10 Things to Love About Saltillo

When we first thought of moving to Saltillo, my husband and I both turned up our noses a bit, hoping this would be a short assignment.  After all, Saltillo is just a small, industrial outpost in Mexico’s northeast, right?




Well, OK–small and industrial is a correct description of Saltillo in many ways.  For Mexican cities, Saltillo–with a population of about a million people–is pretty small.  It is very industrial.  It is rather remote, like any city in northern Mexico.


But fortunately, that’s not all that can be said about it.  There are some very solid reasons to fall in love with Saltillo, as my husband and I did our very first week here.  Now that we’ve been here over 10 years, here are 10 reasons why I love Saltillo:


1.  Downtown


Hanging out on the edges of town, where chain restaurants and stores abound, Saltillo could be Anycity, Anywhere.


But head downtown, and experience Saltillo.  Downtown is what makes Saltillo Saltillo.  Let’s face it–50 years ago, there wasn’t much outside of the downtown area anyway.  Even 20 years ago, there wasn’t any city beyond the periferico!


Walking the streets downtown, there’s a real sense of history.  Colonial architecture is noticable, but buildings that are about 100 years old are more predominant.  There’s a certain style to northeastern Mexican architecture, and Saltillo has plenty of those.




There’s also a plethora of small, free museums that dot downtown, which are worth taking advantage of, in order to get to know Saltillo better.  Start with the Sarape Museum (on Allende), and then wind your way through the Government Palace Museum, the Mexican Revolution Museum, Museum of Graphic Arts, the museum dedicated to the Battle of the Angostura, and the Museum of Coahuilan Presidents.




sunset over Saltillo


2.  Mountains


Saltillo is nestled in a valley in the Eastern Sierra Madre mountains.  It doesn’t matter which direction you turn here, it’s always possible to see mountains!  To enjoy them up close, head to the rural areas of Arteaga, or join a tour of the Zapaliname with Saltillo’s board of tourism.




Sanbox at the Gran Bosque Urbano (Ejercito Mexicano).


3.  Parks and Playgrounds


I’ve lived in other cities in Mexico, but none of them do parks a well as Saltillo does!  The parks are regularly maintained (closed on Mondays for maintenance), have working play equipment.  The Gran Bosque Urbano has a lovely, gated playground with a shaded picnic area, lots of trees and bike\walking paths, and an additional, separate dog park.


The Chapulin has hundreds of pecan trees, making it one of the cooler places on Saltillo on a hot day–there’s almost always a breeze!  They’ve got a series of playgrounds, an ampitheater, a cactus garden, and a few vegetable gardens.


Playground at the Alameda


The Alameda is open everyday.  There’s a big, concrete slide in the playground area, which my 80-year-old neighbor said she played on as a kid!  (Other equipment has been updated, of course.)  The Alameda also boasts a talavera-covered fountain.  When it’s on, copper frogs shoot water into it.  There are two libraries in the Alameda, and a small lake.  On warm days, DIF rents paddle boats on the Alameda’s lake for $30 ($50 at night).  Plus, hanging out that the playground end in the afternoons is doubly-enjoyable, as the city’s Center for Musical Studies is right on the corner of Purcell and Aldama.


Frog Fountain at the Alameda


Huge, concrete slides at the Parque Deportivo.






The Deportivo (by the Sarapero’s stadium) has been recently renovated.  They’ve kept their impressive collection of tall, concrete slides.  There are tennis courts, basketball courts, and small soccer fields to use, tables and grills for picnics, and a small lake with a small train that goes around the lake.


The Biblioparque Norte also has soccer fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, a baseball field and sand volleyball.  They don’t have much play equipment for small children, but it is a great place to run around.  The facility used to be a factory, so there’s an empty water-treatment area sunk into the entrance.  It’s a great place for bikes or rollerblading.


4.  Locally-Owned


Like many cities anywhere in the 21st century, we’re beginning to revalue locally-owned businesses.  These are what give any city a lot of its character, and Saltillo is no exception to that rule.


