Barriers & Boys

July 31st, 2016

Recently, I received a request to partake in an interview about women chefs in San Miguel. I wasn’t going to be included in the hot chef list—that seemed to be reserved for women under 40. Instead, I was going to be featured as a maestra–a teacher, a role model, a woman who opened the doors for the next generation.

My first reaction was, “Geez, how old do you think I am?” In my mind, the doors had already been flung open. I was the fortunate one that grew up in a world where I honestly believed I could do anything. I admired and appreciated the struggle of the many women before me, some even before my mother and grandmother. Their actions and sacrifices gave me my absolute freedom.

But that’s America, at least my experience in America. This is Mexico.


Jesus Street

Jesus Street


My second reaction to the interview request—“Really? Foraging a path for women? Me?” I sat back and reflected on the early days and soon felt the weight of how hard it had been. That moment was the first time I realized that I had indeed fought the fight. And then, I started to cry, amazed that someone had noticed my struggle and was curious about it.

When I opened my café in 1991, San Miguel was a quiet, conservative and extremely traditional town. I, unbeknownst to myself at the time, had chosen to infiltrate the provincial Latino world of Ozzie and Harriet, thinking that the fringe of expat hippies would soften the blow—it didn’t.

Since gender had never been an issue nor a hindrance in my life, it didn’t occur to me that it could become one. Well, at least not until the coffee vendor arrived.

I had just opened my café and marveled when a man bearing coffee beans and a price list showed up on my doorstep. He said hello and asked to speak with my husband. I replied that I didn’t have one. He then asked to speak with my father. “He lives in Texas,” I answered, somewhat confused.

“Well, who am I suppose to talk to?” he questioned, anxiously.

When I told him that I was the owner, he grabbed his samples and stomped out exclaiming, “I’m not going to discuss business with a woman!”

I don’t remember being angry. Well, maybe a little, but it was more my style to laugh and think, what an idiot. Someone else would gladly accept my tainted girl money.

Then there was the waiter I told to do something on his second or third day of work. He replied, “I don’t take orders from women.” Needless to say, that was his last day of working for a mere female.

For years after that, I mostly hired single mothers, more intelligent beings whose top priority wasn’t ego, but feeding and educating their children. They were more than happy to take orders from me —they had had enough of men telling them what to do.

Truth be told, my introduction to this new world of injustice and inequality actually came at the very beginning, when I first applied for a Mexican work permit. At the time, the head of immigration interviewed me, took my filled-out forms and passport, and put them in his top desk drawer.

I was told to check back the following week. When I did, I was escorted to the Jefe’s office where he closed the door and pulled out my passport. Leafing through the pages, he said, “Meet me tonight.” I said I couldn’t. “Then come back next week. I can’t help you now.”

This routine went on for 6 months. As I watched other foreigners collect their FM3s, I was always asked to wait–the Jefe wanted to see me. Because of my limited life experience at the age of 25,  I actually believed that one day he’d give up and my new, shiny immigration booklet would be waiting for me. What were my options anyway? I didn’t have money for a lawyer, nor a family in Mexico to support my cause. Local government officials? I knew not to waste my time.

I rented a space on Jesús and was making plans to finally open my café, painting the walls and pricing furniture, when I started to panic– optimism and patience were getting me nowhere. I needed help, so I found a lawyer who would intervene. He went to Mexico City and over the head of our local immigration office. He got my work permit as well as my passport back, but it took every cent I had to pay for it—all the money I had saved to open my café was gone. I had to take out (another) loan in order to continue with my dream as well as look for a paying job, in addition to working full time at the café.

Knowing of my predicament and wanting to help, a respected middle-aged businessman asked me to tutor his 12-year old son in English. He praised my intelligence and hard work and told me to come to his office—not their home—for the first lesson. I was grateful for the extra money and agreed. When I showed up, the child was nowhere in sight, only the father, who proposed yet another job, one that would make me even more money—if I would put on the lingerie he had spread across his desk and allow him to take pictures.

“Just for me,” he said, “No one else has to know.”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY!!

