We’d finished a dinner of pescado blanco in Patzcuaro one Saturday evening not long after September 11, 2001, and the chisme turned to a joke circulating on the Internet that had the mayor of Apatzingán sending an urgent plea to President Bush, pleading “Es Apatzingán, no Afghanistan. Por favor no nos bombardee.” Wondering whether there was any truth to the buzz, we decided to go to Apatzingán the next day and look up the mayor.
Apatzingán, Apatzingán de la Constitución to be correct, is a point of pride, because that’s where the first constitution of Mexico was signed, back in 1814. Its fertile valley attracted the attention of Dante Cusi, who merits more posts in this blog when I find the time, almost a hundred years later. If you’ve ever eaten cantaloupe or watermelon or just about any kind of produce, the fruits of Apatzingán have touched your lips. By the by, Lázaro Cárdenas del Río developed this town, laying out broad avenues in this heart of the Tierra Caliente.
Apatzingán is not unlike California’s Central Valley or the Texas Rio Grande Valley. An honest, sweet land filled with hardscrabble lives, rich terrain, a mixed measure of poverty and prosperity, the kind of place that has no time for the effete and elites. In this truck-driving country marked by miles and miles of fields, the arts range all the way from sombreros to dancing horses and rustic harps and violins.
We met up with one of the town’s power brokers, and he showed off the Casa de la Constitución and drove us up the hill to the Santuario de la Virgen de Acahuato, towering over the valley below and practically revealing a view from the Pacific Coast all the way to Morelia. The Hotel Posada del Sol featured an enormous fountain pumping up sprays to rhythms and a lightshow, as well as an event center that was not only air-conditioned but also had a roof opening up to the stars. Just like Joe Wilson saw no yellowcake in Niger, I saw neither drug lords, meth labs nor bandoliered gunmen in Apatzingán.
But everyone just knows that it’s drug country.
In yesterday’s Día Siete ran an advertisement promoting the Valley of Apatzingán as a tourist destination, offering up two-night packages.
A war rages on in Apatzingán now, making Felipe Calderón a war-time president less than six months into his term, focusing public attention on this part of Mexico, where the Mexican military fights organized drug rings. Jorge Zepeda Patterson compares the situation to Baghdad. What’s going to happen in the Fresno of Mexico? I honestly do not know.