The Zorro Effect

Yes, indeed – I was completely off base about pretty much everything Mexican.

On the other hand, who could blame me?

For then, as now, Mexico remains a blank slate in most Gringos’ minds if they’ve never plumbed the depths of the country beyond the beaches or the desert border towns.

And back in 1980, the sum of this young-ish Baby Boomer’s México impressions was forged largely by a handful of chapters in history and geography books from elementary school plus two years of high school Spanish (MUCH of all this I’d forgotten, of course). There were a couple of orchestra pieces I’d heard by Mexican composers, but most of my impressions came from faithfully watching years of Walt Disney’s “Zorro” on TV when I was a kid.

Oh, and a word about those two Mexican orchestra pieces (“Sensemayá” by Revueltas, and “Sinfonia India” by Chávez). Though I enjoyed them and found them both quite exciting (hint: lots of percussion) I didn’t recognize a single tune or rhythm in either of them: not one. They baffled me completely at first as they really didn’t “sound Mexican” to my ears. Turns out, that was part of the ‘Zorro Effect’ as none of the music Disney picked out for the series was Mexican. It was Spanish music, and back then, I didn’t know there was a difference between the two. Only when I was in college did I read and finally grasp that these compositions reflected music of the regions’ indigenous peoples.

But if one thinks back upon the old TV series, or any of the Zorro movies down through the years, how are the indigenous people of old Los Angeles always portrayed? They are the Don Nadies (the Mr. Nobodies) on the screen: dressed in tattered clothes, one only sees them onscreen being taxed, taunted, tortured or chased by Spanish soldiers. And who is the lone savior/redeemer offering any hope to these hapless folks? A metrosexual Spanish nobleman in tights by day, who morphs into a masked Iberian Robin Hood by night. (The keyword in that long, pithy description being: Spanish!)

Zorro by day (aka Don Diego de la Vega)
Zorro by night

The Spanish had conquered and slaughtered or assimilated and repressed all the (darker skinned) natives, and in that world only a masked Spaniard was capable of offering them any relief. So it was unheard of, even unthinkable to me in 1980, that any indigenous tribe there had ever been advanced or empowered enough to build civilizations that on some levels rivaled – and on others: even surpassed – that of their European invaders. And once I got down there and learned it was true, it blew away both my preconceived notions, and my mind in general.

The Pyramids of Teotihuacán

Mexico’s indigenous peoples

But Mexico will do that to a person, sometimes in jarring, but often in the most delightful, of ways. And if one arrives there with open eyes, an open heart (and an open mouth at meal time), one’s experiences can return the favor to the mind & soul, prying them wide open, as well.

It is my hope with this blog that perhaps for some, I can help jump-start this process a little bit. And if I’m successful, maybe it can whet your appetite to experience far more of what the arts, history and cuisines south of our border have to offer, far inland from their beaches, their border towns and from El Zorro.

C’mon along, but beware: it could be life changing.

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