How many women before me had to suffer through a similar scenario in order to make my life, at least until then, void of this ridiculousness?




There was also another issue at hand, one that caught me somewhat by surprise—class discrimination. In the Mexico I arrived to, women of a certain class didn’t work, and especially not in a kitchen—that was the realm of servants. Due to my skin color and education I was of that class, even though culturally I was far removed. Early on, I learned that not many of my male peers respected my work or my effort. They thought I was playing a game until I could find a husband.

A “high-bred” Mexico City man, a potential suitor, who I knew socially, stopped by the café one day. When I appeared, my apron smeared with flour and chocolate, he exclaimed with disgust, “You cook?” He never really spoke to me again.

A few others made it clear that if our relationship were to go any further that I would have to renounce my embarrassing, unladylike habit of working in a kitchen. I would be allowed to own the café, and even supervise its day-to-day business, however it would be unacceptable to do actual labor. I would not be allowed to cook…or sweat. (I swear, one of them actually said sweat, and then had a ceiling fan installed in my kitchen, so he would never find me with a wet brow.)

The men came and went, but my café, my work in the kitchen remained. I got my hands dirty and even, god forbid, washed a few dishes. Did I set an example to young Mexican women from “good families” that it was ok to work in a kitchen? That it was ok to do what you wanted, not what your husband or family expected you to do? Honestly, I think what changed the game was the new era of the celebrity chef and the popularity of the cooking channel.

Luckily, things did get easier with time—I also got older and wiser and tougher. And even though I still suffered years of not being taken seriously and was talked down to by men, much less educated than myself, I persevered. Gaining respect in the community took time, but it happened, or at least I think it did. I had to fight for that respect, though, the same respect that would have been handed to a man, no questions asked.

I’ve been at the helm of my business as a sole female proprietor for 25 years. Until very recently, there were only a few of us female chefs and restaurateurs in town, but this is changing, and changing fast.

If you consider my story of struggle opening doors for the next generation of women, then please, save me a seat at the table with the other maestras.


**So, you’re wondering what happened to the Jefe, huh?? Well, the next time he played his game with another young American woman, he forgot to thoroughly read her papers. If he had, he would have noted that she had just married into a prominent local family. This family took him down. They did the job that I couldn’t…but maybe, just maybe, my original complaint made firing him an open and shut case.

Tis the Season

December 16th, 2015

 The San Miguel Guadalupe Christmas Experience: A True Story

***To get the most out of the San Miguel Guadalupe Christmas Experience, go to Youtube and play “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart at a ridiculously loud volume. ( Then continue reading.

Twas two weeks before Christmas, when all thro’ the town,

not a person was sleeping, not even the dogs in the pound.

Large speakers were placed by my house with care,

in hopes that the Holy Mother Guadalupe would soon be there.

On the street, people were nestled all snug in their coats,

while visions of another Corona danc’d in their throats.

With my cat in his basket, and I in my bed,

we had just settled in after I book I just read.

When out on the street there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.


Read the rest of this entry »

The Herbalist

December 26th, 2012

I had a café for twenty years and then I didn´t. And even though I enjoyed not dealing with the long list of problems, I missed the free (well, not really) meals and almost constant companionship.

I cook for a living, preparing banquets for 200, botanas for 50, but the idea of  making something for myself in a non-restaurant owner world required too much effort. I wish I could say I finally lost some weight, but what I really did was order a lot of pizza.

So now I’m back in business, feasting on French toast and omelets that someone else prepares. I’m seeing my friends and faithful customers, hearing about their days and listening to their stories.


El Buen Cafe’s new home—Sabino 26

Read the rest of this entry »

Waltzing Among Ruins

October 7th, 2010

In 1993, in the hottest month of the year, I donned a white paper maché mask, and a long black dress and headed to Pozos, an abandoned silver mining town high in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Among the ruins of long forgotten homes, a dark, handsome stranger took me in his arms and we started to dance.

