Handcrafts and biodiversity in central Mexico

The Museo de Arte Popular (Folk Art Museum, or MAP) in the historic center of Mexico City is one, if not most, innovative museums of its kind. While it covers the basics of permanent and temporary of classic Mexican handcrafts and folk art, it is also interested in exploring themes which often do not get the attention they deserve.

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Bruished ceramic pot from Tonalá, Jalisco

One of these is a series of three exhibitons related the development of regional handcraft traditions, with an emphasis on the role played by local environments. On April 2, the exhibition El Centro, su materia y su artesanía (The Center, its materials and handcrafts), the second of three exhibitions which began last year (and before this blog) with an exhibition on the biodiversity and handcrafts of the North.

elec_centro_inauThe region that MAP chose for this exhibtion extends nearly perfectly west to east across the center of the country including the states of Colina, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Querétaro, Hidalgo, Mexico City, Morelos, Puebla, Tlaxcala and Veracruz. This area encompasses the former Aztec and Purhepecha Empires, which had well-developed handcrafts and trades before the arrival of the Spanish. It is also where the Spanish first introduced European techniques for known crafts such as pottery and textiles, as well as techniques and materials for the making of completely new products such as those of iron and leather.

DSC_0360From the colonial period to the present, the area also accounts for most of Mexico’s economic activity and cultural development. Add that the region’s biodiversity ranges from semi-desert to rainforest, seashore to high mountain forests. All this and more translates to a daunting task for covering the traditions of the zone. Just some of these are lacquered products from Michoacán, ceramics from Tonalá, Puebla (Talavera) and Metepec, rebozos and other clothing, etc. Natural resources represented include wood, cotton, clay, gourds, animal horn, reeds and other stiff plant fibers, metals, paper, feathers and glass.

The aim of this exhibition is to not only show how the natural world affects cultural development, but also raise awareness about over exploitation of resources, which can even occur in the handcraft world. The exhibition series is parcially sponsored by Pro Natura, a Mexican environmental non-profit organization.

The exhibition extends from 2 April to 3 July 2016.

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Lto R: Walther Boesterly of MAP, artisan Betzabel Romero and Adolfo Alaníz of Pro Natura
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Blurring the line between handcraft and art

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Manuel Reyes at the Feria Maestros de Arte

Oaxaca is one of Mexicos’ powerhouses both in terms of handcrafts AND art. Those who have experience in both worlds easily blend the two, with no apologies.

It is this blending of fine art with traditional ceramics that allows Manuel Reyes of Yanhuitlan, Oaxaca to stand out in a state where amazing handcrafts abound. Believing very firmly (Manuel’s word is”stubbornly”) that Mexican handcrafts must evolve in order to stay relevant, his work is heavily influenced by Mexican modern art as well as pre Hispanic imagery. These influences include the likes of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, but he does not copy their works onto his pieces, but rather creates his own interpretations. He also makes masks, both as a part of his sculptures and has artistic pieces in their own right, paying homage to their role in Mexican popular culture. Like other artists, some of his works are protests, not meant to be beautiful such as one dedicated to the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

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His works have been exhibited as both handcraft and art (sculpture) both in Mexico and the United States, in institutions such as the Museo de Arte Popular and National Museum of Popular Culture in Mexico City and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.

 

The creation of works with non-traditonal themes, techniques and motifs is somewhat controversial, as it does not imitate or seek to imitate the traditional Oaxacan pottery. Reyes’ works range from almost life-sized human figures to utilitarian pieces such as plates and cups, with decorative motifs ranging from primitive designs (generally related to those found on local Oaxacan pottery shards) to sophisticated polychrome in various styles. He uses a gas kiln and fires in at higher temperatures (900-1200F) than traditional pottery. His pieces can just as easily be painted with acrylics and oil paint as well as the more traditional mineral pigments.  Reyes was born into a Oaxaca family which has roots in ceramic production (his father and uncles had a small factory which made dishes), but Manuel himself was born and raised in Mexico City. Following a sculptor uncle, Reyes studied fine arts at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas (today Facultad de Arte y Diseño) in starting in 1990, then moving to Cuernavaca to study under artists suchas Roger Von Guten, Joy Laville, Francisco Lastra and Juan Soriano focusing on seriography, sculpture and painting.

