One of the things we love about Sayulita is the way the people of the town, both locals and expats, tolerate and embrace anybody and everybody who comes here, regardless of color, style, age, haircut, body shape, clothes, ethnicity, or anything else that usually helps not only to define people but also to separate them. Here, barring those who are violent, criminal, or abusive in one way or another (too much noise too late at night?), everybody can join the party. And a party it is. This is one truly fun place to visit, especially when the waves are breaking and the sun is shining. And guess what? It is also a really fun place to live, more so if you have small children.
After you’ve lived here a while, you begin to realize that the level of tolerance that defines and shapes Sayulita as a great destination for multicultural tourists has ingrained itself deeply into the local culture as well. People of all persuasions not only come to visit Sayulita—they come to live here!
This is not to say that mixed ethnic or bicultural marriages, our topic for today, aren’t to be found all over the world, especially in the United States. There are thousands of such marriages in the US, and in Canada and Europe as well.
There are not so many in Mexico, but here in Sayulita, things are different. For such a small town, perhaps because so many single, adventurous travelers show up here and often decide to stay, there are numerous ethnic “crossover” marriages, which create bicultural families. While these bicultural families are usually a simple combination of American or Canadian mixed with Mexican, within those “simple” categories, there is plenty of variation.
I know this from the experience of putting this story together. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to learn about how a cross-section of Sayulita’s many ethnically-mixed families function, culturally speaking. To explore the subject, I approached four families, all of whom happen to be friends, acquaintances, surf buddies, or some combination thereof.
These four families live and work in Sayulita (well, one family lives in nearby San Pancho) and they all include one parent from north of the border, and one parent from south of the border. There are two families with Mexican fathers and American mothers, and two with American or Canadian fathers and Mexican mothers.
There are not a whole lot of generalities or lofty pronouncements to be made here. These are individual families with individual stories. However, I can say that without exception these families are raising bilingual children—lucky kids!—and that they all mix American and/or Canadian (or Hawaiian!) culture into their fundamentally Mexican lives in whatever way works for them as individuals and as families. As with anything else, you learn as you go along. Raising kids with two languages and two (possibly) different sets of family values is probably no more difficult than doing it with just one language. In fact, in Sayulita, with the beach and ocean as the ubiquitous and universal playground, and at least half the local population bilingual to some degree or other, it’s probably easier in some ways.
In any case, here they are, four Sayulita families, in all their multi-cultural splendor.
Rogelio Ramos Sanchez and Summer Heather Helms—not hard to guess, here or with any of these families, who is the Mexican half—met cute when she brought her surfboard to his repair shop to get a ding fixed. Rogelio is one of Sayulita’s renowned surfboard shapers and ding repair guys, and has been for years. After going to university in Guadalajara, Rogelio came back to Sayulita, where he was born and raised. His grandfather was one of the founders of the town, and Rogelio has long been known as one of the best local longboard surfers around.
So naturally Summer came to him for ding repair. Summer is American, but of the Hawaiian persuasion. Her parents moved from the mainland to Hawaii in the 1960s; her father was an American of German background, while her mother was a Californian with some Mexican thrown in a few generations back. She is, in short, a typical mixed breed gringa. America really is a melting pot; you realize that when you’ve spent some time living in another country like Mexico. There is variation here, thanks to the mingling of Spanish and indigenous, native American blood, but it is a fairly monochromatic culture compared to the US.
In any case, these two met over a broken surfboard, a romance sparked, and love and babies followed. Their sons’ names evoke Summer’s devotion to Hawaiian culture: Nainoa Francisco Ramos-Helms, and Kekoa David Ramos-Helms. Three cultures contained in each name. The boys are being raised with English as the primary language and Mexican as the primary cooking style. Their culture, summer says, is “primarily Mexican, but it’s a mix, with Hawaiian and American.” As Summer puts it, “I tell my kids I’m Hawaiian. I have been long involved with Hawaiian sovereignty and language studies (she has a doctorate and works as a grant writer through the University of Hawaii) and I feel much more attached to Hawaiian than American culture.” That said, she notes that being a bicultural family is a “great way to immerse yourself in a culture, especially one that you love. The same goes for the kids. It can be challenging when there is “culture clash” in areas like values or parenting, but these challenges can expand your mind if you stay open to seeing the value of doing things differently. I’m still working on this.”
