Friday, May 17, 2019

Love Letters to my life #11: What happened in 1492?

Jaime Hernández
by Joyce Wycoff

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)

Jaime Hernández, my guide-extraordinaire, asked me, “What happened in 1492?” and I, of course, gave the automatic grade-school response: Christopher Columbus. Turns out, a few other things happened that year and the full Wikipedia list is below. 

Jaime was referring to the process of expelling Jewish people from Spain, some of whom wound up in Mexico, bringing with them Arabic influences which can be seen on the plaza in Pátzcuaro. Of course, Spanish culture in general is rich with Moorish influence.

Stephen Woodman writes for the Culture Trip:
"Mexico’s Arabic heritage can be traced back to the Moors, the North African Muslims who invaded Spain in 711 and ruled for almost 800 years. The Moors had a dramatic and long-lasting impact on the Iberian Peninsula, introducing scientific, mathematic and philosophical concepts that are still used today.”
Woodman outlines some of the Moorish heritage: over 4,000 words of the Spanish language (including “Guadalajara” which means valley of stones), arches, domes and mosaic patterns which grace the architecture across Mexico, and spices such as coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cloves added to the food we now call Mexican.

Petroglyph stone from the ruins at Tzintzuntzan*
Jaime's question triggered a star-burst of thoughts …  627 years ago, there was no "United States” (or Canada or Mexico for that matter). There were only indigenous peoples actually living without the benefits of Facebook or Twitter. Things change and wandering though this land where history can be seen and touched makes me more aware that we are all transients on this amazing planet.

The indigenous peoples of Mexico have not been treated better than the indigenous of any country, and yet they continue living as close to the old ways as possible, honoring and respecting the land, blending the new religion into their old beliefs, celebrating the elements of the earth along with the saints of the church.

View of Tzintzuntzan and Lake Pátzcuaro from ruins
These people and ceremonies, touchstones to the past, have become a product, luring tourists hungry for connection willing to exchange their dineros for experiences lacking in modern life. One of the best-known customs of Mexico is the celebration of the Day of the Dead, popularized by the beautiful and touching Disney movie, Coco. The makers of the movie were influenced by a village on the edge of Lake Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán in central Mexico where "Mama Coco" still lives, as well as the all-night ancestral vigil that takes place every year in the cemeteries on the islands of the lake.

Millions of people were touched by the animated movie and, apparently, last year, all of them journeyed to Pátzcuaro for Day of the Dead. In addition to thousands of individual travelers, over 400 bus loads of tourists navigated the narrow roads, overflowed the hotels and restaurants, and trekked through the cemeteries in search of some experience, some connection with spirit … or a story to take home for the next cocktail party. One of the star icons of the movie is a white guitar. Now, the village where the movie guitar was made can’t make them fast enough to meet the demand.

Last summer, I followed the lure of swarms of fireflies to a reserve outside Puebla. The reserve had been discovered within the past eight years and yet it had already created chaos in the village closest to the reserve. In Puebla, I joined a dozen people in a tour van and drove through the gentle rolling hills for about an hour and a half. Then we turned off the highway and began a bumper-to-bumper, hour-plus journey (maybe two miles) to the reserve at the foot of the mountains where the fireflies come every year. The village was lined with villagers standing three deep to sell all things related to fireflies as well as rain panchos and flashlights. 
The six-weeks of the firefly mating season had become the season of commerce for the village.

Monastery of San Francisco, 16th century
All of this brings me back to Jaime’s question: What happened in 1492? Thanks to historians, scholars, records and books, we now know that things were set in motion that changed the world as it was known. 

What we don’t know is what is happening now, in 2019, that will change everything and what future those changes will create. 

I've had many years to create a philosophy of gratitude which encompasses gratitude for all things. In my personal world, it is relatively easy to be grateful for all things that come my way. 

Watching the changes in the world at large, however, it is a bit more difficult to find gratitude for all things. I wish I knew the outcome of what we're doing here in 2019. How will our actions today affect the world 627 years from now. 

Will there be a year 2646?

* Petroglyph found during the renovation of the cloister of the Monastery of San Francisco in Tzintzuntzan,  founded in the 16th century. 

January–December, 1492
More Information:

Mexico’s Hidden Arabic Heritage, Stephen Woodman, Culture Trip
Journey to the Heart of Disney's 'Coco' in Mexico, Gretchen Kelly, Forbes



  1. Grateful for this WIDE view of our world!!!
    We are but a grain of sand... but can we be a kind one?