Jocotepec Jitterbug

Article excerpt

My stepdaughter Natalia, 15, graduated last week from Antonia Palomares school in Jocotepec, on the north shore of Lake Chapala, in Jalisco, Mexico, where I live. Inevitably the parents held a monster fiesta. Mexicans seem to have a genetic predisposition toward fiestas, having one at any provocation. The hall they rented was just a very large room with tables and a bandstand but space to dance. That's what counts hereabouts.

My wife Violeta and I showed up with Natalia, a bottle of tequila, mixers, and suchlike paraphernalia of gaiety, and greeted friends at our table. Things got rolling after 10. The lights went down and the band cranked up and lit into an hour and a half of nonstop cumbias, salsa, and banda Conversation was impossible, but you don't come to a fiesta to talk. You can do that anywhere. You come to dance, which everyone proceeded to do.

Mexicans approach dancing a bit differently than Americans. A couple of large circles coalesced on the floor, everyone moving to the music. One after another, a dancer would go to the center of the circle to strut his (or, most assuredly, her) stuffand retire to the circumference to applause.

When Vi and I reached the line, a mob of teenage girls pushed us into the center. Resistance was futile. The young ladies had a sample gringo and meant to make the most of it. At these things, I usually constitute the entire Nordic presence, there being little real contact between Americans and locals. We lit into a fast double-step jitterbug to everyone's satisfaction.

The horns squonked and blared and the rhythm pounded, and when anyone especially good was in the center, everyone clapped to the beat and hollered "Hey! Hey! Hey!" I found myself thinking, "This really, truly isn't Kansas, Dorothy." Americans don't quite know what's down here. We think of Pedro and his burro sleeping under the cactus or illegals tunneling under the border.

Well, yes, sort of, but no, not at all. There's an actual country here, a hundred million souls, Latin to the marrow, and below a whole Latin world stretching to Tierra del Fuego. The poor in Mexico try to go to the U.S. because that's where the money is. The rest aren't interested. They're Mexican, and they like that just fine, thank you. Though they seldom say it, being considerate, we seem cold and isolated to them.

Vi and I took a break for tequila and Squirt-that, not the margarita, is the Mexican national drink. …