Category Archives: Guest Blogger Adventures

Inspirational Women Writers in Mexico–Mary Ellen Sanger

Meet Mary Ellen Sanger, author of Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixoctel State Penitentiary.

Mary Ellen

It’s Mary Ellen – not Mary, ever. Mom hated that name. Long story. I am from Schenectady, New York – though I left when I was just 20. Told my mom I was tired of falling on my ass in the snow. Moved to San Diego (8 years) then Mexico (17 years), New York City (9 years) and now Fort Collins, CO – because I fell in love with a chemist.

I think the smell of the ruins brought me to Mexico. Names like Nezahualcoyotl and Huitzilopochtli. Flower songs. Cacao. Jaguars. I had studied Spanish and Anthropology in college, and it seemed like the logical thing. A three-week visit to the Yucatan tickled me enough to know I needed more. A job in tourism (and a spirit of adventure) allowed me to stay for 17 years.

Our lives change with each chapter – my Mexico chapter opened me up to tectonic shifts – all those plates shifting underneath us. It felt oddly comfortable, the uneven sidewalks, the rumbling earth – made more sense to me than the staid and tidy right angles of home.  Because of Mexico, I can’t live without chile and I cry at stories of solidarity.

My experiences in Mexico introduced me to inequalities I had not before met face to face. The gloss of tourism vs the displacement of the indigenous. The fashionista vs the young girl who tapes her shoes together to get to school. There’s a heady gap to contemplate. I don’t know that mine is actually a change of belief system – but rather an opening that allowed me to see beyond the happy colored veneer of commercialized Mexico, to the reality and severity of Mexico “descalzo” (barefoot). I became activist, observer, explorer. Now, out of Mexico for 13 years, I retain that desire to contemplate what lies beneath… believing that answers are sometimes in the cracks and shadows.

I think it is a challenge to be an obvious Gringa in Mexico – and find a place that is not off-putting. To go beyond the token American, to learn enough about the country/history/food/music/telenovelas/ to meet Mexican friends on a level that demonstrates a real interest in Mexico and Mexicans.

The mom of a Mexican boyfriend from years ago said she would hold me to writing a book and planting a tree. She was present at a tree planting – so the book remained. I finally wrote a book.

I spent 17 years getting to know Mexico – there are many moments that I can easily slip back into. Watching a sea turtle leave her eggs on a beach in Akumal, meeting a wildcat in Cabo San Lucas, listening to a discussion of abuelita’s (grandma’s) best salsa with friends, listening to the songs of displaced families in Chiapas. They are small moments that stay with me, for their ability to pin me to a certain light, sound, smell.

A defining moment – while there is a temptation to say my time in jail that defined the life I live now as an advocate and writer – I think is better defined as the month spent in Chiapas with indigenous families. Observing the “other” side of life in Mexico, the side at once glorified and reviled. Glorified as symbols of the cultural richness of the country that draws tourism, and reviled as obstructions on resource-rich land. The imprint of that time reminds me to look beyond, to observe the tendrils of a vine – what do they hang on to? What throws them off?

Now that I no longer live there, I miss some things about my life in Mexico, but not things I would trade my current life for… I miss the acceptance of imperfection (rutted roads, alright) and the availability of community. I left Mexico under duress, never expected to. A brief stint unjustly incarcerated was enough to drive me back to the States to reconsider my base. I go back to Mexican as often as I can (annually, preferably) though I am happy in a committed relationship with a man who appreciates Mexico.

I, like so many I know, do not have enough free time. In the mid-90s in Cabo San Lucas, I read seed catalogs. Hadn’t seen half the flowers in there, but learned Latin names. Antirrhinum for Snapdragon. Ipomoea for morning glory. I sowed a zillion seeds, and obviously, not all wanted to live in the desert. Gardening provides metaphors for so many things – most of my free time goes to nurturing plants and observing growth. Oh, and petting cats. And the New York Times crossword puzzle with my partner.

I work for an NYC nonprofit – a remote gig, and on the campus of Colorado State University. Jobs that keep me too occupied to write the next book right now.

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I published “Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison” in late 2013 ten years after my release. The book is a love story to Mexico, to women, to solidarity and community. It is a product of living in New York City after the trauma of unjust incarceration and a shift in my life so large I couldn’t find footing. Then I recalled the many women I met who were victims of their own system. And I sat with them for a few years writing the stories I remembered as they shared them with me.