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Reyes’ main influences are pre Hispanic art and the work of sculptor Maribel Portela, who he studied under in Mexico City. However, he considers his work “completely Oaxacan” because after he moved to the state in 2003, he immersed himself in the various ceramic tradition there, especially those of the local Mixtec artisans in the Nochixtlan district. Despite this, his work is generally sold outside of the city of Oaxaca, the state’s main handcrafts market.

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At the home studio in Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan (Copyright 2016 Marc Sitkin )

 

Reyes lives with his wife, Marisela Gomez (who is an artist in her own right) and their children. Both parents involve the children in their creative activities making small clay figures and painting on canvas. He is particularly proud of his daughter Natalia talents in drawing, and her works regularly sell.

 

Video about Reyes (in Spanish)

 

Both Manuel and his wife can be contacted via coloresdeoaxaca@yahoo.com.mx

Featured image is Banda Mixteca by the artist on display at the National Musuem of Folk Cultures in Mexico City

 

Hands and soul of Oaxaca

On 22 March 2016, the National Museum of Popular Culture in Mexico City opened a major exhibit related to various ethnicities of the state of Oaxaca and, of course, its handcrafts.

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Danza de los Diablos (Dance of the Devils) by a troupe from Coyante (Puerto Minicio), Pinotepa Nacional, on the coast of Oaxaca performing at the opening of the event. (credit Alejandro Linares Garcia)

Oaxaca is one of, if not the, most ethnically diverse states in Mexico, with one of the highest indigenous populations. One reason for this is its extremely rugged terrain, which kept many communities practically incomunicado with the rest of Mexico and even today, traveling north/south over its two main mountain ranges is a challenge to anyone who has any tendency to car sickness.

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Members of the Navarro Gomez family of Santo Tomas Jalieza working on backstrap looms (credit Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art)

It is one of Mexico’s richest states culturally, preserving many traditions including economic ones. However, this does mean that the state is one of the poorest. One traditional economic trait that has survived is handcrafts, from those who still make for their local communities, to those who have managed to take traditional works and adapt them to more modern markets, such as Oaxaca’s very important tourism trade.

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Opening of the event with governor (3rd from left) and culture secretary (4th from left) (Credit: Alejandro Linares Garcia)

The exhibition is called Manos y alma de Oaxaca (Hands and soul of Oaxaca), and seeks not only to exhibit all of Oaxaca’s major handcrafts over 570 municipalities, but also a number of agro industries from traditional chocolate and mezcal making, to those who have been experimenting withe new products using traditional resources.

The event is sponsored by entities of both the Oaxaca and federal governments, with the governor of Oaxaca and Mexico’s Secretary of Culture attending the opening. In addition to the typical exhibition and sales of products, there are various events from book presentations, traditional dance, culinary demonstrations and conferences on the state’s landscapes, music and more.

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Adelina Pedro Martinez working on a ceramic heart at the family workshop in San Bartolo Coyotepec (credit Alejandro Linares Garcia)

The website for the museum is http://museoculturaspopulares.gob.mx/  Unfortunately, the schedule events related to to the exhibition, which extends to the end of July, is not online at the time of this writing. Below is a brief list of events and dates through May:

April 14-17 Sale of handcrafts and food products

April 15 1800hrs Book presenttion “Oaxaca de mis amores” by Guadalupe Loaeza

April 28- May 1 Handcraft sale focusing on basketry.

May 18 1800hrs Presentation “Imagining geometry: song and poetry of Oaxaca”

May 28 18-2200hrs Oaxaca Night of Museums

May 25 1800hrs Butaquito, a musical group dedicated to son

May 25 1800hrs Baltazar Velasco y the Chileneros of the Coast

(Featured image courtesy of the National Museum of Popular Culture)

 

Artisan Day in Mexico

Each year on March 19, Mexico celebrates Artisan Day (Día de Artesano), with just about every museum and cultural institution related to handcrafts and folk art having one event or another, often extending over a week or even longer.

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Members of the Ultima Hora collective with a Judas figure unveiled for Artisan Day festivities at the Museo Morelense de Arte Popular

The day is important here both because of artesanía‘s economic and culutral importance. According the the National Fund for the Development of Arts and Crafts (FONART), there are over 10 million people in the country who work at one kind of handcraft or another, mostly in conjunction with other economic activities. The vast majority of these live in rural areas and are indigenous, not ot mention that about 70% are women. However, 600,000 of these people live below Mexico’s poverty line.

