Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Not too long ago, those who considered themselves a notch above declared the quinceañera dead, substituting a cruise, a vacation trip or even the fifteen-year old’s first boy-girl party for the big event. Even in those times, it was a rite of passage that just wouldn’t give up the ghost.

A few summers ago, old man Jacobo’s granddaughter and her chambelanes practiced their dance steps with a choreographer in the moonlight for weeks in front of my house. It would take them at least a year to pay off that party.

You saw the movie Quinceañera a few years ago, but it’s more than just a Latina Bat Mizvah. Estadounidenses have caught on to the rage, too. Hearst Communications, Inc., publisher of the bible of my youth, Seventeen, now publishes, in English and in Spanish.

Like Estadounidenses who try to cut costs by scheduling a wedding or other event mid-week, some middle-class Mexicans have done likewise, paring back the quinceañera to a weeknight event with a family dinner at a nice restaurant.

For some poor girls living in Mexico City, that just wasn’t an option. They wanted their moment of glamour and magic, even if it meant having to share the stage with other queen bees and wannabees. And they got together at the Youth Institute, rounded up donors, and held the world’s largest mass quinceañera.

Detractors might question whether these girls should’ve been working on teen rights, culture, pay equity, job opportunities, family planning and other more important issues. But you know something? In organizing the mass quinceañera, they were doing just that and more: working toward a common goal and getting what they wanted. And that’s not a bad approach.





Outsourcing the Presidency

Estadounidenses really don’t have much choice when it comes to presidential candidates: a witch, a guy with a foreign-born father, and an ex-con.

The U.S. is already outsourcing everything else, so why not the presidency? It outsources the nasty job of fighting its wars to poor folk and convicted felons, customer service, tech support and even legal research to India, and everything else to China. Being president really isn’t something to be learned on the job, so it should go to a guy with some experience under his belt. And you really ought to have a president who has some familiarity with the U.S. and doesn’t have to move a long distance.

Can we lend you Vicente Fox for the next eight years? Or even Carlos Salinas de Gortari? All right, so Ernesto Zedillo and Miguel de la Madrid but be better choices, but they’re not around stirring up a lot of anxiety, so we’d sort of miss them.

Look at this way: Mexico does have some history of shipping off its ex-presidents elsewhere, and I’m sure a deal could be worked out to get around what the U.S. Constitution has to say about qualifying to be president. After all, Fox got the Mexican Constitution changed.

Apron Strings

Santa Maria 013 Billie Mercer, who writes about ordinary and extraordinary lives in central Mexico, took on the topic of aprons, and I just had to comment about what aprons represented to my generation, which gave her fodder for more.

So I went out to the kitchen, where my thirty-something housekeeper was washing dishes, dressed in an ironed t-shirt and jeans, and asked her why she wasn’t wearing a mandil. “Oh, those are just for working around my own house,” she told me, rolling her eyes.

She obviously hadn’t read Billie’s blog — or The Wall Street Journal article.

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Do You Look Like a Gringo?

“This Warren Hardy tote bag just shouts ‘Look at the gringa who can’t speak Spanish,'” complained a friend who fit the description at the time.

Kelsey Mulyk offers up some advice about the sure markers of a gringo in Mexico:

  • Wearing a fannypack
  • Dressing like a hippie
  • Wearing short shorts

To those, I’d a few more identifiers: too much ethnic clothing, shorts worn  outside of a resort or sporting activity, tire-treaded huaraches, campesino clothes, makeup-free eyes, shirt and jeans which have never seen an iron,  and oversized clothes.

Who hasn’t read the travel literature telling foreigners to leave the name-brands and jewelry at home? If you’re going to fit in in Mexico, you’d better put on some makeup (at least if you’re female), get rid of the gray hair, become acquainted with an iron, wear a good watch, and let Ralph Lauren, Coach, or Burberry see the light of day.

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The CIA’s Men in Mexico

man Y0u already knew about Lee Harvey Oswald’s trip to Mexico two months before that fateful day in Dallas some forty-five years ago. The CIA’s men on the ground knew about it, too. But did you know that two Mexican presidents were on the CIA payroll?

In “Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA,” Jefferson Morley takes the reader behind the scenes during some interesting times, inviting comment at his blog.