When I asked her about the fundamental strength of family life in Mexican culture (which seems to me, as an observer from a typically scattered-to-the-winds American family, to be much more important than it is in the US) she agreed, noting that “Rogelio’s relationship with his parents and family was so appealing to me…in many ways I married his family along with him, and I am incredibly grateful that they have accepted me with open arms. Their strong emphasis on family values meant that Rogelio would share those same values as a father. And that certainly has been true.”
Switching to another mode, we talked with Darrin Polischuk, a Canadian I’ve known from the surf for years now, and his wife Paulina Gutierrez Jarumillo, who is also someone with whom I’ve shared waves and smiles over the past few years. Of course I have seen them countless times all over town as well—this is a small town—and while we don’t know each other well, we’re always glad to see each other crossing paths here in the pueblo.
Darrin’s a Canadian with Ukrainian roots. Paulina is from Tijuana, but her family hails from different parts of Mexico including Zapotecan Oaxaca; there is some Cuban in the mix as well.
This is the 21st century, where everybody is from everywhere, and we’re all mixed together. Sayulita exemplifies this modern day melting pot like no other place in Mexico.
Darrin and Paulina actually met in southern California. At the time, he was working in the TV business in San Clemente, and she was commuting up from Tijuana to San Diego. They met, in the parking lot at Swami’s, a famous surf break in Encinitas, California in all-American, early 20th century fashion: through an online dating agency, Americansingles.com. That initiated a period of border-crossing romance and a lot of working around her strict Catholic mama’s rules and regulations. The romance also pushed Darrin to start going south more often, and he became more enamored of Mexico along with his future wife. Eventually, there was a Mexican wedding at a place south of Tijuana. They bought a house on the beach in Baja and life was sweet.
A honeymoon in Costa Rica got them to thinking maybe tropical beachfront was better than Baja desert beachfront, which led them to Sayulita six years ago. They camped out for a while at the beachfront campground Camarones, and pretty soon decided to stay.
They’ve been here ever since. They have two kids, Nikolas Diego Polischuk and Kyra Lucianna Polischuk. The kids go to school at the Montessori school in San Pancho, and they all go to the beach all the time, to surf and play. They eat healthy, Mexican-influenced food; and this being Sayulita, healthy isn’t so hard, not with all the fresh fish and fruit around.
Paulina is still a practicing Catholic, but doesn’t practice hard enough to cause Darrin any discomfort. She honors the church, and is a believer, and that’s enough. As for language, well, Darrin speaks English to the kids, and Paulina speaks Spanish. The kids are, of course, bilingual. She and the kids celebrate the Mexican/Catholic holidays, but not too seriously, and not if the waves are good. For surfers, good waves always take priority.
Sayulita is their spot, Darrin says, because of the “ease of having a healthy lifestyle and living easy. We don’t even need toys for the kids, we just go to the beach.”
Now we’ll return to the land of Mexican husbands with American wives, as we visit with Rene Gomez and Octavia Jolley and their two boys, Enzo Leon Gomez-Jolley and Lucca Xol Gomez Jolley. Once again, the names neatly yet exotically incorporate both cultures, and also honor the current feminist approach of hyphenating last names.
Rene, from Guadalajara–his parents are from Culiacan and Guadalajara–and Octavia, from Carmel, California (she also lived in Saudi Arabia and Japan while growing up, so foreign cultures are in her DNA) met in San Pancho, just north of Sayulita, at a party on New Year’s Eve of 2005-6. At the time, Rene lived in Sayulita, where his family has had property for decades (and where he’s been spending time since he was 12 years old) and Octavia lived in San Pancho. They began dating, and pretty soon thereafter, began a family. They’re still planning the wedding. Like many mixed culture families, they are raising the boys bilingually—she speaks to them in English, he speaks to them in Spanish, and, like the food on the menu at El Break Café, the restaurant they run on the Malecon in Sayulita, their eating style is completely mixed, with influences from both sides of the border and a few spots around the world as well.