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Ceramic jaguar with cubs by Juana Gomez Ramirez of Chiapas

The major handcraft producing areas are in the center and south of the country, especially the states of Oaxaca, Michoacán and Chiapas, with important activities in the State of Mexico, Puebla and Jalisco.

 

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Amate paper piece from Xalitla, Guerrero

In English, there is a dividing line between “art” and “handcrafts,” albeit a blurry one. In some cases the distinction is clear when the piece has a function, such as a chair, no matter how artistically it is decorated. A number of others are far less so, such as the amate paper paintings done by the Nahuas in Guerrero. While they are paintings, the designs are derived from traditional decorations from pottery, and so generally classified as handcraft. However, decorative designs have been changing rapidly such that this link to handcraft is far less clear. For example, artisan Angelica Morales makes pottery much the way that others in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán do, but the designs she paints on them are unique, and she has since begun to paint her images of female figures onto paper and canvas, undoubtedly moving into the realm of art.

 

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Stringed beads at a local fair in Mexico City, likely a “manualidad” (credit: Cristina Zapata Perez)

In Spanish, the distinction is three-fold, arte (art), artesanía and  manualidad. The distinction between artesanía and manualidad is as important as it is difficult to define. Both words would translate roughly to “handcrafts/folk art” in English, but the distinction has more to do with whether the handcrafted item has a link to a community and/or cultural tradition. For some, it is not artesanía, unless the items being made have a generational link, meaning that it has been taught in families for several generations at least. For others, it is sufficient if the artesanía requires a certain level of skill or creativity. The main idea is that “artesanía” has something more to it than just having been made by hand. An obvious example of a manualidad would be something put together from a kit bought at a store. Beyond that, and whole treatises have been written by experts to distingush  between the two.

While just about all of Mexico’s artesanía traditions have their origins in the making of items for local use, today almost all are now made for tourist and foreign markets. Indeed, Mexican handcrafts and folk art nearly disappeared by the mid 20th century, but two developments saved it from oblivion. The promotion of a “new,” “Mexican” identity after the Mexican Revolution by the country’s intellectual and artistic elite, and perhaps more importantly, the development of Mexico’s tourism industry. Artists like Diego Rivera and government officials have promoted handcrafts in-country, but their association with the poor and indigenous still stigmatizes the products among Mexicans who could afford to buy and collect them. Such stigmatization is not an issue among foreigners, who look to bring back something “authentically Mexican” from their visits, which has over the decades spawned a collectors’ market.

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Lacquered box from Olinalá, Guerrero

This market sees products of all kinds shipped abroad, especially to the United States, which has a number of organizations dedicated to the promotion of Mexican handcrafts and folk art. While it has helped to preserve a number of traditions, it has ironically prompted many of them to change in order to produce products that meet the tastes of these new clients, and to adapt new techniques and materials to make more products, often more cheaply. The most commonly exported handcrafts are the lacquered boxes of Olinalá, Guerrero and the silver jewelry of Taxco, Mexico City and Zacatecas. The most common items sold to tourists include Talavera pottery, Barro Negro pottery, silver jewelry and Huichol beadwork.

One other caveat should be mentioned, especially to tourists. Many of the “handcrafts” sold in places like Acapulco, especially for very cheap on the streets, is most likely not authentic. Two examples are Talavera pottery and Chiapas ambar jewelry. Basically, if you are getting it cheap, you are not getting it. If you are serious about collecting the real thing, it is always best to do your homework. Otherwise you are simply buying a souvenir, and there is a good chance it came from China.

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Its pretty and colorful, but has little to do with “real” Mexico.

 

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Graciela Ramirez Lopez with her wax creations at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City
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Abdon Punzo hammering copper in his workshop in Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacán
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Carlos Derramadero working on a cartonería rooster in his workshop in Celaya, Guanajuato
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Martin Ibarra Morales with ceramics at the Feria Maestros de Arte in Chapala, Jalisco

All photos by Alejandro Linares Garcia, unless otherwise indicated)

(Featured image, Mata Ortiz pottery by Olivia Dominguez Renteria.)

