be found. Our first destination was
the hardware marketplace, there you can find everything from trinkets
to tack, galvanized buckets to mochahetes. A Mochahete is the Mexican
equivalent to our mortar and pestle. They are smaller and more mobile
and a great tool in the modern kitchen. After making our purchases
Chano drove us to the chosen local seafood restaurant for lunch.
Ive never gotten so many shrimp on one plate for less than
$10 in my life. Im certainly going to miss the culinary treats
found on this visit.
After lunch Chano said he wanted to share
one place with us that most tourists dont visit. It was the
shrine to the patron saint of drug smugglers and common people of
Sinaloa, Jesus Malverde. Sinaloans make treks to visit this site
and make offerings of all sorts and ask for protection and guidance
for their business dealings. Even though we found a patron saint
for the drug cartel a little amusing this was a very reverenced
site for believers. The profits made at this shrine go to the poor
of Sinaloa as Jesus Malverde was known as the Robinhood of Sinaloa.
He stole from the riches of the drug cartel to give to the poor.
We returned to the festival that evening
to watch the closing ceremonies. We were not scheduled to demonstrate,
but I brought along the games and some items I had brought to sell.
While we sat in our demonstration station, Jennifer and Susan started
playing dice and staves with the people stopping by to watch Tina
work on her miniature basket she was trying to finish. Almost as
soon as the games came out we had a large crowd surrounding our
tables wanting to learn more about the games. Im suspecting
that next year when we return someone is going to have figured out
how to make these same games with the native materials available
in Mexico. They were a big attraction and everyone loves games of
During the festival there were vendors
from most all the participating groups. There were a myriad of items
to purchase, and at bargain prices if compared to similar items
sold in the states. In Mexico people are used to the native people
selling their goods cheaply, they were not open to the prices that
we had on our items for sale. I cant count the times that
I was asked why I didnt drop the prices for sale in Mexico.
Tina and Eva also found themselves trying to hold tight to their
asking price on their baskets. It was interesting watching the reactions
of the people when we wouldnt budge. I imagine it was much
like the tourists buying baskets from the weavers in Yosemite eighty
years ago. They wanted quality art at bargain prices. It shows how
much we have become aware of ourselves, our cultural arts and the
public that wants a piece of it.
Our journey was full of memorable experiences
and people. Which brings me back to my question: How many Basket
weavers and family members can you fit into a 1960 Volkswagon van?
Would you believe we managed five weavers, eight family members,
and the driver Chano. It was an experience that my companions and
I wouldnt mind doing all over again.