I know this sounds intriguing, even magical, however we were not alone. The camera was rolling and recording our every move. Illusions of intimacy were further diminished by the four identically dressed couples weaving between us as Leonard Cohen sang, “Take this Waltz”. We moved with care, surrounded by cactus of every size and shape, as well as open, unmarked mine shafts, which plummeted 200 feet into a dark abyss of icy water.



Francisco Towers at Santa Brigita


Read the rest of this entry »

Mexico’s Bicentennial

September 21st, 2010

Mexico, a land known for its celebrations, put on the event of the century last week when the country’s bicentennial of the War of Independence coincided with the centennial of the Mexican Revolution. Extensive programs took place all over the country, including many based in San Miguel, acknowledged for its starring role 200 years ago, when resident Ignacio Allende joined forces with Father Miguel Hidalgo to raise an army against Spanish colonialism. Father Hidalgo’s cry on Sept. 16, 1810: “Down with bad government and death to the gachupines!” — a pejorative term for colonial-era Spaniards, ignited the independence movement. His call to arms, known as “El Grito”, is reenacted every year at midnight on the 15th with historic fanfare and cheer, and of course, lots of beer and tequila.

In addition to traditional festivities, Mexico unveiled la “Ruta 2010”, which is a series of routes that commemorates various historic movements and encourages people to drive, or bus, through Mexican history. San Miguel is part of the Freedom Route that tracks the footsteps of Miguel Hidalgo from Guanajuato to Chichuahua. The Democracy and Zapatista routes cover other areas of the country, where a series of museum and cultural exhibitions strive to educate people on the sacrifices made in the name of freedom.


parade rider

Neighbor getting ready for parade

Read the rest of this entry »

Holy Week in San Miguel

March 31st, 2010

The last Friday of Lent is when the Virgin of Sorrows (Viernes de Dolores) is honored with decorative altars all over town, some in neighborhood doorways, others, in front of historic churches. They range from small and humble to elaborate creations that fill an entire room, usually surrounded by white candles (for purity) and draped in purple (the color of grief).

The focal point of the altars is a statue of Maria, with her hands clasped and tears in her eyes. Flowers and fruit (usually oranges) surround her, as well as colorful hand-carved religious figures, sometimes mixed with pagan gods.

Read the rest of this entry »

Candelaria Day

February 19th, 2010

In Mexico and most of Latin America, Candelaria, or the “Feast of Purification” takes places every year on February 2nd. It is celebrated with much enthusiasm, festivity and even an occasional bullfight. In San Miguel, though, there’s a unique and special tradition–a large, outdoor plant sale. For an entire week brightly colored buds of every flower imaginable, interspersed with hand-painted pots and large clay plant holders, cover the ground of Parque Juarez near the center of town.

Read the rest of this entry »

Day of the Dead, San Miguel

November 2nd, 2009

For most Americans, Day of the Dead is an unknown holiday; however, in Mexico it is celebrated with much festivity. This pre-Hispanic tradition, blended with Catholicism, takes place on November 2nd. Families join together to honor and remember the dead by building elaborate altars in their homes. Pictures, as well as the personal items and favorite foods of their dearly departed, are placed on the altars. This is done to entice them into returning for the day.

Day of the Dead Alter

Read the rest of this entry »

El Buen Café’s new home

July 2nd, 2009

Sunlight fills the patio; filtered through bougainvillea, palm trees, banana leaves and jasmine vines. Everywhere you look the light is different, softer near the muted, paint-peeled apricot walls, harsher on the ancient grey stones. A soft breeze dances around a guava tree, full of sweet yellow fruit, swaying its long, green limbs ever so gently from side to side. Key limes weigh down the branches of a short, stout tree at the entrance of the old, colonial house. A house, which dates back to 1600 and is the new residence of El Buen Café (Jesús 36), just down the street from its original location.

Entrance to El Buen Cafe

Read the rest of this entry »

Day of the Crazies, San Miguel

June 7th, 2009

Dia de los Locos or Day of the Crazies celebrates the beginning of summer. It’s one of San Miguel’s most festive occasions, which takes place every year on the first Sunday of June after San Antonio de Padua. It’s basically a large costume party in which the entire town participates.
Read the rest of this entry »