Holy Week creativity in Mexico

(Featured image: Good Friday procession in Xochislahuaca, Guerrero)

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Palm frond weaving in process in Fortin de las Flores, Veracruz

Holy Week still plays an important cultural, and indeed economic, role in Mexico. Which it is seems to be mostly determined by whether one is from a urban or rural area, although there are exceptions. For most urban Mexicans, this is a major vacation period as most workers get at least the days leading up to Easter Sunday off, and many get the entire week. Most travelers either head to visit family in other parts of Mexico or head to the beach. This is a bellweather week for tourist areas such as Acapulco and Cancun. Mexico City is particularly quiet as most have head out to other places.

However, in most traditional and rural areas, the week is more about observance than getting out of Dodge, and preparations  include a number of handcrafts. Palm Sunday, like in many parts of the world, sees the sales of palm fronds. While one can by a simple frond, most opt for quite elaborate weavings which vary in size from a few centimeters to a half meter or more in size.

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Passion play with homemade costumes in Chiconcuac, Morelos (Credit AyLiiz)
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Our Lady of Solitude at the Procession of Silence in San Luis Potosi (Credit Italiagalde)
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Maunday Thursday procession in Teotitlan, Oaxaca (Credit Wolfgang Sauber)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through the entire week, there are passion plays and processions, but the most common days for this are Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Some of the areas most famous for these include Iztapalapa (Mexico City), Taxco (Guerrero), San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato), San Luis Potosí, and Tzintzuntzan (Michoacan). Despite their popularity, costumes and props for plays and processions are rarely commercially made, but rather made by the participants themselves or by local artisans. These include helmets and other gear for Roman soldiers, civilian garb from the era, masks (depending on the observance) and the floats and litters often filled with elaborate floral arrangements. They can also include the making of intricate “carpets” from colored sawdust, flowers and other plant matter, which will be destroyed as a procession passes over.

Holy Saturday used to be marked extensively, especially in central Mexico, with the burning of Judas Iscariot in effigy. At one time, thousands of Judas figures would be “burned” in the streets, especially in central Mexico, but the practice has waned since the mid 20th century. The reason for this is that the “burning” is really the explosion of a paper mache (cartonería) figure filled with fireworks, and a 1957 explosion at a warehouse in Mexico City led to bans on the making of fireworks in the city and most uses as well. The ban on use has since been relaxed, but this has not led to a revival to Judas burnings. They still take place, but are much more controlled affairs, generally done by artisan and other community organizations that obtain special permission for the event. One exception to this is the burning of various Judas figures done by the Linares family, of alebrije fame, whose status allows the exception.

(“Burning” of Judas in the main plaza of Toluca – skip to :52 for the good part)

It is important to note that a number of indigenous peoples in Mexico have important observances related to Easter Sunday, which are syncretisms of two world-views. The best-known of these is the Deer Dance of the Yaqui people, which simulates the hunt and death of a deer, so that the people may life. The protagonist not only has handcrafted hand and ankle rattles, he is signified by a headdress which includes a real deer’s head. Masks, costumes and/or body paint play vital roles in the observances of the Cora in Nayarit, the Tarahumara in Chihuahua, the Mayo in Sonora and various others.

(Video with photos related to Cora people’s use of masks and body paint)

Easter Sunday is almost an afterthought in all of this pageantry. It is a quiet day with the main traditions being attending mass and perhaps a family meal. Not to mention the fact that many of the city folks are trying to return home.

Many communities are noted for their Holy Week observances. These include Iztapalapa, Mexico City; Taxco, Guerrero; San Luis Potosi (city), San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Creel, Chihuahua and San Juan Chamula, Chiapas. Holy Week in 2016 falls between 20 and 27 March.

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Children in soldier costumes in San Simon, Texcoco, State of Mexico (Credit:A01333441jarh)

 

University students work to support Mexico’s textile traditions

 

 

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Yautic Quiroz

Back in November, this blog profiled the Feria Maestros de Arte. This article is dedicated to a similar event, focused on Mexico’s textile traditions

The Annual Festival of Textiles (Festival Anual de Textiles) has its origins in classes on backstrap weaving at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)   by founder Yautic Quiroz while he was an architecture student. An exposition of the pieces made by his the students was held, attracting attention and leading to an informal association of people dedicated to this kind of weaving. The group grew to include people from other areas of the country.

