In their own words
By Inside México Original Print Publication: March, 2009
For the "25 Mexicans You Should Know" edition of Inside México (November 2007) our editorial team sat in a room for hours, proposing and debating names of candidates, eventually whittling the list to a mix of well and less-well-known figures, each illuminating some aspect of this country.
For "25 Expats," we decided to do something different. We put the word out. We invited you, our readers, to tell us who to highlight. E-mailed nominations poured in from around the country, and several of you even called.
This inaugural group of 2009 finalists is a diverse bunch in terms of where they are from, where they live and what they do. You've helped us round up the expat equivalent of the "butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker." In this case, however, it is the activist, the developer and the expat filmmaker...and the dog rescuer, the theater founder, the birder, and the book store owner. The list goes on.
The common thread running through each selection is the effort these people make to build community between expats and Mexicans. We think that by doing so, they are helping to expand the definition of Mexico. That is what immigrants do.
Expat: Susana Valadez
Organization: Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts/ Centro Indígena Huichol
- 25 expat voices: Anado McLauchlin & Richard Schultz
- 25 expat voices: Attilio Tuis Berto
- 25 expat voices: Barbara Franco
- 25 expat voices: Barbara MacKinnon vda. de Montes
- 25 expat voices: Caren Cross
- 25 expat voices: Ed Krause
- 25 expat voices: Father Vincent Schwahn
- 25 expat voices: Henry Wangeman
- 25 expat voices: Jeanne Chaussee
- 25 expat voices: Joanie Barcal
- 25 expat voices: Kevin Pickolick
- 25 expat voices: Lee Carter
- 25 expat voices: Maggie Galton
- 25 expat voices: Marcia Hass
- 25 expat voices: Marie Dwyer-Bullock and Ray Bullock
- 25 expat voices: Milou de Montferrier
- 25 expat voices: Molly Fisher
- 25 expat voices: Paul Crist
- 25 expat voices: Rachel Micah-Jones
- 25 expat voices: Ron Buchanan
- 25 expat voices: Susana Trilling
- 25 expat voices: Susana Valadez
- 25 expat voices: Umair Khan
Originally from: I was born in Chicago in 1951 and my family relocated to Los Angeles in 1964.
Lives in: I travel between a small traditional Mexican town in northern Jalisco named Huejuquilla el Alto, and the coastal tourist town of Sayulita, Nayarit.
Living in Mexico: Since 1975.
Why did you move to Mexico?
I was doing fieldwork with the native Huichol people for my Master's degree, and fell in love with one of my subjects of investigation.
Tell us about your involvement with the Huichol people.
I came upon a tribe of corn farmers, shamans, and artists who have until recently lived undisturbed in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains of Nayarit and Jalisco. Today approximately 8,000 Huichol people survive in this remote, harsh environment.
The tribe visually portrays their psychedelic experiences, myths, and legends in an art form known as yarn painting. I set out to study and document the visual language they use in their paintings and catalog their large inventory of symbols. I fell in love with one of the yarn painters, Mariano Valadez, and married into the tribe in 1978. As my anthropological research progressed, it became clear that outside influences were destroying the core of this ancient tribe at an alarming rate.
I created a non-profit foundation called the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts. It is dedicated to conserving the Huichol cultural legacy of art, symbolism, music, folklore, plant knowledge, profound religious insight, and much more. I believe that the Huichol people can thrive in today's world without sacrificing their traditions.
What other organizations, activities, hobbies are you involved in here?
In order to raise funds for my foundation I opened Galeria Tanana in Sayulita to sell the products created at the Huichol Center.
Do you have a specific Mexico "moment" that makes you think, "That's what I love about this place"?
Every morning when I look out my window and see the rays of first light on the horizon I thank the universe that I live in such a beautiful place, where my spirit and soul are so nurtured and blessed by the simple things in life.
What are both the best and the hardest things about being an expat in Mexico?
As a 21st century American woman living in an ancient Mesoamerican culture, I have learned how to think outside the box. There is more than one way to skin a nopal.
The hardest thing is the fact that many Mexicans have a preconceived notion about non-Mexicans and can be very rude. On the whole, however, I find Mexican people to be loving and kind. I realize I will always be La Gringa, but nonetheless we share a common humanity.