The Town Crier: States of Mexico (part 2)

Both sets of my grandparents “immigrated” here to Dalton from other places.

They weren’t quite so far away; my dad’s parents from Murray County and my mom’s parents from McMinn County, Tennessee. But we still had family there and so traveled to see them from time to time.

With many families here having roots in Mexico, they also travel back to their home states to visit family. The Town Crier is taking a look at some of the states in Mexico where many of the now Daltonians hail from. There are 31 states in Mexico and a District Federale (or DF) around the capital Mexico City, similar to our Washington, D.C.

An eagle on a cactus with a snake in its mouth

One of my kids' best friend’s family is from Mexico City and they go there once or twice a year to visit family.

Mexico City is the second city to be on that site. The first was the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The legend is that the site for the city was chosen when the Aztecs saw an eagle on a cactus with a snake in its mouth, a prophetic symbol from their mythology.

The city started on an island in a lake and grew from there. By the time the Spanish came in 1519 there were perhaps 200,000 citizens, with the city being the religious, political and economic center of the Aztec Empire that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. There were huge buildings and a series of canals used for transportation, much like Venice in Italy.

The Spaniards built the new colonial capital of Mexico City over the Aztec capital in an effort to show they had taken over. Mexico City became the republic’s capital city when Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 and continues to be the nation’s number one city.

In the 1940s Mexico City was the world’s most populous city for many years, and the metropolitan area population is at around 20 million today.

With any great city there are world-ranked restaurants, famous artists and beautiful, historically important buildings. In 1968 the city hosted the Olympics, a real challenge for the athletes as Mexico City is about a mile above sea level with the thin air of our Rockies.

In 1985 there was a huge 8.1 earthquake that killed perhaps 10,000 people. And, as new construction continues in the city, there are frequently Aztec-era ruins found in the digging. Mexico City is an internationally important city with businesses and banks from all over the world taking part in the economy.

A mummy museum

The next state we’ll visit is home to several people I know in town. Guanajuato is in Central Mexico about four hours northwest of Mexico City. I knew about Guanajuato before I ever met anyone from there. The capital city is also named Guanajuato (like New York, New York) so if you meet someone from there ask if they are from the capital or another city.

Guanajuato’s fame for me came from the macabre fact that there is a mummy museum in the city of Guanajuato. In 1833 there was a cholera outbreak and many citizens lost their lives to the sickness.

The way the cemetery worked back then was the family paid an ongoing tax for the burial plots. If you didn’t make the payment they dug up the bodies and buried them elsewhere. But in the 1860s when they started to remove one of the bodies, it was discovered that the body was naturally mummified due to the climate and soil conditions of the area.

About 100 of these mummies have been retrieved and put in a museum, and tourists pay to visit and learn (and maybe be chilled and thrilled). I came across them in a short story by Ray Bradbury years ago, and there have been more than one film made about them, including the famous “Santo vs. the Mummies of Guanajuato,” featuring Mexican wrestling legend Santo fighting the reanimated mummies in the city.

Guanajuato is mountainous with some plateaus and river valleys. There are also lakes, and the climate is semi-arid, especially in the north where it borders the drier areas in Mexico’s north.

It averages about 6,000 feet above sea level, so although it’s pretty far south the altitude lets it get to freezing in winter. There is a rainy season in the summer. Overall the climate is very nice.

The Spanish made it a mining center but that has become less important in recent times. The mining industry for all those years did clear the state of much of its native forests. The height of the mining for gold and silver, primarily around the city of Guanajuato, was in the 1700s and so the city has many old and beautiful buildings. There are also pre-Columbian native structures throughout the state, including massive stone structures.

Initially the natives fought the Spaniards and so kept their independence. To work the mines, the Spaniards brought in African slaves and Indians captured in other parts of Mexico.

In 1810 the War for Mexican Independence from Spain started in Guanajuato when a rebellion rose up, fought its first battle in the state, and then spread across the country.

Guanajuato immigration isn’t a one-way street from there to here. In the city of San Miguel de Allende there is a huge population of Americans and Canadians that have made the city their home due to the climate, cost of living and quality of life. With thousands of Americans there, the U.S. has even set up a consulate office to help with the business affairs of the expatriates. And there are large Japanese and Korean communities as well.

Guanajuato is an important agricultural center for Mexico, earning the nickname “the granary of Mexico.” One of the most famous products is a dolce de leche (caramel) treat from there made with sugar and goat’s milk. It can be eaten straight as a candy or used in numerous recipes.

Industry in Guanajuato includes a giant automotive presence. Up to a million cars(!) were manufactured there in 2019 as well as auto parts, and that seems to be growing. General Motors, Toyota, Honda and Mazda all have a presence there. And we also need to note that world famous artist Diego Rivera (married to world famous painter Frida Kahlo) was born there.

'Jalisco is Mexico!'

The next state on our tour is Jalisco whose capital is Guadalajara. It’s to the west of Guanajuato and has a coast on the Pacific Ocean.

Guadalajara is the second largest metropolitan area in Mexico. On the coast is Puerto Vallarta, a renowned oceanfront community with beaches, cruise ships, scuba diving, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs.

Lots of the things we think of as “Mexican” come from Jalisco and so its motto is “Jalisco is Mexico!” Among the things from there are tequila, mariachi bands, Mexican ribbon dresses, local rodeo, the sombrero and the Mexican Hat Dance. Economically it’s the third most important state in Mexico. A nickname for the people from the state is “tapatio.”

Because the state starts at the Pacific Coast and stretches inland, the climate varies from tropical to semi-arid to mountainous with conifer forests. Temperatures and flora and fauna are also varied across the state. Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara, is the biggest freshwater lake in Mexico, accounting for about half the country’s lake water.

The history of the state goes waaaay back. People first came to the area 15,000 years ago. There are stone tools and cave paintings dating back to that time.

Agriculture came along about 7,000 years ago, and after that, settlements started being built. The capital city of Guadalajara was initially started in 1532 by the Spanish but the locals kept attacking it and winning and so the city was moved four times before it survived on its current site.

A major reason the Spanish were pushing west was to establish a presence on the Pacific Coast for shipping and trading with Asia. The locals had it bad for a while under Conquistador Guzman, the first Spanish governor, who was horrible to the locals. How horrible? The Spanish put him in prison he was so bad.

Native Jaliscos are real rebels, with numerous uprisings and revolutions both against the Spanish and the Mexican governments, all the way from the 1500s through the 20th century.

Jalisco is another state where immigration goes both ways. There are up to 30,000 expats living around Lake Chapala, with about half of them Americans. And during the tourist season the population of foreigners increases to 50,000.

Tequila is a product of Jalisco and the distilling of this spirit is centered around ... the city of Tequila. Tequilla is a type of Metzcal alcohol and is made from the blue agave plant. Tequila is one of those drinks that only the production of it from this area can be called tequila, like champagne in France. Jose Cuervo got the first official permission to make tequila in 1758.

Food is an important part of Jalisco culture, and inland there are famous stew-type dishes and along the coast seafood specialities like a fish stuffed with shrimp and octopus. If you want a sampling of Jalisco flavor you can try the Mariscos Puerto Vallarta or Guadalajara restaurants here in Dalton.

As a matter of fact, you can probably eat some local specialties from all these Mexican states at numerous restaurants in town. How’s that for a staycation?

Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.

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