The first event was held in 2014, planned and organized by Yautic Quiroz and a number of friends from the university. The idea attracted interested from various people from both Mexico City and various states. Intially the name was Encuentros de Artesanos Textiles, but it was changed to the current version to be more inclusive. It was held for a week alternating in three locations, the main UNAM campus, the Escuela de Artesanisas (School of Handcrafts) and the National Institute of Antropology and History, with not only artisans but academics and activists.

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Sheer rebozo with embroidery in progress from Acatlán, Chilapa de Alvarez, Guerrero

The second edition also lasted a week but was held in Tenancingo, State of Mexico, a town well-known for the weaving of rebozos. With this event, the rebozo was emphasized because its used has severely declined and Quiroz says is “stigmatized” but its reputation has rebounded somewhat in recent years. This time, instead of having an open call for participants, as they did the first years, artisans and others were invited. The main reason for this was that the open system resulted in many resellers at the event, which is not the main focus. Now the organizers make sure that the participants are artisans and are from the areas their goods represent, by going to the communities to make the invitations. Many of these participants have never left their home villages, with the possible exception to sell their wares.

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Huipils from Cochoapa el Grande, Guerrero

This has the advantage fo not only authenticity, but allows for dialogue among the various types of participants. The event has evolved in a similar manner to the much larger Feria Maestros de Arte in Chapala, with not only the invitation of artisans but also the offer of of lodging in volunteers’ homes as well as food. At the moment, the Festival does not offer direct support for transportation costs. They have worked with local communities to get that support for the selected artisans. The goal for future Festivals is to provide transportation as well.

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Rag dolls in traditional huipils, from Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero

The third edition was held in Milpa Alta over three days (11, 12, 13 March 2016) in the extreme south of Mexico City with preliminary events in other locations such as Casa Talavera of the Autonomous University of the City of Mexico. This time the focus was on the textiles of Guerrero, although there were artistans from other regions and presentations not related to the state. The reason for this focus was that Guerrero has major problems with cartel and other violence, and the aim was to remind people that the state has various vibrant cultures. There were about 45 artisans from states such as Chiapas, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Puebla and Veracruz, as well as Guerrero. There were also a few non-textile artisans selling items such as jewelry, books and other items.

The next Festival is slated to be held in Xalapa, Veracruz, which is the focus of the event for similar reasons as the focus on Guerrero. The two sites chosen are the Universidad Veracruzana and the Xalapa Anthropology Museum.

The Festival does not have a website but can be contacted through Facebook

Below are some of the participants in the event.

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Man demonstrating grey wrap garment from Zaongolica, Veracruz
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Woman from Aldama, Chiapas weaving at the event.
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Member of the Maya Chiapas Handcraft Cooperative of San Andrés Larrainzar, Chiapas
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Hilán Cruz from Huauchinango, Puebla

 

 

 

 

 

 

Didn’t learn my lesson with the bulls the first time

Perhaps I was too safe when I went to see the toritos at the Fiesta de Luces y Música in Santiago Zapotitlan, because not only did I go to see the  “Pamplona” event in the Mexican fireworks capital of Tultepec, I was down on the plaza ready to get punished !

The Pamplona (named after the running of the bulls in Spain, of course), is held on March 8th in honor of John of God, the town’s patron saint. It is the oldest and largest part of the National Pyrotechnic Festival, which ends this year on March 13. However, the size of everything, from the crowds, the number of participants to the sheer monumental size of the bulls, drawfs what my husband and I saw in Zapotitlan. There were only about 5 or so of the traditional small bulls that can be supported on a single person’s head, but that didn’t stop the gentleman below from getting the most out of his, chasing people off the plaza bandstand…

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Size does not matter

The rest were giant monsters all…

DSC_0005The day started quietly enough. Participants spent the morning and early afternoon making final preparations on their bulls then getting them up to the  La Piedad Chapel, up a small hill just north of the main square. At 330pm the bulls begin to make rounds of the streets of the town, effectively using up the rest of the daylight hours in this pursuit. Because of the number of bulls, over 100, they split up to cover different neighborhoods. The vast majority of these bulls are on wheels for this purpose, but I did see two or three which were carried on litter-like contraptions. No mean feat given that these 2.5 meter-tall-and-up cartoneria figures on metal frames can weigh 30 kilos or more. The purpose of this is to show off the artistry of the bulls, which gets lost in the night and the exploding fireworks.

