What Cancún was like in the ’70s

29 Jan

What Cancún was like in the '70s

In fact this picture was taken in 2010 from an observation tower in Sian Ka’an, a Biosphere of Humanity Preserve south of Tulum. But before its development as a resort, Cancún was no different from what you see here: a long, thin peninsula with white sand ocean beach on one side and a lagoon teeming with marine life and flocks of shorebirds on the other. Coconut palms grow in abundance on this barrier beach; iguanas sun themselves on the rocks and brightly colored crabs slide sideways into their holes in the earth as you approach.


Isaiah’s Inauguration: A Children’s Story from Obama’s First Inauguration

21 Jan

Isaiah’s Inauguration: A Children’s Story from Obama’s First Inauguration.

Isaiah’s Inauguration: A Children’s Story from Obama’s First Inauguration

21 Jan

Isaiah’s Inauguration

by Deborah Frisch

“Look, you can see your breath,” I puffed at my little sister Sarita. She waved one of the small American flags that the scouts had given us through my steamy cloud. It was just getting light, and we were waiting to show the guards our purple tickets so they would let us through a gate to the inauguration. Dad’s friend had gotten the tickets for us, because we really wanted to see Barack Obama become the President of the United States.

“Isaiah, please ask the security man if this is the purple area,” my mama said to me in Spanish.

The security man was as tall as a basketball player and as wide as a football player. A woman was holding up an orange ticket to show him.

When she finished, I asked him my mama’s question, but he didn’t turn toward me.

¡No seas del rancho![1]” my father whispered.  He meant, “Speak up, don’t be shy.”  I asked louder this time, but the huge man still didn’t hear me.

Then Sarita squeaked, “Is this the purple part?” and he turned our way.

“We’re all one color now, darlin,” he grinned down at Sarita.

This was the right place then. From where we stood, the people on the steps of the Capitol Building were no bigger than sprinkles on a cupcake. But we could see the dome very well, with the flags hanging down in front.  As we threaded though the crowd into a little space behind a metal fence, my mother squeezed my arm. “Don’t be shy; just say, ‘Excuse me’,” she told me. As always.

Sarita and I climbed up on the wide base of a lamppost to get a view between people.  We saw a giant TV screen, with kids singing in a choir.

“¿Te levanto? [2] Want me to pick you up?” Dad asked, and he hoisted me onto his shoulders.  There I was, up above everybody—but staring straight into my face was another boy, on his dad’s shoulders.  He gave me a big smile.  I felt so shy I took my dad’s cap off his head and whispered to him, “¡Bájame![3] Put me down!”

Back on the ground I asked, “How long before Obama comes out?” and nobody answered me. “I’m freezing,” I complained.  I stamped my feet and waved my little flag.        “Isaiah, be careful you don’t wave that in somebody’s face,” my dad warned.

The crowd cheered about something on the big screen, but I couldn’t see it. Dad’s belt buckle dug into my ear.

Between my mom’s feet sat Sarita, laughing.  Clap, slap, clap, slap—“he rocks in the treetops all-a day long…” She was playing pattycake with a little kid, probably the brother of the boy who had smiled at me.

From up on his dad’s shoulders, that boy was telling his mom, “Malia and Sasha are coming in now!”

“You want a muffin, Isaiah?” his mom asked him.

My mama’s mouth dropped open.  “He’s your tocayo!”[4] she said.  That means he and I have the same name.

I don’t like to talk to people I don’t know, but I just couldn’t stand it!  “MY NAME IS ISAIAH, TOO!”  I yelled up at him.

“For REAL?” he asked, his eyes open wide.  “I’m the only Isaiah in my school!  We’re probably the only two Isaiahs in this whole crowd!”

“Well, how about a nice sweet potato muffin for you too, Isaiah, and one for your sister down there?  Is that okay with your mama?”  his mom asked me. I looked at my mama.

“Andale, okay, dile ‘gracias’[5],” my mama told me, and his mom handed around these squishy muffins with yellow napkins for all four of us. They were excellent.

You know how sometimes you eat something good, and it makes you more hungry?  Now my parents took the tamales out of their pockets.  The security guards hadn’t let people in with lunch bags, so mom and dad had tamales in sandwich bags in their inside coat pockets.  They handed them to the other family and to us—the tamales were still warm.

“This is DELICIOUS!”  Isaiah’s dad’s voice boomed out after his first bite.  “I never had ‘em homemade before!” Everybody else loved them too.  I felt proud.

By that time Sarita was teaching Isaiah’s brother to play “al citron.”[6]  It’s a game where you sing a song and pass some small thing around—me and Isaiah hunkered down with the little kids and played, passing Obama buttons we got that day.

It was funny to be between so many feet and legs.  My dad was wearing his cowboy boots—my tocayo’s dad had big yellow construction boots.  There were high-heels and sneakers and old lady shoes.

The next time our two dads put us up on their shoulders, I wasn’t shy at all any more.  We gave our moms and dads news of what was on the big screens, and why people were cheering.  We came up with a special way to wave our flags: when people chanted O-BAM-AH, on the AH we bumped our fists together, and the flags flew!

At last the Chief Justice came to swear Obama in.  Michelle was holding the Bible for him.  Isaiah’s mom started to cry.  She was hugging mi tocayo’s dad, but then she turned and hugged mi mama, and she started crying too.

Sarita’s lip trembled. “Why are you crying, mama?” she asked, and mama answered, “Because we’ve all been through so much.”  Mi tocayo’s mom nodded to say “That’s the truth.”  They both had the same look, happy and sad, but more happy.