So, if you want to get an authentic taste of Saltillo, you’ll find a higher concentration of locally-owned stores and restaurants downtown.  Wander around, try places, and find a few favorites!


Orquesta Filharmonica del Desierto de Coahuila


5.  The Arts Scene


Thamar Villarreal and Evanivaldo Correa in Il Tabarro from Puccini.


Art isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of Saltillo.  In fact, it probably doesn’t even register for most people.  But there’s getting to be more of a focus on locally-produced art.  From the foundation of the Orchestra of the Desert of Coahuila, to small theaters like Casa la Besana and Sala Prisma.  The Teatro de la Ciudad Fernando Soler has something going on just about every weekend.  In March, they have a festival to celebrate their anniversary, with a variety of concerts, plays, and dance groups nearly every day for at least two weeks in March.


Walk down Calle Juarez downtown, between the Cathedral and San Francisco, and there are a few art galleries, the Ruben Herrera Museum, and a block down from the front of the Cathedral is Casa Purcell, which has rotating exhibits.


fisherman mural on Calle Bolivar in  Saltillo


Don’t forget about the amazing murals that dot Calle Bolivar, about 5 blocks east of the Museo de las Aves!


Every July, Rancho El Morillo, on the southwest corner of Saltillo is taken over by Artescenica, a month-long, intensive, internationally-recognized opera workshop.  At the beginning and the end of the month, they have big concerts in the Teatro de la Ciudad Fernando Soler and the Plaza de Armas.  But, just about every evening in the month of July, there are also free recitals at the Rancho El Morillo.  Participants come from all over Mexico, and teachers come from all over the world.  The talent represented is astounding, so don’t miss out on this year’s Encuentro Internacional de Opera this summer!


Most people don’t think about art when they think about Saltillo, but there’s plenty here!


mural tejedor de sarapes


6.  The Saraperos


Mexico is known as the land of soccer, but that’s not necessarily true for Saltillo.  Most saltillenses  seem to prefer baseball and American football to soccer.  (Soccer is still big here–but it doesn’t seem to be the favorite sport of most.)


Estadio Fransisco I. Madero, P16-08-10 20.37


Last year, sitting in the general section at a Sarapero game, I began to understand a fascination with sports and following your team.  Even thought you may not know anyone else sitting with you in the stadium, you’re immediately part of a group.  There’s a community spirit at a sport stadium, and it’s rather contagious!


In need of some Saltillo spirit?  Check out a Sarapero’s game.  The season starts in April this year.  Sit in the general section (instead of the numbered seats below) and you’ll have a much louder, enthusiastic experience!


And, as half the team is made up of foreigners, half the team rightfully belongs to SaltilloExpats, too!  (We do love the Mexican half of the team every bit as much as the foreign half.)  Go, Saraperos!


Dinosaur hall Museo del Desierto


7.  The Desert Museum


People often ask me what to do in Saltillo.  If you haven’t been to the Desert Museum (Museo del Desierto) yet, you haven’t seen Saltillo yet!


If you want a whirlwind tour of Coahuila’s southeast corner–geologically, natural history, human history, and locally-sourced zoo, the Desert Museum provides all that!


For a longer review of the Desert Museum, click here.


8.  Catón


Don Armando Fuentes Aguirre–or Catón–as he is better known, is Saltillo’s most famous citizen.


To be honest, simply being famous is no great recommendation in my book.


However, in my 10 years here, it has become clear that this man has a lot to do with what Saltillo is today.  Whether he embodies Saltillo’s character or whether he’s founded so many institutions that make Saltillo Saltillo, I really can’t say.


Don Catón is a man of many talents, but he’s best known for his syndicated columns that appear daily in newspapers nationally.  My husband and his cousin will sit and read the paper, laughing out loud at whatever Catón wrote that day.  I’ll read the same thing, rather lost.  Even though I may understand every word, jokes in Spanish are still sometimes lost on me.