And what happened to Scott after Kennedy was shot? Read Edward Jay Epstein’s review in The Wall Street Journal. And Ken Silverstein’s Six Questions for Jefferson Morley.




True Confessions of a Trash-Tale Junkie

I am a true crime addict, unrepentantly so, and it’s all Truman Capote’s fault for writing that “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood back in 1965, about a Kansas farm family’s murder by two ex-cons. Before long, Anatomy of a Murder, a criminal defense lawyer’s true story of a bartender’s 1951 murder in Big Bay, Michigan, came into my hands, and I was on my way to ruin, descent and Helter Skelter.

“Filthy trash,” snorted my high school English teacher. My explanation that true crime was the perfect education for a would-be lawyer fell upon deaf ears. Little did she realize, I’m sure, that In Cold Blood would be hailed as a literary triumph in years to come or that Robert Traver was the pen name of a future Michigan State Supreme Court Justice. Never once in two decades of trial practice have I ever put Milton’s lessons to work, but I have put some of the tricks learned in true crime stories to good use.

True crime stories date all the way back to Cain and Abel, predating Court TV and the national fascination with O.J. Simpson, the Menendez brothers, and JonBenet Ramsey. What Capote made literary, Dominick Dunne made classy in his monthly Vanity Fair reportage of crimes of the rich and famous.

The usual triumph of good over evil in these modern morality tales bodes even more for practicing lawyers. Packaged neatly within the covers of a good true crime story is a bird’s-eye view of the dramatis personae–the victim, the perp, the police, and the lawyers and everyone around them–as real people leading ordinary lives. Where else can a reader learn about how law enforcement operates, what the average beat cop thinks of lawyers, how other lawyers deal with lovable clients as well as those from hell, all wrapped in shards and snippets of local color? And, if you’re lucky, the story will be laced with real-life trial techniques that can be fodder for real cases. Far more effective and interesting it is to hear Vincent Bugliosi describe a conversational style of cross-examination as he defends an uncooperative, disbelieving client charged with murder on Palmyra in And the Sea Will Tell, than to pore over the rules in the sterile case analysis.

Some true crime stories are little more than a quick pastiche of news articles, tabloids for those with an attention span, tossed together to meet a publisher’s race to the bookrack. As a general rule, those written by lawyers involved in the case make for poor reading, often written in gloating vindication. The genre’s got its all-star authors, who surprisingly give each saga its unique twist. Jerry Bledsoe, Ann Rule, Ken Englade, Darcy O’Brien, Aphrodite Jones and the Steven Naifeh and Gregory Smith lawyer duo all come from disparate backgrounds, but each brings that certain fly-on-the-wall approach that’s guaranteed to leave the reader with at least one new practice tip.

Believe me, crediting true crime stories with making better lawyers is definitely not the counterpart to claims of reading Playboy only for the interviews. Sure, there’s an element of voyeurism, just as many of us truthfully can’t take our eyes off a gruesome car accident or the cover of the National Enquirer. The rest of the story lies far beyond the uniformly boring volumes of a trial transcript. Where else can you get an evening’s continuing legal education for the paltry sum of $5.95, provided you’re willing to endure those funny looks and sneers?

Originally published in SOLO (Fall 1999 Volume 7, Number 1).

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Money for Nothing, and Witches for Free

It’s not always easy to find a witch when you need one. Catemaco, the brujo capital of Mexico, is far away, and from time to time, the witches of Cheran just aren’t in the mood. That means it’s often a matter of finding someone who knows someone, and that someone isn’t always in the phone book. And you know how those witches can be, charging whatever the market will bear.

An advertisement which regularly appears in the Saturday magazine supplement to the local newspaper caught my eye. Brujo y Curandero de Nacimiento, read the ad, promising immediate results from an authentic Indian from the Amazon forests. Taita Curandero not only had three telephone numbers, answered around the clock all year long, but e-mail as well. And even radio programs throughout the country. Could it get any better than this?

I wonder if Taita Curandero offers free Internet consultations like Vandammed, who bills himself as the Gringo Brujo in Catemaco? Go ahead and click on BrujoPal. It won’t hurt you.


