With Greater Appreciation

It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month, going on now through October 15, and I’ve been reflecting on my novel THE BUTTERFLY’S DAUGHTER. If you’ve read it then you know that the culture, landscape and mythology of Mexico were essential elements to the story. My main character Luz knew so little about her ancestors’ traditions. As she travels south across the Great Plaines States to her family seat high in the mountains of Mexico, Luz is following the same route as the millions of migrating monarch butterflies to their overwintering sanctuaries. The parallels of the human and wildlife’s sacred journeys were an inspiration to me as I wrote.

The writing of this book was a journey for me, as well. I learned to raise monarchs, I took a trip to Michoacán, Mexico to the butterfly sanctuaries, I studied Aztec myths. Everywhere I turned I discovered a rich source to plumb for my novel. When I finished, I had not only gained a greater appreciation for monarch butterflies, but also for the Mexican culture. Let me share with you some of the aspects that I found fascinating.

• The Day of the Dead is a major holiday in Mexico. In the United States, it is often mistakenly perceived as a ghoulish, Halloween type of holiday like we celebrate here. El Dia de los Muertos is a deeply spiritual holiday that coincides both with a phenomenal event in nature and the Catholic All Souls Day, a day of solemn prayer for all dead people. Imagine the powerful significance of a celebration that blends culture, nature, and religion! This year my sisters and I are building our own altar, or ofrenda, for our parents, sharing our personal stories with our offerings.

The Mexican holiday known as the Day of the Dead on November 1 and 2 corresponds with the arrival of the bulk of the monarchs to the overwintering sites in Michoacán. Locals consider the monarch butterflies to be the souls or spirits of departed relatives that have returned for an annual visit.

The white store-fronts were topped with tile roofs and window trims as bright as the peppers and tomatoes sold in the open market. The town was decorated with festive streamers looped between the buildings, their plastic colored flags flapping in the breeze. Locals thronged the sidewalks, carrying baskets overflowing with orange flowers, bread, sweets and traditional foods for the Day of the Dead. ~Chapter 22, The Butterfly’s Daughter
• Mexico is blessed with an incredibly rich and diverse landscape. There is a cornucopia of nature—migrating birds, whales, turtles, insects. The list is long. It’s no wonder that the Aztecs have always revered nature. The state of Michoacán where the monarch butterfly sanctuaries are located is mountainous and remote. Many of the villages and towns maintain their traditions.

• I have a new appreciation for the Mexican arts. Mexico is well known for its silver, but did you know that many of the great silver mines have closed? I visited Santa Clara del Cobre a town known for copper artisans. The art of making copper sinks is an ancient tradition. I had to have a gorgeous, small hand hammered copper sink which my darling husband carried home. I truly fell in love with the pottery, from the famous Televara to the intricate, vibrant green pineapple pots. There is so much art! Wood, clay, paper mache, contemporary, religious…. Seeing the artisans in Michoacán left a lasting impression, as did the genuine friendliness of the Mexican people there.

• The food! We all think of Mexican food as burritos, tacos, etc. that we buy at a restaurant or get from a can. I promise you, eating fresh, homemade tortillas with homemade refried beans and fresh salsa and guacamole…. There is no comparison! Some of the best meals I had were at tiny tiendas eating fresh off the grill. When I wrote about Abuela’s cooking and her baskets full of avocados, lemons, and lime I am reporting what I saw in the villages. Below I am sharing with you my recipe for refried pinto beans. It’s not hard and you will taste for yourself the difference.

From these experiences and so much more, I have developed a greater appreciation of Mexico and her people. I hope when you read THE BUTTERFLY’S DAUGHTER that you will enjoy the peek of an American girl’s journey to this beautiful country.


2 c. raw pinto beans
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. chopped onion
3 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 c. minced green pepper
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. coriander (optional)
3 Tbsp. olive oil for sautéing peppers and onions.

Cook beans (over-cooking is desirable). Reduce liquid. Mash beans with potato masher.  Heat oil in skillet. Add onions, garlic and peppers and cook till translucent. Add cumin, salt and pepper at beginning of cooking.  Add mashed beans to veggies and seasoning and mix well. If too soupy, may be reduced over low heat at this point. Serve hot. Feeds 4-6 people.

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All the best,
Mary Alice