For Octavia, the main thing she’s had to learn to deal with as far as Mexican culture goes is Rene’s vast, extended family. She says he has about 120 cousins, and few of them speak English. Plus, he’s got a strong circle of close friends in and from Guadalajara. So she’s got some competition for his attention. As for families in general, while Octavia admits that Mexican families seem to be pretty close-knit, her own experience is that her family was and is more communicative. According to her, Rene’s family all hang out together but they don’t talk. I don’t know, sounds like most families I know, north or south of the border. Family members usually know each other too well to reveal too much of what they know.
With their beachfront restaurant business smack in the heart of the busiest part of Sayulita, they are immersed in town all day; Enzo is on the way to becoming a great young surfer, and they know everybody and everything that goes on downtown. So they choose to live in San Pancho, ten minutes away, to avoid living Sayulita 24/7.
Generally speaking, Octavia thinks Sayulita’s multicultural, multigenerational hordes of visitors—everybody comes here!—have done much to make it into a town where all kinds of families are welcome. Mexican-American bicultural families are not in the least unusual around here. And their family, like the others featured here, is very much a part of Sayulita’s bicultural charm.
Here’s one more bicultural family story, the same, yet completely different.
My friend and neighbor Corey Closson hails from the American Midwest, from the grand old city of Indianapolis, Indiana, although he has spent a fair amount of time in Mexico, since his mother has spent years designing, building, and selling houses in San Miguel de Allende and Sayulita, among other spots. Corey might look and talk like your basic, somewhat gruff, taciturn Midwestern dude, but beneath that pale gringo skin lies a drolly sophisticated bicultural hombre, with plenty of years south of the border under his belt. He likes to poke fun at Mexican building materials, practices and codes, but you won’t see him moving north of the border anytime soon. He is a fine designer and builder of houses (and the structures that get built into them) by trade, having spent the last few years in partnership with his mother and brother building and selling houses in Mexico.
His spouse (though they are not married) and the mother of his one-year old son Edgar Closson, and his two stepchildren, Diego and Daniela Caballero, is Zaida Lugo, a bilingual woman from Mexico City who originally moved here with her former husband and two kids a few years back. That marriage went bad, and in time Zaida met up and fell in love with Corey, who in addition to having one child with Zaida, has pretty much taken on the role of father to her other two kids as well.
Zaida works for a local development company, Corey builds houses when he can, does carpentry and manages houses the rest of the time, and between them, they are raising a trio of happy, bilingual, bicultural kids. There is “no plan for cultural mixing,” says Corey, although he is clearly happy to have them all learning two languages. He and Zaida speak English with each other and with the kids when they’re all together, while she speaks Spanish to them when Corey’s not around. Zaida’s job takes a lot of time, so Corey cooks, mostly middle of the road American food, while their nanny brings some Mexican food into the mix.
They find Sayulita to be an easy place to have a bicultural family since there are so many Americans here as well as Mexicans; most people don’t even think twice about it. Besides, notes Corey, Zaida is “not very Mexican,” he claims, since she doesn’t celebrate religious holidays and her musical tastes run to the same late 20th century stuff that his do. In Indiana, Corey says, they would be bicultural, but here, they’re just another family.
Corey would like to take them to Indiana and show them the world he grew up in; likewise, Zaida would like Corey to spend more time with her in Mexico City. In this way, they both believe they could explore each other’s cultures. Meanwhile, like all these families, on Sunday they go to the beach together, although in this family it is Zaida, not Corey, who’s out there on her stand-up paddleboard chasing waves.
Corey’s final word is, he hopes Edgar has enough Mexican blood to prevent his getting sunburned too easily.
Like all the families we spoke with, Zaida and Corey downplay the significance or influence of “biculturalism” in their family life, but acknowledge it as well. It’s a constant undercurrent, an unconscious but integral element of their lives, and as Corey said, “biculturalism does make it more interesting.”
I think you could say that about Sayulita in general.