I met the great Elena Poniatowska while working for a Mexican organization in New York. I met her not as writer to writer, but friend to friend. We walked around New York looking for a new watchband for her, buying a suit for her upcoming presentation (Do you like the pink or the red?) and navigating the subway together. She wrote an introduction to the book for which I am forever grateful that ends – “I suppose and believe that I am not wrong in saying that for Mary Ellen, Mexico is a woman who one day, will find herself.”

May we all do the good work to find ourselves.

Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison is an absolutely amazing read.  The author’s love for Mexico, despite it all, shines through.  She gives voice to the voiceless found in the shadows beneath the walls of the women’s penitentiary and once reading it, you will never see the world in the same light again.

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This post was proofread by Grammarly.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Guest Blogger Adventures, Safety and Security

Blogs about Mexico worth reading–Red Shoes are Better than Bacon

Jennifer Rose keeps it real at Red Shoes are Better than Bacon.

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What brought you to Mexico?

A Chevrolet Suburban and Carretera Federal 57. And a couple of Cadillacs from time to time. And sometimes jet planes.

What is the name of your blog? What is the story behind that name?

Red Shoes are Better than Bacon

All of about 15 seconds went into naming this blog. I like bacon just as much as the next person, but what I really love are red shoes, particularly Ferragamo Vara flats in red with a stacked, not covered, heel. The Red Shoes fairy tale, The Red Shoes film, The Red Shoes ballet, the pope’s red shoes, and Dorothy’s ruby slippers are all about granting the wearer the power to do what she really wants to do, even if the pope isn’t a she.

What area of Mexico and topics does your blog primarily focus on?

Red Shoes does not limit herself to any particular area or aspect of Mexico. While there usually is some nexus with Mexico, blog posts may reflect upon the serial comma, Kilgore Trout, or shameless self-promotion.

Why do you blog?

I write for me. If others find my blog entertaining, enlightening or educational, that’s a cherry on the cake. I’m not paid to promote Mexico, expatriate living, or even Pingüinos.

What is your favorite blog post?

My favorite’s usually the one I just published, followed by those with the most visitors.

What has been the most difficult for you to blog about?

None of them, really. I do not blog about heart-rending, gut-wrenching issues. Well, I might if my dog died.

What has been the best experience you’ve had in Mexico?

That’s kind of like asking “What’s been the best experience you’ve had on the planet?”

What has been the worst experience you’ve had in Mexico?

That’s kind of like asking “What’s been the worst experience you’ve had on the planet?”

If you are currently in Mexico, how long do you plan on remaining?

My tenure in Mexico doesn’t have an expiration date. For me, Mexico’s not a hotel where I’ve got a checkout date, or a program I’m expected to graduate from, or even some kind of waystation. It’s not a junior year abroad, and it’s not a retirement haven. It’s where I live, it’s where I am, and it’s where I have my citizenship. And I’ve never lived in any one place as long as I’ve lived right here in Morelia, Michoacan.

What advice do you have for those planning to move or travel to Mexico?

Wait a sec. I’m not turismo, and I’m not the Welcome Wagon. Back before blogs were the rage, I used to get email all the time from strangers wanting to move to Mexico, and I was gullible enough to answer their email. And then those same folks would get their knickers in a twist when I would tire of corresponding with them, when I no longer wanted to be their tour guide, and when I would tell them that if I were truly interested in real estate, I’d be in the real estate business, which I’m not.

Not all Mexico-based bloggers are in the advice and evangelism racket. (We’re not all curmudgeons, either.)

All right, here’s the advice. Do your research, and then don’t believe everything you read. Or hear. Think of a map of Mexico superimposed over a map of Europe, and you’ll see that it extends from Ireland clear over to Bulgaria. That’s a lot of territory. What’s par in Benjamin Hill, Sonora, isn’t par for Tlaxcala.

Don’t give me that crap about “I love the Mexican people.” We’re not all cut from the same mold, we don’t all break into dance at the drop of a hat, we’re not all hard workers, we’re not all honest, and smiling is not the national hobby. No, not any more than all blondes and Swedes are dumb or all Jews are good with money. The Mexican people, just like the people from wherever you’re coming from, are all over the map.