Bad Boys: Michoacán Takedown

handcuff Yesterday’s apprehension of the North Carolina Marine just outside of Tacambaro put Michoacán once again in the spotlight. Today my inbox was filled with URLs forwarded by Estadounidense friends, lawyers all, bringing old news to my attention, just in case I hadn’t read the local newspaper. In these parts, we were still exchanging the chisme over the latest nab: a gringo living in Patzcuaro calling himself “Montana” who’d walked away from an Oregon prison farm where he was supposed to have been serving a prison sentence imposed by a federal court in Montana.

And before that, there was the capture in Tangacicuaro of David Sauceda, who tricked Bexar County, Texas, jailers into letting him go while he was awaiting trial on murder, armed robbery and other nasty charges.

And yet another Estadounidense outlaw found his way into the arms of Mexican law enforcement authorities.

Whatcha gonna do?

Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

Bad boys, bad boys.

Michoacán really isn’t the place to hide, guys.

Sex, Compulsion and Kodachrome

If you’re a wedding photographer in New Mexico, and you refuse to photograph same-sex commitment ceremonies, be prepared to break out your checkbook. The New Mexico Human Rights Commission forced Elane Photography to fork over $6,637.94 in attorney’s fees and costs when its owner, Elaine Huguenin, told a bride that her small firm only photographs traditional weddings. You’d think there was only one wedding photographer in all of Albuquerque.

This reminds me of the female Massachusetts lawyer whose practice was restricted to representing only women who found herself in big trouble for turning down a guy who wanted to be her client a few years back. Is Massachusetts suffering from a dearth of divorce lawyers these days?

Now, I can certainly see calling some businesses “public accommodations,” but forcing a photographer to take shots he or she doesn’t want to take it is taking it just too far. Would you really want your marriage shot or dissolved under duress? Let’s hope that the wedding photographer and the Massachusetts lawyer got enough positive publicity out of these insane prosecutions to more than pay those legal fees.

Many thanks to Billie Mercer for directing me to Musings on Photography, which led me to The Volokh Conspiracy, which explains all of the legal mumbo-jumbo behind the decision.


Ordinary Lives in Mexico

Last weekend in San Miguel de Allende, as I walked over to Starbucks for my daily caffeine fix, I passed the much-photographed old lady selling dried flowers, and I reflected upon the usual newly-landed expatriates’ proclamations about how Mexico fueled their senses, awakening spirits and urges long dormant. I asked myself whether the sight of the flower seller in indigenous garb, the church bells jangling and jacaranda trees in full bloom invigorated me. A resounding “no” echoed in my brain. And then I had to tell myself that all of that might be something special to someone who’d toiled away long hours in Peoria. Heck, the right moment in a place like Matehuala just might have the right affect upon some desperate soul.

Today one of the e-mails that hit my inbox asked the usual questions about what my life was life in Michoacán and whether I lived with all of the modern comforts that might be found in Los Angeles. Even though my town boasts neither Indian restaurants, assorted and affordable technology, Barnes & Noble, Saks nor even Nordstrom Rack, we manage to eke out a satisfactory enough existence. I’m happy to be planted here.

Eddie Willers is an educated Brit who traded his life as a wage-slave under the iron heel of English socialism to make a better life selling pots and pans to poor folk in Tampico, and he’s refreshingly honest about his lot in Mexico. Is he better off than he was in London?

I know that I am.

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Day Labor for CPAs and CEOs

When this video came around a few weeks ago, the politically incorrect lawyer pals to whom I forwarded it just weren’t impressed. But heck, they’re not Mexican, so what do they know? Besides, they hardly ever read this blog.

This morning, Mi blog es tu blog was impressed enough to pass it on.


Absolut Weenies

absolut Every Mexico-themed blog was talking about it last week. I was about to blog about Mi blog es tu blog‘s post about the Absolut Vodka ad, which revealed a 19th C. map of Mexico, but life distracted me. 224 other people commented.

By Friday, Absolut Vodka was wringing its hands in abject apology, promising sensitivity the next time around, yielding some 2664 comments. By Sunday, Absolut Vodka issued a sincere and genuine apology (What, the earlier one wasn’t enough?), saying it had withdrawn the advertisement, generating some 1452 comments so far.

Absolut Vodka is known for provocative and creative advertising. What’s the big deal? Why do so many people have to get their knickers in a twist over a simple and clever ad?

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