There may be many English-speaking women over the age of 70 living in this capital city of Guanajuato, Mexico, who are still doing remarkable things with their lives and whom I could interview for my WOW blog in order to share their inspiring stories with others. I’m told there are.
But I haven’t run across them in my travels here this summer. Maybe because my travels have mainly been alone, in the daytime, on foot, to and from el centro, down and up the steep stairways and alleyways of this city, and these smart, accomplished women have long since given up such exhausting climbs and now rely on taxis — as I would, if I were to stay here much longer. Or maybe they leave town during the summer months because this is the rainy season and things tend to flood. I don’t know.
So my posts from Guanajuato over the past 16 weeks have primarily been “Views” – short, personal essays on my sojourn here, as an older woman and an outside observer. I did, however, this week have the chance to sit down with the friend of a local friend, a woman of immense accomplishment and world renown, who agreed to be interviewed for my WOW blog, despite the fact that she’s many years from 70.
When I met with Ana Cervantes over iced coffees at Café Tal in el centro, she had just returned from a ten-day international music conference in Japan. Her life’s work as a concert pianist, I learned, takes her from her home here in Guanajuato, where she’s lived for 16 years, to all parts of the world on an annual basis.
“Among my primary aims as a musician and a pianist,” she told me, “has been to develop a repertoire of contemporary Mexican concert music and to introduce it to audiences worldwide, through live performances and recordings.”
Song of the Monarch: Women in México (Canto de la Monarca: Mujeres en México) is Ana Cervantes’ most recent commissioning and recording project, in which she asked 16 composers from six countries — the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Great Britain, and Spain — for a piece for solo piano, inspired by women who had transcendental roles in Mexican history.
As the emblem for this collection of new music, Ana chose the regal Monarch butterfly because it is both a powerful metaphor for great tenacity and courage in a (seemingly) fragile body and a symbol of Mexico’s connection and communication with the world.
One of the collateral goals of the Monarch project, Ana said, was to send out a “good news story” about Mexico. “That message has to do with our magnificent patrimony, of which these women played a central part. Each of them dared to soar beyond the expectations of the societies they were born into, and, although some of them lived centuries ago, they’ve left a still-inspiring legacy for us, right now.”
Thanks to generous grants from Mexico’s National Council for Culture and the Arts and the National Institute of Fine Arts, Ana recorded the two Monarca CDs during the course of 2013, and her Monarca opened its wings in November 2013 with launches in Washington, DC, New York, Mexico City, and Bogotá, Colombia.
“Bringing this project to fruition is something that gives me considerable pride,” she told me.
In addition to the Monarch project, she is also immensely proud to be a “Fulbrighter.” She explained: “I came to Guanajuato in August of 1999 as a Fulbright Scholar with the project of developing Mexican contemporary concert music for performance in the U.S. It was a life-changing experience for me.”
Both of Ana’s parents came from humble backgrounds. Her father, a Mexican from a poor family, rose to become an economist with the International Monetary Fund; her mother, an American from a lower-middle-class family in Nebraska, achieved a level of education unusual for a young woman of her day. Their daughter Ana was born and raised in Washington, DC, where her father worked for the IMF.
“My parents were Depression children,” Ana told me, “so my father, especially, when I announced that I wanted to be a musician was just horror-struck. They did everything to try to talk me out of it.”
Fortunately for the countless admirers of Ana’s musical talents all over the world, her parents failed to discourage her. In fact, her advice to younger women is this: “Be yourself and be honest about yourself. Listen for that inner voice and cultivate the best contact you can with that inner voice. Don’t let anything or anyone dissuade you from being who you are and doing what you were meant to do.”