Where do you see your blog going? What are your future blogging plans?

I’d settle for blogging more frequently than I do. Plans? Red Shoes are Better than Bacon will likely remain an eleemosynary institution.

redshoes1

Where can you be found?

Twitter

Facebook

Email

Red Shoes are Better than Bacon

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Filed under Blogging, Blogs about Mexico Worth Reading, Guest Blogger Adventures

Blogs about Mexico Worth Reading–Casita Colibrí

Shannon writes at Casita Colibrí, another long-time favorite of mine.

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What brought you to Mexico?

Even though I grew up in California, my first trip to Mexico was in 2007, when I came to Oaxaca to visit a friend. I immediately fell in love with Oaxaca, returned a couple more times, and considered eventually retiring there. The privately funded library where I’d been the director for almost 13 years lost its funding and closed in spring 2009.Full-time jobs for librarian/archivists in the San Francisco Bay Area were almost non-existent. Faced with the choice of working multiple part-time and substitute jobs to barely keep my head above water, versus renting my house and moving to Oaxaca to live a downsized and simplified life, in a culturally rich, full of life city, I opted for the latter.

What was the inspiration behind the name of your blog?

Casita Colibrí is the name I gave my first apartment in Oaxaca – a little rooftop studio surrounded by Tulipan trees. Their brilliant red-orange flowers are a favorite of the hummingbird — colibrí, en español!

What area of Mexico and topics does your blog primarily focus on?

My blog’s tagline is “gringa musings from a rooftop terrace in Oaxaca” and that pretty much sums up my focus. Most, though not all, of the posts center around the State of Oaxaca – people, food, traditions, celebrations, music, art (especially street art), textiles, my garden, and the weather.

Why do you blog?

Oaxaca is an incredibly inspiring place and so I started blogging to satisfy the need for a creative outlet and really didn’t consider that anyone, other than family and friends in the US, would want to read it. To my surprise, others have discovered my blog, found it interesting, and the readership has expanded beyond any expectations. Because of that, and the wonderful feedback I’ve received from readers all over the world whom I’ve never met and several who subsequently I have met, I’ve come to feel a responsibility to make each post as informative as possible and to attempt to improve my very limited photography skills. However, I still to blog about what interests me and hope readers will continue to come along for the ride.

What is your favorite blog post?

Yikes, I really don’t think I have a favorite. If pressed, it would probably say my “About” page, as that was the beginning and provides a glimpse into how it all began.

What has been the most difficult for you to blog about?

I would say, Mexican politics (national, state, and local) has been the most difficult thing to blog about. Firstly, it is spectacularly complex, nuanced, and confounding. As such, it is incredibly hard to comprehend, especially when looking at it through the eyes of a foreigner. Most importantly, Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution forbids foreigners from participating in Mexican politics. As with many things, that prohibition is open to interpretation. However, I don’t want to tempt fate and risk expulsion. Thus, for both reasons, I try to steer clear, though at times it isn’t easy.

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What has been the best experience you’ve had in Mexico?

I would have to say one of my most favorite experiences was when a male friend and I were getting ready to leave after hours spent photographing the Danza de la Pluma (a day-long Zapotec dance re-telling the story of the Conquest) and I noticed that he had a slightly panic-stricken look on his face. To my question, he replied that he couldn’t find his backpack, which he had left under a big tree which was now surrounded by spectators. All eyes had turned to the unfolding drama, as I walked to the other side of the tree, held up his backpack, rolled my eyes, and said, “¡Como mis hijos!” Everyone cracked up – especially the abuelas. It was such a wonderful reminder of our commonality.

What has been the worst experience you’ve had in Mexico?

My worst experience was being summoned to my 89-year-old neighbor’s apartment one night to find that she had been beaten, stabbed and robbed. Thank goodness, she survived, regained her strength, and maintained her indomitable spirit. However, it was a horrifying experience and caused me to question the safety of our apartment complex and the feeling of refuge I had always felt when in my garden and apartment. Of course, I immediately took measures – installing motion sensor lights outside, closing the sliding door to my balcony at night, being hyper aware of my surroundings — even at home, and not being too dismayed about the concertina wire that now surrounds our complex. Lesson learned? This is something that could happen anywhere and perhaps because Oaxaca is so warm and welcoming, I’d become too complacent – I’d forgotten that this is a city with most of the same problems as cities all over the world.

