By José Alberto Gaytán García*
In 1995 a group of Mexican students studying different doctoral programs at the University of Miami, took on the task of organizing a student association to promote cultural events of our beloved Mexico, which incidentally, from “the other side”, it is loved, missed and valued more. The idea of forming the Association arose after seeing how other groups of international students had their groups impeccably organized. With nostalgia for not being able to do the same, we saw how with the help of their respective governments, the Colombian students, Japanese, Indian, Italian and other foreign countries had great cultural events within the university.
On international week at the University of Miami, the Colombians, for example, bring from Colombia a huge Vallenato orchestra and they make the Latin American community dance to the beating of the drums to La Pollera Colora song. Besides music, they presented lectures, exhibits, samples of the rich Colombian cuisine, crafts and even a bus. The chiva is one of the most popular symbols in Colombia, it is a passenger bus painted with the national colors. It is decorated with all the merchandise that the farmers transport inside the country.
There were external aspects that also contributed to the formation of our Association. In those days Andrés Oppenheimer, a renowned columnist for the Miami Herald, published the book Bordering on Chaos; in Spanish it was titled En la Frontera del Caos. The book caused a commotion in the United States, primarily in Miami, where the subject of Mexico is very politicized by the misunderstandings that had occurred between the Cuban community and the Mexican government who accused the community of supporting the regime of Fidel Castro.
In the book, Oppenheimer harshly criticizes the Mexican political class, which advocated that in presentations of the book and on local radio stations, people who are not familiar with the subject, in heated debate, made harsh comments against Mexico.
This issue greatly upset diplomatic authorities as well. I remember one day, the Consul of Mexico, Ambassador Luis Ortiz Monasterio, sent for me to ask me the following: “Hey… is there a true Mexican student among all of you who can rise to the challenge and answer to all the criticisms against Mexico?”, using his own words, I answered “no sir, there is not one, there are 22”, most honor students, all doing masters and almost all awarded scholarships by the government of Mexico. I explained that in this group we thought that one correct way to play down such comments and poor misunderstandings, was promoting first class Mexican cultural events. I asked him to help us achieve that purpose. With great vision and with enthusiasm, Don Luis took me at my word and helped us and boy did he! Thus was born the Mexican Students Association at the University of Miami. The most enthusiastic leaders of the group were Socorro Zavala, Rolando García, his wife Alicia Garcia, Jose Saud, Mario Montesinos, Alex, Rafael Velazquez, etc.
After meeting the requirements of the university, among others, holding elections, I was elected president of the association and re-elected for the next four years. Thanks to the unforgettable kindness and support from Ambassador Ortiz Monasterio and his wife Lupita, we organized book presentations, concerts, lectures, art exhibitions and great debates, such as the one presented on the elections of Mexico with former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda. I remember with affection, the tribute the exiled Cuban poets made to the teacher Octavio Paz. After the tribute, our esteemed friends of the Cuban community invited us to a reception in honor of the Nobel Prize for Literature. It was an unforgettable evening held at a famous restaurant in Miami called “Versailles”. The teacher Octavio Paz behaved friendly and approachable. He was thrilled by the honor and show of appreciation to him by the intellectuals and academics circles from “the other side”. In this place we took the photo with Octavio Paz that is documented in this article.
In 1998 Ambassador Luis Ortiz Monasterio, was moved to the consulate in Dallas. Before he had been Consul in Jamaica, after he was named Consul of Mexico in Colombia and then Consul in Iran, then I lost track. The departure of don Luis left us sad and with a deep emotional void. In his place came another unforgettable friend, Consul Oscar Elizundia Trevino, who gave us his friendship, support and all kinds of kindness to consolidate the influence and power of our Association. Thanks to him we made close friends among the Cuban-American community and made important political and cultural alliances within and outside the University of Miami.
The first conference we made has a special meaning because it gave Andrés Henestrosa, one of the key figures of literature and culture of Mexico and Latin America, his topic for the next article.
Acerca del autor
- José Alberto Gaytán García ha escrito artículos y ensayos de corte académico en diarios y revistas de México y de los Estados Unidos; ha participado en importantes proyectos académicos e impartido conferencias sobre temas de historia, tecnología y educación en el marco de las relaciones entre México y los Estados Unidos, tema en el cual realizó sus estudios de doctorado en The Graduate School of Internacional Studies de la Universidad de Miami.