The enormous cultural richness of El Bajío in Mexico

Find out how El Bajío's cultural vibrancy has been sustained over the centuries, making it one of Mexico's most vibrant regions.

The enormous cultural richness of El Bajío in Mexico
International Balloon Festival. Photo by carlos aranda / Unsplash

El Bajío is a region where economic, urban, and social development have converged for a long time, which has favored a high quality of life, currently above the average in Mexico. These circumstances have also derived from its cultural importance, both nationally and internationally, so it is worthwhile to make a brief review of this enormous wealth.

After the Conquest, beginning in the second half of the 16th century, the viceregal authority protected a large part of the area from attacks by native groups and provided resources and labor for the development of mining centers. Consequently, by the 17th century, El Bajío had achieved a distinctive development from the rest of the New Spain territory and was a nodal passage of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the main artery of silver transportation.

The towns of San Miguel el Grande, San Felipe, Celaya, Lagos, and León became the backbone of the economy of the time, for the transportation of gold and silver through their roads, for being suppliers of household goods, provisions, and clothing for the inhabitants of the mining cities of Zacatecas, Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí, and suppliers of agricultural and bovine food, with irrigation systems applied by the local indigenous towns.

Economic opulence led to the construction of cities, towns, and villages with the civil architecture of a hacienda character, as historian Luis González has pointed out. The academic development and the vast cultural foundation spread the pragmatism and rationalism of the Enlightenment and contributed to the implementation of the neoclassical style in architecture and applied arts. The educational impulse under the rectorship of the Franciscans gave rise to colleges and institutions of higher education in Guadalajara, Guanajuato, León, Celaya, Valladolid and Querétaro.

Posada: "needle recorder of all events"

The Bajío has made fundamental contributions to Mexico's cultural history, and one of its personalities with a notable presence in popular culture is, without a doubt, José Guadalupe Posada, the caricaturist born in Aguascalientes (1852-1913), whose work transcended due to the famous image of death, his catrina that appeared in 1894 in the magazine La Patria Ilustrada, which since the 19th century became already ours, and reached worldwide prominence.

Art critic Antonio Rodríguez described Posada as "an antenna sensitive to all vibrations and a needle recording all events" since he portrayed with his draftsmanship the phenomena of nature and the men of the time: from fires, earth tremors, and comets to suicides, plagues, miracles, and executions. He was a kind of commentator of his time, both of moral and political habits: an artist who drew those years of conflicts, from the French intervention, Maximilian's empire, the Juarista, and Lerdista governments, the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz to the revolutionary movement.

Although Posada worked alongside many editors, it was with Antonio Vanegas Arroyo with whom he excelled: editor of the so-called Gacetas Callejeras, which included corridos, comics, and riddles that were consumed in abundance. With a refined artistic training, acquainted with Degas, Manet, and Toulouse-Lautrec, Posada moved between the extremes of politics: from conservatism to anti-clericalism. According to researcher Agustín Sánchez González, "he was never an extreme radical, nor a militant, and perhaps not even a sympathizer of any leftist tendency". He was born meek and died that way, buried in a modest tomb in the Dolores Pantheon and then thrown into the common grave.

Ramírez, González Obregón, Ibargüengoitia

Ignacio Ramírez, Luis González Obregón and Jorge Ibargüengoitia are three figures from Guanajuato who have achieved national prominence. Known as El Nigromante, Ramírez was born in San Miguel el Grande in 1818 and died in 1870 in the country's capital. Like many of Mexico's 19th-century figures, he shone in journalism, as evidenced in the magazine Don Simplicio -which he co-founded- and in his Nigromantic Letters to Fidel, addressed to Guillermo Prieto. He was an atheist and radical patriot, convinced of the secular state and a promoter of indigenous rights and education. Minister of Justice and Public Instruction of Benito Juárez, founded the National Library and fulfilled his task as Minister of Development with an honesty celebrated in national history.

González Obregón was born in the city of Guanajuato in 1865 and died in Mexico City in 1938. He tried to dedicate himself to Jurisprudence, but in the end, he opted for literature. A bibliophile and journalist, he rescued various traditions and legends of Mexico City, which appear in México Viejo ("Old Mexico"), Las calles de México ("The Streets of Mexico") and Vetusteces ("Vetusteces"), among others. His work shows his interest in the ancient past and the present he lived in, as can be seen in his biography on Bernal Díaz del Castillo and the one dedicated to his teacher, the liberal Ignacio Manuel Altamirano. He was a member of the Mexican Academy of Language and the Mexican Academy of History, where he was also director, among many other institutions of academic and cultural importance.

In 1928, in the city of Guanajuato, Ibargüengoitia was born, one of the most insightful and ironic writers of the Mexico of his time. His initial bet was the theater, although narrative and journalistic articles consecrated him. Los relámpagos de agosto ("The Lightning of August"), his first novel, became a classic for its sarcastic approach to the military and politicians of the Mexican Revolution. In Dos crímenes ("Two Crimes") he dissects, full of humor, the customs, and habits of the society of his native state. Under the titles of Autopsias rápidas ("Quick Autopsies") and Instrucciones para vivir en México ("Instructions for Living in Mexico"), Mexican researcher Guillermo Sheridan gathers a relevant part of his work in the media, which illustrates the marriage between literary vocation and current affairs. In 1983 Ibargüengoitia died in a plane crash.

