A guest blog post by Rossana Miranda Johnston, Tatyana Fertelmeyster and Carrie Cameron
During our recent Cultural Detective Tenth Anniversary meetings and celebrations in Mazatlán, Mexico, some of those attending used a free hour in the program to walk out into the community to conduct short ethnographic studies—to practice their detective skills. Below is a summary of what interested one group. Click here for a link to the instructions for this activity; you are most welcome to adapt them for your own purposes!
Just think how frequently we travel to very different places for work, and how often we don’t take the time to interact with the local people in ways that help us get to know them as people. The same can be said for the beautiful places we travel as tourists. Let’s make a point of practicing our Cultural Detective skills wherever we are, building cross-cultural respect, understanding, and friendship!
— With no specific destination in mind, our group wandered down the street and away from the hotel. Trying to avoid the “tourist traps,” we were delighted to visit a local Mexican crafts store, thanks to the discerning eyes of the Mexican member of our group.
The store featured many types of handmade crafts, most of them displayed by the artist who was on-site working on his/her wares while waiting for a sale. Among the several craftspeople working, we found the artist in the photo, Pedro Ramirez—in a corner of the shop working on a new creation. We watched him as he worked and struck up a conversation.
He told us, “Each piece takes several hours to a few days to be made. It depends on how complex or elaborate they are; each piece is unique.” Over the years, Pedro told us, he had tried making different items, but they didn’t always sell. Now he only makes crosses because they are popular and generally sell any time of the year. Perhaps this reflects the Mexican reverence for the Roman Catholic Church? Many tourists are probably Christian, and crosses are an easily transportable souvenir or gift item.
Pedro has been experimenting with different materials and hardware for the crosses, from old doors to windows and tables. Using mainly recycled materials has a few advantages. For one, raw materials are free—it does, however, take creativity and imagination to see what can be done with what others see as scrap or trash. In addition, using recycled materials appeals to tourists who appreciate seeing materials being reused in the form of art. For some, we surmise, this adds to the attraction and appeal of his crosses.
Pedro was warm, cordial and circular in his verbal description, demonstrating a common tendency in conversation in Mexico—Cantinflísmo (Affable circular communication) as he chatted with us. Our small group did have the advantage of a native Spanish speaker and another member who is fairly fluent. This allowed us to communicate easily and help put Pedro at ease. Once he understood our purpose, he talked more freely with us. He is proud of his work, dignified in his self-presentation, and seemed to exude a sense of Sentirse agusto (feeling good about someone or something). It seemed he was comfortable sharing information because he understood we respected his work and were genuinely interested. Our interaction with him was very pleasant, reflecting a low key effort to Caer bién—to be liked or to like others, being or finding someone pleasant—and it is an integral part of Sentirse agusto.
Meeting and talking with Pedro offered us a small glimpse into the life of an artist dependent on the tourist trade. He offered a good example of the creativity we saw in crafts and art in Mazatlan. Mr. Ramirez’ art and livelihood intertwines two salient Mexican cultural themes impacting personal economics: applying innovation/creativity to traditional religious symbols in order to create vibrant new decorative art pieces. We only wish we had more time to explore and enjoy the visual feast of goods in vibrant colors and rich textures we saw in the shops and among street vendors. Hasta la próxima, or “until next time!”