Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On a mission in Mexico, Part 1

I'm in San Miguel de Allende today, on a mission to support a fundraising event for a man I admire greatly. I'm here with Jane, my dear friend and former art teacher who first introduced me to Mexico in 1994, and my film maker friends from Veremos Productions, John Speyer and Consuelo Alba-Speyer. I plan to share the day-to-day excitement of this visit, but first, some background...

Many of you have met my hero in Chiapas, Sergio Castro. The excuse to meet Sergio is his private museum, filled with an extraordinary collection of trajes (costumes or outfits) from many Maya villages of Chiapas. The reason to meet Sergio is to know that hope, love, and compassion are alive and well and sporting a cowboy hat and boots.
LinkSergio Castro Martinez, photo by Veremos Productions

I met Sergio in about '98, on my first visit to Chiapas. My pal Jane, a voracious reader of guide books, found mention of him in a piece about San Cristóbal, where we were headed. Intrigued with the idea of seeing so much indigenous art under one roof, we called the number listed. And called again. And again. It seemed that Sergio Castro was never at home; he was clearly a very busy man. On day three we were told he would be in town at 7pm that night and we could meet him then to see the collection.

We knocked on the green door on Guadalupe Victoria promptly at 7pm and were greeted by Sergio himself. Ushered into the room of trajes and a group of 12 other tourists, he explained to us in English that he would be giving the tour that evening in French. (We later learned that he also speaks Italian, English, his native Spanish, and several of the many Mayan languages of Chiapas.)

The outfits were remarkable; colorful, intricate, varied, hand crafted, all extraordinarily well made. He walked us through the exhibit, explaining the significance of the colors, the patterns, the accessories (an armadillo purse, a black stick, a beribboned straw hat). It was fascinating and enlightening, an anthropological look at the people of Chiapas through their clothing that would have taken us a lifetime to learn on our own. Sergio was passionate, knowledgeable, and a brilliant communicator. As it turns out, we had only just begun to know this remarkable man.

After viewing the trajes Sergio led us into a makeshift theater in a back room, offered us a box of store-bought cookies, asked someone to turn off the lights, and flipped the switch on the projector. The film flickered to life. Only then did we learn of his work, his passion, his mission: providing the poor of Chiapas with health care, clean water, and schools. For free. Funded with pesos from his own pocket and those he could crib together from donations made by tourists like us who came to see the trajes. We were blown away. We wiped the tears from our eyes, waited for the goosebumps to abate, and happily stuffed the donation box with our pesos. We were card carrying members of Team Sergio from that moment on.

When I started My Mexico Tours in 2003 my mission was to share my Mexico - the art, food, places, and people I had come to know and love - with others. Sergio, and his collection and his work, were high on the list of things to share. The Chiapas tour groups have enjoyed seeing the textiles and learning about the various indigenous groups in Chiapas and they adore meeting my charismatic, humble, maverick friend Sergio. Then they see his film and learn about his work. There's not a dry eye in the room as the lights come back on, and without exception they all turn to me and say "How can we help?" I point to the donation box and they generously join Team Sergio. Some have helped with the actual day-to-day work of visiting the rural villages, carrying Sergio's bags, assisting as we dresses wounds, or maybe just holding a patient's hand. Others have sent medical supplies. Many continue to fund his work with financial contributions to his foundation, Yok Chij.

John Speyer and Consuelo Alba, two travelers who visited Chiapas with me in 2009, have taken the message of Don Sergio's good work and made a movie. A really good movie. A movie that captures the soul of this remarkable man and puts it out there for all to see, allowing more and more people everywhere to know about and contribute to Don Sergio's work.

El Andalón, by Veremos Productions, will be shown tonight here in San Miguel and that's what brings Team Sergio together with a mission in Mexico. I am honored and thrilled to be here to help this purest of causes. Details to follow...

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a wonderful man.... You and I have the same passion for Mexico and its peoples.... I too write love photography and am travelling to San Cristobal with 7 women starting Saturday for 13 days. We live in Mazatlan.... Mexico has so many people I am honored to know and I would love to meet this man....


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