If you are currently in Mexico, how long do you plan on remaining?

As I tell people, when asked, I’m here until I’m not. I have come to feel more “at home” in Oaxaca than I do when I return to the town in the US where I grew up and lived most of my life.

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What advice do you have for those planning to move or travel to Mexico?

Let go of first world expectations and learn to relax, accept the differences, and live in the present. If you don’t speak Spanish, study it and (most importantly) don’t be afraid to use it (you don’t have to be perfect), treat everyone with respect, don’t assume you know best, and enjoy learning something new every day. Additionally, if you are moving to Mexico, develop a support network of other foreigners and/or locals to help you navigate the challenges.

Where do you see your blog going?

Plans are to let the blog evolve in whatever way Oaxaca inspires. It’s difficult to predict, as this is a place filled serendipity. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned since living here is to be open to finding whatever is to be found.

 

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Filed under Blogging, Blogs about Mexico Worth Reading, Guest Blogger Adventures

Blogs about Mexico Worth Reading–Notes from Paradise

 

Husband and wife team, Lynda Lock and Lawrie Lock, write Notes from Paradise, also known as Notes from Isla Mujeres.  Lynda has also been featured on Surviving Mexico as an Inspirational Woman Writer in Mexico.

One of my favourite views of Isla Mujeres

What was the inspiration for your blog name?

Notes from Paradise, which we recently changed to Notes from Islas Mujeres to reflect the main interest of our readership. The original blog was just random musings sent out in a weekly email to keep our families up to date on our new life in Mexico. We thought then and still do that this is paradise. My husband and I share writing and thinking of topics to write about for our weekly article.

Summer sunset over graveyard

What brought you to Mexico?

We were close to retirement age, looking for a new adventure. We have always loved the Mexican culture.

What area of Mexico and topics does your blog primarily focus on?

Primarily Isla Mujeres, and other areas of Mexico that we have visited such as nearby Valladolid, Merida, Tulum, the pyramids, cenotes, Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Morelia.

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Why do you blog?

We like to entertain people with humorous stories that include a bit of information about Mexico. We write for readers who are interested in Isla Mujeres or Mexico, the culture of Mexico, traveling in Mexico, locals who live and work on Isla Mujeres, interesting personal stories about long-time islanders, island history, and stories about rescue dogs and cats.

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What is your favorite blog post?  

Our recent post on Friday, May 26th, The little castaway Iza who captured the hearts of thousands. It’s a love story about a caring woman and everything she does for the rescue dogs on the island. It’s a feel-good story with a happy ending.

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What has been the most difficult for you to blog about?  

The five young Island men who went fishing in March of 2016 and never returned home. Writing about pain, loss, and heartache is always difficult, doubly so when you know the families of the people we were writing about.

 

What has been the best experience you’ve had in Mexico?

Learning that family is the most important aspect of the Mexican culture.

What has been the worst experience you’ve had in Mexico?

Getting used to carrying cash again! Not a bad experience, just a different experience. For the last ten years that we lived in Canada, we used a debit card for everything thing. Here we had to relearn the concept of cash, and planning ahead to have enough on hand to get through the week. Bank lineups are long, and many of the ATMs in Mexico are compromised by card scammers operated by South American gangs. In this culture, we need lots of small bills and change.

If you are currently in Mexico, how long do you plan on remaining?

We don’t see any change in the foreseeable future.

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What advice do you have for those planning to move or travel to Mexico?

Come with an open mind and an open heart. As one of my expat friends said the first time we met her, “This is not your country. You are a guest.” You are the foreigner. It is your responsibility to fit in with the local customs, not the other way around.

2012 April 6th, #15 Frigate Birds dive bombing for fish bits on northwest side of Isla (2).JPG

Where do you see your blog going?  

Our blog will always be a vehicle to entertain and inform readers. We will continue to chat with more of the old-time islanders, and with their permission write their stories for everyone to enjoy.

Where can you be found?

Notes from Paradise

Facebook Lynda

Facebook Lawrie

Mexico News Daily

Book Bub

Amazon

Instagram

 

 

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