If the streets could talk, what would they tell us? That is a question that many of us have asked at one time or another, especially here, in a land with so much history, legends, and myths. In Yucatán and the city of Mérida, it would seem like every corner and nook and cranny has something to tell. The stories that can be told are numerous and full of history, legends, and even romance. One story that is well worth hearing is that of governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto and the journalist Alma Reed. Their relationship was short but definitely intense and could probably be cataloged in the list of great romances in history.
The year was 1923. Yucatán was having a historic moment both politically and socially. Felipe, having fought in the Mexican Revolution alongside Emiliano Zapata, was the constitutional governor of Yucatán. His term was focused on improving the lives of the Maya population and other social advances, such as family planning and women’s rights: two subjects that were frowned upon and contrary to the interests of the wealthy hacienda owners and conservatives. Alma was working as a journalist for the New York Times, in charge of reporting on the excavations that were going on in Chichén Itzá. The first meeting between Felipe and Alma took place on Valentine’s Day; a single glance was enough to change their lives forever.
A large portion of their relationship was long-distance, by letter, but they were also able to spend time together in both New York and Yucatán. It was during a visit to the San Sebastián neighborhood in Mérida that their affair inspired the poet Luis Rosado to compose one of Yucatan’s most famous Trova songs, the song “Peregrina,” which translates to “Pilgrim,” or “Traveler.”
It was spring. The streets were wet from the daily afternoon showers and you could smell the fresh scent of flowers. Alma said, “Oh, what an aroma!” to which Luis responded, “Everything smells great because you are passing by. The earth and flowers long to kiss you and reach you with their perfume.” When the “red dragon with jade-colored eyes” (as Felipe was known) heard this, he commissioned a poem for his love; the poem was then set to music by Ricardo Palmerín, one of Yucatán’s most important composers of the Yucatecan Trova.
The pair was ready to formalize their relationship. She traveled to the United States to prepare for the wedding; he would join her and, once married, they would return to México. However, destiny had another plan for them. At the end of the year, the Delahuertista Revolution broke out; Felipe tried to stop the rebellious attacks but was not successful. He was captured and assassinated while still in office, on January 3rd, 1924.
Despite such a tragic ending, this is one of the most famous love stories to have taken place in the Mayab. Its details are fascinating given the context in which it happened, as well as the relevance and merits of both figures. Would you like to find out more? Take the Romantic Trip and Yucatecan Trova Peregrina tour that explores these moments in history, the anecdotes, and letters between the couple as you tour Mérida’s Centro, accompanied by the best music. More information at: www.yuc.today/tour-peregrina
By Carlos Guzmán
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