In the end however, they are all lined up on the streets northeast of the main plaza to be burned after dark, with the exception of a couple of smaller ones that jumped the gun a bit. The fireworks are arranged on a frame over the bull figure proper, and the number and kind of fireworks will vary, but the bulls are heavily judged by the crowds of mostly young men, who hurl cuss words and other insults to a bull whose fireworks don’t set off well or are otherwise unimpressive.

Like in Zapotitlan, these spectators are not there just to watch the fireworks and the movement of the bulls they are attached to, the main point is to be enveloped by smoke, high-piercing whistles and volleys of rockets going every which way. The more, the better.

Because of the size of the event, I was unable to secure a spot on a adjoining roof to safely photograph and film. I got hit/burned twice bad enough to cause small blisters by the next morning. Injuries at this torito event are common, not only because of the size and number of fireworks involved, but probably in no small part that this event is definitely not dry. (Huge cups of beer, pulque and other beverages were freely drunk all over the town.)

Not to mention the number of bulls. They were led onto plaza mostly one at a time, sometimes two, meaning that hours later, bulls were still be set off to thickening crowds during the night demanding more. I left at 1030 when the party was still going very strong, but not only did I have to get back to Mexico City before the trains stopped ….  I honestly was in sensory overload by that time.

(All photos and video by the author)

Mexico Writers and talking to fictional people

I named this blog “Creative Hands of Mexico” because while I knew most of posts would be dedicated to handcrafts and folk art, I did not want to be completely tied to this topic. There are other ways to be creative. Goodness knows that Mexico and its culture seems to bring out the creative in many people, including us gringos.

On Facebook, there is a group called Mexico Writers, dedicated to supporting writers who are writing in relation to Mexico and/or writers living in Mexico. Usually both. Most of the members are fiction writers, with yours truly being an oddball non-fiction writer.

It is quite amazing how Mexico makes its way into these books. These range from Katie O’Grady’s blog on living in Mexico  to Carmen Amato‘s mystery and crime novels set here, to Penn Wallace‘s travel and aventure stories,  along with the history writing of Michael Hogan.

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author Penn Wallace

The following is an interview of Ted Higuera, a main protagonist in a series of crime novels, written by author Pennington Wallace, who also has a blog at http://www.pennwallace.com/index.html

 

Ted, thank you for participating in this interview. Let me start by asking, for most of Middle America, you have an unusual family. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Hi Penn, it’s great to be here. As a matter of fact, I was a little surprised that you asked me. I can’t think of anything I did to make me interesting enough to interview.

My family is everything to me. I guess that’s pretty typical for a Mexican family. Mama and Papa ran away from home when they were teenagers and came to the United States because Mama’s parents wouldn’t let her marry Papa.

For most of my life, Papa was a cook in a restaurant in East LA and Mama worked as a maid in Beverly Hills. A few years ago, Papa won seven million dollars in the lottery. He bought the restaurant where he worked for twenty-five years and became the patron.

I grew up in a lower income working class family, but my younger brothers and sisters are growing up in this well to do family. It’s quite a difference.

I think it’s fair to say that you caught a big break with the football scholarship to the University of Washington. Can you tell us about that?

Man! That was the turning point in my life. There was no way I could afford to go to college. If not for that scholarship, I’d probably have ended up cooking in a Mexican restaurant somewhere.

I was pretty good at football in high school. Who am I kidding? I was awesome. I set a single season record for rushing yards and touchdowns, but none of the major colleges would take a look at me because of my size.

I never considered myself small, but the college coaches wanted two hundred twenty pound running backs.

When this other tonto decided to go to another school at the last minute, the U Dub had an extra scholarship. The running back coach gave it to me, but the head coach never believed in me.

I had a couple of great games, but maybe that’s a story to tell at another time. Let me just say that getting the scholarship brought me to Seattle where I met Chris Hardwick. That changed my life.

What about earlier, as a young man, before college?

Man, I was hot shit in high school. Big football star. I was always athletic. I was always one of the first ones chosen for teams in grade school. And who wouldn’t love my magnetic personality?

You once told me about the racial prejudice you faced as a child. How did that figure in?

Okay, life wasn’t always a bed of roses, especially in grade school. There wasn’t a day that went by that someone didn’t call me a wet back or a beaner or a taco bender. The big white kids always picked on the younger Mexican kids. You just kinda learned how to get by.