El Bajío and Unesco World Heritage

World Heritage is comprised of properties and sites of cultural or natural importance that transcend borders and are of exceptional value for present and future generations. The Unesco World Heritage Convention has guaranteed safeguarding and conservation since 1972. Mexico has 31 World Heritage sites in its cultural and natural heritage categories. Among all of them, in El Bajío the following are worth mentioning:

The Historic City of Guanajuato and Adjacent Mines was inscribed in 1988, under the criteria of being "a masterpiece of human creative genius" and an outstanding example of a type of construction and an architectural ensemble that illustrates several significant periods of history. Guanajuato was the most important silver-mining center in the world in the 18th century, which led to the construction of religious, civil, and industrial buildings; tunnels, dams, haciendas, and temples of exceptional baroque architecture such as La Compañía and La Valenciana.

Also in Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende was declared Cultural Heritage in 2008, under the title of Protective City of San Miguel and Sanctuary of Jesus Nazareno de Atotonilco. Cradle of Mexican Baroque, in 2013 this tourist destination won first place worldwide out of the 25 most important cities in the orb, beating Paris, San Sebastian, Santa Fe, Florence, and Vienna. The appointment was made by the most important global travel publisher, Condé Nast Traveler. For 20 years, San Miguel de Allende has hosted the International Jazz & Blues Festival.

The Camino Real de Tierra Adentro ("Royal Road of the Inland") is the route that crosses a large part of the region, from Mexico City to the State of Mexico, Queretaro, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas and Durango. Inscribed in 2010 as a Cultural Itinerary, it is also known as the Silver Route and includes not only five sites inscribed on the World Heritage List but 55 sites located in 1,400 of the 2,600 kilometers of the road that reaches Texas and New Mexico, United States. It was not only a means of economic communication but also of religious, cultural, and social links.

Querétaro was declared a Historic City in 1996. Among the criteria for its inclusion, along with civil and religious buildings built in the 17th and 18th centuries, is its "magnificent example of a New Spanish settlement, whose layout integrates the winding streets of indigenous origin with the rigid Spanish geometry, symbolizing its multiethnic aspect".

Likewise, the Franciscan Missions of the Sierra Gorda: Jalpan de Serra, Landa de Matamoros and Arroyo Seco; Santiago de Jalpan, Nuestra Señora del Agua de Landa, San Francisco del Valle de Tilaco, Nuestra Señora de la Luz de Tancoyol and Concá San Miguel were registered in 2003. The missions are represented by buildings with profusely decorated facades, the testimony of the last phase of evangelization in Mexico in the middle of the 18th century, whose contiguous rural settlements preserve their vernacular character.

Also in that state, Peña de Bernal and the living traditions of the Otomí-Chichimeca people of Tolimán were inscribed in 2009 on the List of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Otomí-Chichimeca people, who live in the semi-desert area of Querétaro, preserve traditions such as the pilgrimage to a symbolic triangle formed by the Peña de Bernal and the Zamorano and Frontón hills. The indigenous people carry crosses to "ask for rain and divine protection, venerate their ancestors and exalt the identity and continuity of their community".

The Bajio is full of festivals and parties

The Bajío has in its borders the realization of festivals that have become examples of cultural enterprises. These include the Cervantino International Festival, the San Marcos National Fair, and the Balloon Fair, which bring together the most diverse interests and audiences.

The International Cervantino Festival has a long life with 43 editions in its home city of Guanajuato. It is considered not only the "most important cultural event in Latin America but one of the five most important festivals in the world". It is part of the European Festival Association, which coordinates these events in 44 countries around the world. Every year, mainly between October and November, FIC holds three weeks with hundreds of musical, theater, opera, film, dance, visual arts, and popular art shows in all the theaters and streets of the city. Each issue revolves around a theme and features one or more guest countries, as well as one of Mexico's 32 states.

Over the years, the International Cervantino Festival has expanded its presence in other cities; it promotes tours for schools and local tourists to attend the main venue and weaves presentation networks in Mexico City. Some of the exponents who have stepped on its stages are Rudolf Nureyev, Martha Graham, B.B. King, Zubin Mehta, Pina Bausch, the Bolshoi Ballet, and hundreds more that combine all kinds of genres, audiences, and tastes. The Explanada de la Alhóndiga de Granaditas is the popular venue par excellence, with free events that have gathered thousands of spectators to enjoy salsa, trova, quebraditas and boleros with artists such as Albita, Tania Libertad, Celso Piña and a huge list.

The first National Fair of San Marcos was held in November 1988 in the city of Aguascalientes, and twenty years later it began to be held in April in the San Marcos Garden. It involves commercial expositions, a Bullfighting Serial, casino, cultural events, and a beauty contest in which, since 1924, the Queen of the San Marcos Fair is selected, within the framework of the Spring Parade, on April 25, the day of San Marcos, the patron saint. Ninety thousand people congregate only in the parade and hundreds of thousands more in the palenque ("arena") where cockfights are seasoned with paid concerts and free events in a new space called Gran Velaria, with popular groups and stars such as Los Tigres del Norte, Molotov, Alejandro Fernandez, La Arrolladora Banda Limon, Marco Antonio Solis, Angelica Maria, Natalia Lafourcade and Banda El Recodo.

In 1842, Benito León Acosta y Rubí de Celis, from Guanajuato, became the first Mexican aeronaut with a hot air balloon of his own manufacture. This feat inspires the International Balloon Festival in the city of León since 2002. One hundred and seventy-two years after that audacity, the International Balloon Festival has managed to gather more than two million people in its twelve editions. It is ranked as the second of its kind in the world, only surpassed by the one in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the United States. In the last three editions, the event has been extended to the municipality of La Piedad, Michoacán, and included exhibitions, concerts, exhibitions of trained dogs, DJ sets, and science workshops. The cultural vitality of El Bajío has been sustained over the centuries making it one of Mexico's most vibrant regions.

Autors: Angélica Abelleyra / Gerardo Ochoa Sandy, Source: Revista Comercio Exterior