I have just returned home from a week-long trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I spent the first twenty two years of my life. It was a very exciting, stimulating and at times a very emotional visit and I would like to share it with you.
It started in January when the then Consul General Andrés Roemer and Cultural Attaché Paula Linares invited me to take part in the San Francisco Consulate’s annual festival MEX I AM. A number of possibilities were discussed over the weeks and months and it finally turned out that Andrew Kluger and the Board of San Francisco’s Mexican Museum invited me to participate in the Dedication and laying of the foundation stone of the new Mexican Museum, which will be the largest Mexican Museum outside Mexico.
The date was set for 19 July, my friend and colleague, pianist Carlos Salmerón agreed to accompany us and everything was set. Our journey was mercifully uneventful and we arrived on time at The Chancellor Hotel, our favourite San Francisco Hotel.
For anyone visiting the Bay Area, the Chancellor is one of the best, most centrally located and reasonably priced hotels in San Francisco. It is one of the most visitor-friendly hotels I know with all kinds of amenities which one often doesn’t find these days. My favourite is a beautiful little plastic duck: I now have a family of them after my various visits!
On Sunday we met with a dear friend, Will Maynez, who is guardian of the Diego Rivera Mural at City College. It is a true masterpiece and Will has devoted many years to protecting the mural and campaigning for a new Performing Arts Centre at City College. He is one of the world’s great enthusiasts and a very generous friend who has invited me to play at City College on two previous occasions.
The new museum, which will occupy 60,000 square feet and will open in 2019, is situated in the Yerba Buena District of San Francisco, a fantastic cultural area which is already home to a number of important museums and is right in the heart of the city. The indefatigable Andy Kluger, Chairman of the Board of the Mexican Museum for the last three years has raised more than sixty three million dollars and this month work began on this huge important project.
The line-up of speakers was very high-powered and included Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu, who actually made reference to me in her speech; Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi; Secretary of Culture Director General of International Affairs, José Luis Martínez; Mexican Ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Roemer; Consul General Gemi José González López; and architect Enrique Norten to name just half a dozen! I was very proud to open the proceedings with a performance of Manuel Esperón’s Amorcito Corazón and close them with a performance of Consuelo Velázquez’s Bésame Mucho. Carlos Salmerón was my partner.
The Dedication ceremony was followed by a magnificent lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel and a reception at the Museum of the African Diaspora. In the two events I was able to wear two new Pineda Covalin Huipils which are always such a colourful feature of my performances and are without a doubt my favorite concert apparel since the vibrant colors really “sing” on stage! The evening was spent watching the first night of the Republican Party Conference of which, the less said the better…
I was delighted to be able to speak with Foreign Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu about my vision for expanding the role of FLAUTA SIN FRONTERAS in the USA – bringing inspiration and a love of Mexican culture to young Chicanos, knowledge of their homeland to Chicanos who may not ever have visited the country of their family origins and taking hope in the form of music to jails in the USA, as I have done in Mexico itself. One of the most important things, at this time especially, is to promote a positive image of Mexico to counteract the lies which a certain candidate for the Presidency is repeating ad nauseam.
The following day I was thrilled to find a picture of Michael on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, standing in front of the Mexican Museum’s mural – he says he was just standing about, whilst to spoke with the Minister and the Chronicle photographer ‘snapped’ him – she also ‘snapped’ me in full flight whilst closing the proceedings.
I should mention that Andy Kluger was a very special host whilst we were in San Francisco. Between the morning Dedication and the afternoon Reception, Andy hosted a lovely lunch at the Four Seasons where we met a number of new friends including Edgar de Sola, Director of the Mexican Museum, Eve Ellis from Morgan Stanley and her wife Annette Niemtzowvery who is a distinguished theatrical producer. The following evening, Michael and I were invited to a dinner for Board Members at The Magic Flute Restaurant where we discussed ways of promoting the Mexican Museum and incorporating music into its programming.
Wednesday morning was spent rehearsing with Carlos at the San Francisco Conservatory through the good offices of my friend, flautist Tim Day, in preparation for our concert the following day a the Centre for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley. When Chairman Harley Shaiken and Vice-Chair Dionicia Ramos heard that I was going to be in the Bay Area they invited Carlos and I to give a performance of our program PEDRO MI AMOR which features many of the best-loved songs of the Ídolo de México together with clips from some of his iconic movies.
I am happy to report that the concert was an enormous success and the audience was wonderfully enthusiastic. The Great Hall of the Bancroft Hotel was a fantastic setting and it was of ‘gringos’ and ‘chicanos’ who all seemed to enjoy it equally. I have to say that Carlos is a fabulous partner – any soloist’s dream! There were many old friends and relatives in the audience including my aunt and ‘tocaya’ Lupe Pérez and her husband Rob and daughter Val; one of my dearest friends Angela Koregelos and her son John; a school friend, Barbara Babin, who was in the school orchestra with me when we were at Skyline High and one of my first ever flute students Anne Armstrong with her husband Mike. The evening finished with a lovely dinner at the home of Prof Shaiken and his wife, Prof Beatriz Manz (a superb chef!) where we also met distinguished documentary producer, Ray Telles who has made several important documentaries about Mexican subjects, and Dionicia’s husband, Julian Ledesma, who helps lead university programs for undocumented, underrepresented, and food-insecure students (there are many more than you would think!).
We got to our airport hotel at midnight and had to get up at 3am to check in for our rather early flight to Mexico City. Everything went smoothly until Michael returned to the car park after checking us in, ready to take the car back to Mr Hertz. Unfortunately he had mis-remembered the location of the car and spent forty five minutes frantically trying to find it! Eventually he was ‘rescued’ by a kind soul from the car park management who helped him to locate it. Lesson to be learned: when parking in one of these gigantic car parks take a photograph the parking place!!!
Fortunately, we still had plenty time in hand for our 7am flight and everything was fine… until we arrived at LAX where we sat on the tarmac awaiting a gate for more than an hour. We caught our connecting flight by the skin of our teeth but were worried about whether our cases would have been as lucky. Happily, the pilot delayed our departure so that all connecting baggage was able to make the connection too! We arrived home only a little late; tired but immensely stimulated by our week in the Bay Area. However, the coup de grace was when Michael pressed the button in Customs and the light went red – not as red as his face, however, when an official discovered some grapes and an apple in his back-pack and gave him a citation!!!
I am very optimistic that I will soon have the opportunity to return to the Bay Area to promote the Mexican Museum, work with Mexican Consulate (a visit to San Quentin Jail is being planned) and return to Berkeley to give another concert for the Centre for Latin American Studies.