But all of that went away by the time I was in high school. There was a lot of emphasis on diversity at that level. The black kids always hung together and the Mexicans hung out and the Asians stuck together and the whites kinda stayed to themselves, but in the classroom or on the football field, we all just kinda got along.

Since I moved to Seattle, I’ve seen almost no discrimination. Except for the time a gang of skin heads jumped me, I’ve never seen any racial bias in Seattle.

In your books, you’re always referring to Spiderman. I presume he is one of your heroes. Can you talk about him a little?

Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can. Yeah, I was a big Spiderman fan as a kid. I’d wait at the local drug store on the first of the month for them to restock the new comic books. I didn’t want to take a chance on missing an issue.

Why Spiderman? I guess it was because of the dichotomy between Peter Parker and Spiderman. Hey, that’s a pretty good word, “dichotomy,” ain’t it? I guess those four years at the U were worth something.

Anyway, one the one hand, you had Peter Parker, this clumsy, skinny, science nerd. He couldn’t make any time with the girls. All the popular kids made fun of him.

Then you had Spiderman. A powerful superhero who could go up against the Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus. And they were the same guy.

I felt just like that. I was Peter Parker in my everyday life, but I knew I had Spiderman inside me somewhere.

Your little sister, Hope, turned out to be a real kick-ass broad in The Mexican Connection. Did you think she had it in her?

Dude, did she surprise me. I always knew she was bad growing up. She never took nothing off of nobody. I used to let her think she won when we got into a fight, to make

her, you know, feel good about herself, but she never got into fights at school or anything.

I got to tell you, when she started throwing those knives, I almost dropped dead. And when she pulled out that little automatic of hers? Well, she saved my life. She’s quite a girl.

What other jobs have you had in your life? 

 I had a bunch of jobs growing up. I had a paper route, I helped Papa in the restaurant where he worked. Every Saturday morning, he got me up early and dragged me down there with him. I scrubbed the grills and cleaned the deep fryers and swept and mopped the floors.

I worked with my uncle Ernesto in his auto shop too. I love mechanics. Figuring out what’s wrong, then finding a way to fix it. I don’t think I could have been an auto mechanic though, I hated always having dirty finger nails.

How do you work through self-doubts and fear? 

 Huh? What’s self-doubts and fear? I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of anything in my life. When I’m in a tight situation, everything seems to slow down. I have lots of time to think and figure out what I’m going to do next.

I never thought much about it, but now that you mention it, I guess that’s what’s kept me alive a couple of times. I was able to stop and figure out a solution faster than the other guy.

What makes you happiest? 

 My family. It killed me when Papa died. Mama went into this depression that we haven’t been able to get her out of yet. But I love my family, my Mama, my sisters and brothers. I guess I have to add Chris to that list now. I’d do anything for him.

And maybe Maria. Yeah, being with Maria.

Can you tell us about how you met Catrina Flaherty and what it’s like working with her?

I mentioned earlier that I had been jumped by a gang of skin heads. I think there were six or eight of them, I don’t remember it too clearly. I got hit on the head a lot.

I remember being down on the ground, and those babosos were kicking me with their steel-toed boots. Then I saw this angel.

Cat, with her blonde hair and blue eyes suddenly appeared and kicked the shit out of a couple of those guys. She had Jeff with her and he held his own too. They held off the gang until the cops arrived and the rest, as they say, is history.

Working with her? Wow! That’s a whole other question. She is undoubtedly the most complicated person I’ve ever met.

She’ll spend hours in the gym, working out with a punching bag, sparing with guys twice her size. Then she’ll drive over to Children’s Hospital and take the kids a bunch of Teddy bears. She’s scary smart, not on the genius level like Chris, but street smarts. You can’t put anything past her.

She’s a knock out looker, but doesn’t seem that interested in men. She has a kinda on-again, off-again boy friend, but I never see her dating or taking a second look at a good looking guy. It’s like that part of her brain has just switched off.

I don’t know what happened to her, but I’ve heard rumors that her ex-husband really did a number on her.

With your skills, I know that you could make a lot more money working for Corporate America. What motivates you to work with Catrina? 

 You know that Chris and I were almost killed in that terrorist attack against a cruise ship up on Canada’s Inside Passage, right? Well, we made a pact after that.

