As a child in southern California, I loved the architecture of the missions, the Mexican music, and the trips with classmates to Olvera Street, a mock Mexican town in Los Angeles. Later, in Colorado I became aware of the indigenous side of the story. These Spanish and their missions didn’t just arrive into empty land, but into a rich indigenous culture. The ways that the natives lived, their homes, families, music, art, what they ate, how they entertained themselves, and especially their spirituality began to become more and more interesting. Many of my friends, both when I was a child and young adult, were of Spanish or Mexican heritage and I was further attracted by the stories of my parents’ trips to Mexico, where my mother explored the area while my father painted.
Although there was ample opportunity for exposure to Spanish/Mexican architecture and culture for me in California and Colorado, firsthand knowledge of the indigenous peoples was slight. As an adult living and working with various Coast Salish Native peoples in the Pacific Northwest and Inupiat and Yup’ik (Eskimos) in Alaska, it was my chance to learn from actual participation rather than just from books. I never lost my love, however, for the Spanish architecture and for the Mexican people. And I did learn. In the 60s, while living in Kotzebue, an Inupiat village in Arctic Alaska, I had even proposed to build a Spanish or Moorish design house with an interior courtyard, rather than a typical Eskimo house that was open to the beach, to facilitate use of the resources of the sea. I was nearly laughed out of the village, since my Mexican house would surely fill up with drifted snow. The idea of an enclosed house was anathema to the Inupiat, whose dwellings are open to all who wish to enter and to whom the ownership of the land is as foreign as a walled garden.
In 1984, as my husband, Rod, and I made the transition from commercial salmon trolling and fish camps to our more traditional careers, we found ourselves with a winter free before our new life began. We packed up our three kids and spent the winter in Zihuatanejo and San Miguel de Allende. I knew that I must find a way to stay in Mexico.
In 2003 we found ourselves once again without obligation and with an opportunity to come to Mexico for a while. Jeannie Carpenter, Diane’s daughter, suggested we come down to Alamos and stay in Diane’s house. Although still in Alaska herself, Diane graciously agreed and gave us a long list of people to meet and things to do. We were in that beautiful house for about four months and spent each summer afterward renting various places in Alamos. One of those summers we found a little three-room Mexican house in El Perico with a large lot and five mature fruit trees. Perfect!
When Rod and I retired from school administration and youth wellness program administration in Alaska, we began to remodel the house and only had to go back to work in the States once to get doors and windows on it. Teaching on the Jicarilla Apache Nation in New Mexico for two years was an adventure more than a job for me.
All of these things brought me here but on a “long and winding road” that passed through tipis and tents, babies and teenagers, gurus, shamans, fishing boats, and even silk-shirt-and-high-heel jobs. The road always pointed me toward Alamos. There was a way all along to earn money in Alaska and live in Mexico; it’s called retirement and it took us many more years to reach that goal. Now that we’re back in Alamos, I have been able to continue learning about indigenous cultures of this wonderful country, thanks to my dear friend, Elena Chavarría.