Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Many Faces of Mexico, by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, The Freeman, June 2, 2013

The Many Faces of Mexico, by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
Published in The Freeman and Philstar.com, June 2, 2013


The one thing to keep in mind if you visit Mexico is that the country is very large, with varied geography and with many different climate zones. Visiting the coast, for instance, can be a very different experience from going to the high mountains. One cannot generalize about what Mexico and Mexicans look like because the people and culture have a lot of ethnic intermingling.

Because it was a Spanish colony from 1519-1821, the Spanish influence is apparent. This is one of the aspects of Mexico that I find familiar, perhaps given the fact that the Philippines was a colony of Spain from 1521-1898. To a large extent, the Spaniards homogenized their colonies so that colonial towns in Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, among others, and far-flung Philippines share similarities in architecture, culture, food, and religion. Huge stone Baroque churches can be found in colonial places. People have Spanish family names. In many of these colonial towns, the siesta custom is still in place. And people share an exuberant love for life expressed in fiestas and processions, promenading in the park, and family gatherings.

Perhaps it is the feeling that I know Mexico that draws me to her, and through the years, I’ve visited various cities and towns in Mexico. All of these places have offered a common denominator, that is the Spanish influence, but there have always been differences, so one can never say that Puerto Vallarta is like San Miguel de Allende.

My husband and I have visited sea resorts along the Baja coast: Ensenada, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, among others; and they are good vacation places that provide sun, sea, food, and fun. People can fish, surf, snorkel, scuba dive, or just sit on the beach to relax. They are popular tourist places, which have four-or-five-star hotels and excellent restaurants. Shopping is great in these places. One can buy Mexican dresses and blouses, sandals, silver jewelry, and many other handicrafts. They sell beautiful stained glass, tile work, statues, clay and ceramic planters and fountains, all of which are unfortunately heavy, although one can always have them shipped.

A coastal city I paid close attention to was Acapulco because of the connection with the Philippines. The Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade went on from 1565 to 1815, and given there were over three hundred years of contact between the two places, I hoped to find evidence of the connection in Acapulco. To my disappointment, the museum in Acapulco hardly mentioned the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. There were a few Chinese jars to depict this time period in that museum, but nothing extensive. I got the impression that overall Filipinos pay more attention to the connection between Mexico and the Philippines, than Mexicans do. The Philippines seems to be a footnote in their history; and only the educated remember the shared heritage between the two countries.

Mexico is very good at preserving her UNESCO designated World Heritage cities, which include Campeche, Guanajuato, Mexico City, and Morelia, cities which have excellent examples of Baroque architecture. These Heritage Sites along with the sea resorts draw over 22 million tourists to Mexico annually.

Mexico City, a Heritage Site, surprised me. Before visiting it, I’d only seen the coastal towns, so the huge city of 21.1 million impressed me. The ambiance is quite different from the sea resorts. Mexico City is very cosmopolitan and very European in feeling, with tall elegant buildings and wide avenues. Here, I had the chance to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the site where, in 1531 Mary had appeared to a peasant Juan Diego, asking that a church be built on that site.

If you are in Mexico City, then you must visit nearby Teotihuacan, an ancient sacred site with ruins, the most famous of which are the Pyramids of the Sun and of the Moon. Archeologists continue their diggings in this archeological site, which is said to have been built between100 BC-250 AD.

On another occasion, we visited Guadalajara, another large city, said to be the cultural center of Mexico. In this city, mariachi music thrives, and the city hosts many international cultural events. Because Guadalajara is huge and sprawling, we confined ourselves to the historic downtown section, with many parks and squares, and with a grand Metropolitan Cathedral.

My favorite places in Mexico are the smaller colonial cities and towns, such as Taxco, Cuernavaca, Guanajuato, and San Miguel de Allende. These places have a quieter pace than the cities and they have preserved their old colonial style, so that sometimes you feel you have traveled back in time. In fact, in Taxco, even new buildings must be built to look like the old structures. It’s refreshing to walk through cobblestoned winding streets to plazas with Baroque churches and colorful markets nearby, and surrounded all around with stucco houses topped by red-tiled roofs.

It’s also inspiring to see that these preserved colonial towns draw a lot of tourists, a lesson that the Philippines can learn from—and that is, to preserve our own colonial towns.

Top - Fiesta
Next - door 
Next - Monument in Guanajuato
Next - Church door
Next - Teatro Juarez, Guanajuato
Next - Guanajuato
Next - Basilica, San Miguel de Allende

Read also
The Many Faces of Mexico
Gigantes at Wedding in San Miguel de Allende 
Pictures of San Miguel de Allende & Guanajuato 
House San Miguel de Allende
Visiting Colonial Mexico

tags: travel, Mexico, Philippines, Cecilia Brainard, San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, Acapulco, Taxco, history, Spanish Colonial

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