25 expat voices: Susana Valadez

Expat: Susana Valadez

Organization: Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts/ Centro Indígena Huichol

Website: huicholcenter.org

Susana Valadez

Related Multimedia

Ana Prado

We asked our 25 featured expats if they have a specific Mexico “moment” or memory—something that always makes them think, “Yep, this is home,” or “That’s what I love about this place.” View Slideshow >>

Shauna Leff

The Huichol or Wixáritari are an indigenous ethnic group in México. Check out the slideshow to see a small glimpse into their world. View Slideshow >>
Mara Alper, Documentary Maker and Associate Professor at Ithaca College, has been working on a bilingual documentary of the Huichol Tribe. This documentary explores the complexities and ambiguities of sustaining a traditional culture in modern times. Click here to see a glimpse of the documentary. View Video >>

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.

 

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