Isaiah got a pen from his dad, wrote his phone number on the bottom white stripe of his flag, and gave it to me.  I wrote my number on the pole and gave it to him.  Then we both stuck the flagpoles in the backs of our jackets, so the flags were waving over our heads.

I felt so happy with our new president.  And with mi tocayo, my new friend.

[1] Pronunciation:  No SAY-us del RAN-cho

[2] tay le-VAN-to?

[3] BAH-ha-me

[4] to-KAI-yo

[5] AN-da-lay,…, DEE-lay GRA-see-us

[6] al see-TROHN


El Diablo de Cancún

31 Jan

El Diablo de Cancún


“ ‘Babosa,’ was what he always called me,” Diablo’s ex-daughter-in-law confided, tears rolling down her flushed cheeks.   She was weeping for the man who for years had called her “Drooler.”

“And did he have a special name for you?” I asked Babosa’s delicate five-year-old daughter.

“Changa Peluda!” she shouted with joy.  Hairy Monkey!

We were at the Henderson, Nevada memorial gathering for Jose Bernardo de Guadalupe Rivera de Ovando, a.k.a. el Diablo, my first friend in Cancún.  Rich dishes covered two tables and more kept appearing; the friends kept appearing too, early ones arriving at three in the afternoon, others after dark, and some staying past midnight. Framed photos of Diablo were displayed in on a shining tablecloth and on two video screens. The similarities between the young Diablo and the handsome devil in Mexico’s picture bingo game La Lotería jumped out at me.  The curvy mustache and pointy beard.  The slim, wiry body.  The wry expression in the lustrous, dark eyes.  The rogue’s smile.  I had flown in to Las Vegas from San Francisco for this gathering.  I knew that if I didn’t attend, I’d be sorry.

Diablo’s son Belá picked me up at the airport, recognizing me curbside although the last time I had seen him he was only ten.  “Sure I recognized you,” he said, “you look just the same, and Dad had some funny pictures of you, too.”

I bet.  With Diablo there was always a lot of theatrical horsing around, and and pictures of it all.

I admired the vivid tattoos on Belá’s arm, and he opened the buttons on his shirt and pulled it below his shoulders to show me the word “Diablo” in Old English capital letters all across his back.  “Then,” he added, showing me a florid image on his iphone, “I’m going to have this Devil embracing an angel on my other arm.” “Wow,” I said.

Diablo had gone to work in Cancún in 1971 at the age of 23, to live in the barracks of a construction camp in Puerto Juarez and supervise a work crew during the airport’s initial phases.  His parents had both died shortly before in Puebla, and  his sisters were already married and on their own. FONATUR, the organization in charge of the new resort’s infrastructure, provided salary, room and board, perfect for a young man adrift.

As soon as I met him on my first day in Cancún, Diablo started introducing me to hordes of his friends.  Men and women, architects and bricklayers, old and young—they all enjoyed being around El Diablo—who doesn’t like to laugh? 

But during all his 14 years in Cancún, Diablo’s living arrangements never improved all that much over the construction barracks.  In 1984 he started going with Cristina, who was working in Cancún as a time-share saleswoman.  The condo she lived in was warm, pleasant and well-upholstered, and so was she.   Soon he gave up his wandering ways and settled down contentedly with her.

Not long after that they married and moved to Cristina’s hometown of Las Vegas.  At Diablo’s US immigration hearing, the judge turned him down. Cristina starting looking in her purse for a tissue, since she was crying, and the glassine envelope with the sonogram showing a pair of twins fell on the floor.  When the judge found out what it was, he stamped Diablo’s papers “Approved,” and admonished him: “Young man, you’d better get to work!” Belá looks Hungarian like Cristina; the other twin, with Diablo’s large dark eyes and caramel complexion, is Mario.

In Las Vegas Diablo started waxing his flowing mustache Salvador-Dali style.  He worked as a waiter and sommelier, went to dealer’s school, and surprise! he made many friends.

As his hair turned white, he colored all but one thick strand of it dark brown, to give himself a dashing white blaze in front.

I will miss that Diablo.  No one else calls me “Gordinflona,” Puffed-Up Fatty.




Good teaching is good fun

25 Oct

Good teaching is good fun.

Good News from the New York Times

16 Oct

I often pick up the New York Times as if it were ticking. This morning a cover photo with women in bright African prints pouring water and carrying babies started me reading–after a second, I wanted to rejoice: “Senegal Curbs a Bloody Rite, African Style,” the headline read. The photo’s caption said that more than 5,000 villages have abandoned the practice of female genital cutting.

According to the article, a Senegalese group called Toston, or “breakthrough,” has “had a major impact with an education program that seeks to build consensus, African-style, on the dangers of the practice, while being careful not to denounce it as barbaric, as Western activists have been prone to do.”

Members of the group recognized that, to change the practice, it is not sufficient for one village to take a communal pledge to end it; neighboring villages whose children marry with those of the first village must also be educated about dropping this ancient custom.

May this change go viral!

This is my first post on Latinofile, and it’s not a latino issue, but the rights, health and happiness of women is as latino as life itself.

I heard the following from my favorite radio announcer, Alisa Clancy on KCSM FM91.1, quoting her grandmother:

“Life’s short: think of every day as a holiday!”

Upcoming Events:

I’ll be reading a chapter from “A Mango for the Teacher” at the Oakland Public Library, Madison Street between 13th and 14th, at the chapter meeting of the California Writers Club today at 2:00–I hope you can make it!

Hello world!

10 Sep

Welcome to After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

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