We realized that we were given a second chance at life and that we had to make it worthwhile. We lost a couple of good friends in that little fiasco and we feel that we have to make it right for them.

I swore that I would spend my life watching out for and taking care of people who couldn’t take care of themselves. I know that Chris feels the same way.

You’ve lost a couple of people that you were very close to, can you tell us about that?

Do I have to? I really don’t like talking about that kind of stuff? Okay, first there was Meagan. She was Chris’s girlfriend. I never liked her, she was like this, what to they call them . . . oh yeah, gold digger.

I knew that she was only interested in Chris’s money. Then he invited her to spend the summer sailing with us his dad’s boat, the Defiant. I coulda died. As a matter of fact, Chris and I had one of our only fights over that, but she ended up going with us.

Then she turns out to be this all right chick. I mean, she got with the program and really pitched in. She knew a lot more about boats and sailing that I did.

It was kinda complicated. I thought I was falling for her, but I couldn’t, you know? I mean, she was my best friend’s girl.

Then we got in the fight with the terrorists. I guess I shouldn’t say anymore about that. I mean, what if someone hasn’t read your book yet?

Then there was Papa. He was the best man I ever knew. He was smart, but he was also wise. He was my conscious. I’ve never looked up to anyone like I did my father.

Jeff was good people. He was this gay guy who quit the Seattle Police Department  because of discrimination. Cat picked him up and he was her partner. Then he bought it in Mexico.

It isn’t fair. None of them deserved to die, but they all died trying to help other people. They put the welfare of others before their own. How could I do any less?

You seem to have an interesting relationship with your cat, Oscar. Can you tell us about him?

Oscar is the Man! He was Meagan’s cat and I gotta tell you, I don’t really like cats. I was pretty pissed off when she brought him along on the cruise. But, when Oscar survived the terrorist attack, I had to take him in. I couldn’t let him go to some family that didn’t really know him.

Now, he runs my apartment. I pay the rent, but he really owns the place.

I know it sounds crazy, I don’t want to really say it myself. Do you think I can get committed to the looney bin for something I say in an interview?

Okay, here it is. I think something magical happened down in Mexico. It’s nuts, but I would swear that Oscar was down there, that he saved Chris and me a couple of times.

Is that too weird?

I’m preparing a new book about your adventures trying to locate Dick Randall.  What’s that story about? 

Randall is this dude that owns a bunch of coffee shacks along the highway up in the Seattle area. The thing is, though, that all of his employees are pretty girls and they all work in their underwear or bikinis. He started the bikini barista fad in Seattle.

Well, anyway, he disappears. His truck was found burned out in the middle of the California desert. No one knew what happened to him.

His wife, wife number four and six, hired Cat to find him. It led us on quite an adventure.

If you could do any job in the world what would you do?

That’s a no brainer. I would be the tail back for the Seahawks and we’d be back in the Superbowl again. And no last minute interceptions this time. I’d run that pill in for the winning score.

What are you most passionate about? What gets you fired up? 

I don’t want to get into politics, but I get mad as hell at how divided our country is. After 911, we were the most together we had been since Pearl Harbor. Now we’re the most divided we’ve been since the Civil War.

We need to find the common ground and keep this country moving forward. This is the greatest country in the world. I think I have that perspective since my parents came from another country, but man, we got it good here. Let’s not mess it up.

What makes you angry? 

Bullies. In the school yard, in the corporate world, in international politics. I hate it when someone throws their weight around just because the can.

How important are friends in your life? 

They mean everything to me. They are family, man. Chris, Cat, Abiba, Maria. I’d do anything for them. And I know they’d put their lives on the line for me. We got each other’s backs.

What is your favorite food? 

That’s easy. Mama’s chile verde. She makes it a little different from everybody else. She doesn’t use tomatillos, she uses red tomatoes instead. It’s the best thing in the world.

What do you hope your obituary will say about you? 

 That’s a pretty weird question. I’m not thirty yet and you’re asking me about my obituary?

Well, I guess it would say that he helped a lot of people. That he made a difference. That he always stood up for the little guy.

But I got a lot of miles to go yet, this story isn’t written yet.

Ted, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers. I know that they’ll enjoy seeing what makes you tick. We’ll see you in the funny papers, man.