Bahia Marquez next to Acapulco
credit: Acapulco CVB
BLACK ACAPULCO SEAHAWKS
by Herman Ross
I had come back to Mexico from the Cayman Islands to assist the return voyage from Washington State of what was considered the last of the Cayman Turtle Schooners, the Goldfield. A delivery crew of the seller's picking were bringing the boat back but had a bunch of problems along the way that seemed more poor seamanship than the 125-foot vessel's pedigree. The only Caymanian who was allowed aboard the vessel had resigned in disgust at the Washingtonians' arrogance and lack of seamanship abilities. I ended up doing the same but could add racism to the list of problems between us.
I joined the schooner in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico. I had to wait for a couple of days for their crossing from Cabo San Lucas but it was worth it. The Goldfield, a vessel I had studied and published seven interviews on, suddenly appeared out of a rain squall's mist with a dull sparkle and a proud bowsprit. She was beautiful.
After seven months aboard the ship and our almost permanent location at the Club de Yates in Acapulco I resigned and stayed for another year in that once famous tourism resort town. I did a swimwear business with a partner and did some journalistic research on the town itself, which is actually seven small villages under one name.
Today, Acapulco is no longer the jet set venue it was once was when movie stars sought refuge from the media and adventure was still a part of their lives. The story of the creation of Acapulco as a tourist haunt is interesting and should lead you to
other interests in what is now a city. One thing I should add is that Acapulco is the dividing line between the so-called white Mexico and very definitely black Mexico.
No longer a secluded village by the sea - Acapulco at night
First, the history. Back in the 1930s, two teenagers stole a motion picture producer's big luxury motorboat from Newport Beach and essentially ran out of fuel in the shell shaped bay of Acapulco. There were seven fishing villages just a bit back from the shoreline of white sand beach. The two kids were treated as voyagers and as is still the custom in most of Mexico, a traveler is always a welcomed guest.
The producer found out about where the yacht was resting and chartered a plane with a few friends to get some fishing in while they arrested the kids. After the flight though, he had a change of heart and felt that if they could come that far without damaging his boat then they should be given a chance to correct their ways. He put them both through university and found a beautiful bay for he and his friends to frolick. And they frolicked and frolicked and frolicked some more. Acapulco, which was only accessible by a plane landing on the beach or a vessel passing the two peninsulas that formed the Bay entrance, became the secret hidaway that in practically no time was no secret any more.
The original Tarzan movies featuring Johnny Weissmuller were made in the little bay next door to Acapulco, Bahia Marquez, and Johnny was a favourite of the water ski gang that became the main event of the evenings attended by the screen heroic likes of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks (the eqivalents of Russell Crowe and Tom Hanks today). La Caleta Beach, just on the other side of a saddle in the mountain range that backs Acapulco was the real Acapulco for sun bathing and big bands. It had the luxury hotels facing the ocean and the little islet in the middle of La Caleta and just at the point that forms that cove was and is the famous cliff divers.
Cliff diving is still popular in Acapulco
What remains of the seven villages of Acapulco in a population that moved from 17,000 in 1934 to over 1.5 million in 2007 is found in the neighbourhood names and the food. The last time I was in Acapulco I was passing by with my ketch Stillwater and tasted the same beautiful dishes I had so many years before. Seafood with soul is the reality and a very important part of living in Acapulco. So, segueing into the dividing line I have to tell another story within this story.
My son, Ian and I were having a man to man talk while reclining on La Caleta Beach. We had just delivered a 61-foot schooner, Flying Fish, to Puerto Vallarta and had returned home. Ian is of a mixed marriage and was having some identity crisis about seeing the value of his African heritage. The waiter was bringing our third round of drinks, me-rum and he-margaritas.
I had asked him to describe what a typical black person looked like to his mind's eye. He said they had kinky hair, dark brown skin, full lips, lidded eyes, muscular builds and were good musicians and sportsmen. I asked him to describe the waiter and he looked up at the man and said, he has kinky hair, dark brown skin, full lips, lidded eyes and was muscular. I asked him if he saw this man in San Francisco would he think he was black? He looked at the man again and said, well no, he is a Mexican.
The State of Guerrero, within which Acapulco lies, is named for General Vicente Guerrero, the second President of the Republic of Mexico and the defeater of the Spanish Armies in the first wars of colonial revolt. Presidente Guerrero's mother was an African slave. The term "Guerrero Negro" is used throughout Mexico as a tribute to his military prowess and personal charisma. The fact that he maybe was assassinated by the USA and actually only held office for six months is just there for the colouring.
The one thing that Guerrero did that puts the black history of Mexico into the invisible slot is banning racial quotas while being President. He also abolished slavery. But in wiping out quotas, he made African-Mexicans invisible and most visitors do not know that at least 10% of the population just before the ban were considered black Africans. There were over 270 designations of race in Mexico before the ban and black unadulterated African was one of those designations. If we go by Langston Hughes' one drop "US" definition of black, then probably 70% of Mexico is black.
But, to have a demarcation line is on its own, a case for study and Acapulco is that demarcation line on the Pacific Coast. There is a name for the demarcation line, or two names: Costa Chica and Costa Grande. Actually Costa Chica is the bigger of the two going almost two thirds of the Guerrero coast line to Oaxaca. The pure and intermixed people there are called the Chatinos and we are sometimes referred to as Chinos (kinky haired). The Costa Grande is more white and Indian mixed and you can find a bit of prejudice amongst the middle and upper classes.
My son did not understand that race was not stopped by national borders or language, which is difficult for a lot of us to understand but let it be known that if you show interest in a culture, at least in this Hemisphere, they generally open up to you as a person not just a race. I have lived, worked and traveled throughout Mexico, Central America and the Northern Caribbean and find that to be uniformly true.
In the 1960s, the Mexican Government built a road into Acapulco from Guadelajara and doomed it to a Waikiki blandness that eventually killed the tourism boom it created. The secret is that though you have to watch out for your back pocket and the dark alley you walk down, you can still enjoy a being real in this town. From here South, you don't have to put the American blackness in front of your stride because you are amongst your people, so blackness is just redundant. And they are proud already enough for you. Just be proud of being a traveler.
About the Sea Hawks?
When I lived in Acapulco doing the beach wear thing I used to go off to a point right at the entrance of the bay on a rocky bluff to write. This was in the Las Colinas barrio where quite a few Mexican movie stars lived and is probably the most dramatic setting in an already dramatic place.
My neighbours on this rocky drop were a pair of Sea Hawks, who were greatly annoyed at my arrival but soon got used to me. The female laid some eggs and the male disappeared, at least during my alloted two hours a day there, and soon some little Sea Hawks appeared and were constantly wanting to wander over to me when the mother was off fishing. She actually sort of treated me like a baby sitter for a couple of months until they all flew off. Every so often a young Sea Hawk would return to circle the spot and scream a bit then fly off.
The last time I sailed out of Acapulco I looked up on the hill where the spot was and saw a run down kind of apartment building. It was a bit disappointing, but it shows what is happening in Acapulco with overcrowding and the pull of work to a city. That is life and Acapulco is alive.