I said, “Let me check my wallet.” I was embarrassed and told him we'd have to stop at
$100 or I wouldn't be able to pay for supper. He offered to play seven songs, giving me a
small discount. With all the time I spend in Mexico, you wouldn't think I'd drop a decim-
al in the exchange rate. I wondered how loudly my old clients would laugh, enjoying the
irony of a retired financial adviser who couldn't correctly convert pesos to dollars.
The band started off with “La Negra” (The Black Lady), the mariachis' traditional opening
song, worked down my list and ended with “El Rey” (The King), a song about a man who
is free and independent, is in essence a king. I enjoyed the music, but the diners under the
portales didn't seem to care about ballads. This was danzón music country.
I chose to sit at a table in front of the historic Hotel Zavavello, which was one reason I
wanted to visit Córdoba. After paying the mariachis, I wandered around the old hotel,
which was built in 1697. Tiles decorated the walls, and archways led to a patio that once
corralled a traveler's horses. It seemed to have changed little in over 300 years. Here in
1821, Don Juan O'Donoju, Viceroy of Spain, after eleven years of war, signed the final
accord with Mexico's General Don Agustin Iturbide, which acknowledged Mexico's inde-
pendence. The two men sealed the pact by going to church, and after mass, returning to
Hotel Zavavello, O'Donoju said, "I believe it will be an easy thing to untie the knot without
breaking the connection."
In the morning I grabbed a taxi for the small town called San Lorenzo de Yanga, which
is only a short drive from Córdoba. Orizaba, Mexico's highest mountain loomed above as
the taxi drove from Córdoba to San Lorenzo de Yanga, or simply Yanga. “De Yanga” was
added to the original name San Lorenzo, when Mexico commemorated Yanga, a hero, by
adding the brave man's name to his town.
My interest in Yanga began when I was once in Veracruz, visiting an art show titled “The
Art of Liberty.” I had never thought of Mexican slavery before. The exhibit told the story
of Yanga, the Black Prince, a Dinka from West Africa. The art was in panels, telling a
story, picture by picture. Paintings depicted Yanga being captured, enslaved and brought
to Veracruz in 1570, then in rebellion, leading insurgents and finally breaking the chains
of bondage. Yanga led a revolt and escaped with a band of slaves into the mountains of
Veracruz where they harassed merchants and travelers and fought a guerilla war against
the Spanish militia for over thirty years.
Yanga and his men joined with Indians and white outcasts, begat another generation and
were never defeated. The Spanish built the city of Córdoba in an effort to secure the road
from Mexico City to Veracruz through the mountains, and still Yanga was a thorn, a rebel