However, I’ve heard Don Armando speak in public, and yes–he is really funny.  Besides trying to make everyone laugh on a daily basis (he also makes some prominent points or social commentary along with his jokes . . . he’s got a wry sense of humor), he’s also the Cronista de la Ciudad, which is an official position in any city, keeping record of Saltillo’s past and present.  He’s been a teacher, studied to be a lawyer, founded the newspaper Vanguardia, been rector of the Autonomous University of Coahuila, and started Radio Concierto–among other things.


Caton's books


But the best thing about Don Armando is that he doesn’t think of himself as a big shot.  My cousin worked for the Coahuila Book Fair, and, of course, dozens and dozens of authors were invited to present their work.  Catón was invited and came.  My cousin was rather appalled by the self-importance and diva-ness of so many of the authors.  But Don Armando, who is more famous and prolific than most of these other authors, was always pleasant to talk with and was visibly happy for the opportunity to share his work appear at this fair.


Now, basic decency shouldn’t make one an exemplary person, but in this day and age, it does!


Don Catón continues to give back to Saltillo in a number or different ways, and modern Saltillo wouldn’t be the same without him!


(Fun fact:  he also studied journalism at Indiana University, so he and I were possibly the only two Hoosiers in Saltillo for awhile!)


These last two points are rather particular for my experience, but have had the most impact on why I love Saltillo.


9.  Coro Vox Amoris and the AFA Opera Workshop


Three years ago, I came across a facebook announcement for an open audition for a choral section to accompany the Orchestra of the Desert whenever they might be in need of a vocal section.  Intrigued, I went.  Much to my amazement, I was accepted!


Coro Vox Amoris


Participating in this choir has been one of the highlights of my time in Saltillo.  Not only have I grown as a musician, but this choir has been my escape and a great source of community.  We’re an eclectic group:  there’s about 40 of us, ranging in age from 18-60+.  Despite our age differences, (among many other differences) we all to admire and appreciate each other, so it’s a great group to be a part of.


Sour Angelica


Thichoir accompanies the AFA Opera Workshop of Coahuila, and this fall we presented Pucchini’s Trittico of three one-act operas (Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi).  We’ve got more opera projects in the works!  Stay tuned in June!


Gianni Schicchi


I never thought I’d ever be comfortable talking about opera, much less singing it, but participating in Coro Vox Amoris has been an unexpected–yet very gratifying–part of my education!


10.  Bible study group


My oldest child was born two months after we moved to Saltillo.  If moving isn’t isolating, moving when about to have one’s first baby really is!  After about a year of living here, (and only knowing about three neighbors well enough to visit), I was so desparate for friends that I randomly messaged people on facebook.


Fortunately, I stumbled on one woman who had been in the same boat as me.  (Not only recently moved to Saltillo, first child, but also a gringa married to a Mexican!)  She knew of a regular meetup of women at a coffee shop and a nondenominational Bible study that included free babysitting.


She had me at free babysitting.


But, given the whole “Faith Life” section of this blog, I am pretty into Bible study, too.  And thank goodness, I am, because this group has been my family over my 10 years here.  The members of the group have come and gone, but there’s a certain continuity to it that keeps it the same, despite the change in faces.


So, thank you English Women’s Bible study group at SALT church!  Saltillo would have been a much lonelier experience for all of us, had this group not existed!




And, for those facing a move, I can’t recommend highly enough how useful churches (particularly small groups) are for making friends.  For those who’d rather not hang out at church, that’s why I started SaltilloExpats!


Now, for a Catholic woman fluent in Spanish, it does seem a little strange that I felt it necessary to head all the way to the other side of town to hang out in a nondenominational church to find some fellowship.  While mass in Spanish is marvelous, and it’s hard to go more than three blocks without finding a Catholic church, most Catholic churches aren’t great at cultivating community.  (And let me tell you, the Diocese of Saltillo encourages community much better than other communities I’ve lived in!)  It’s just that Mexican community revolves around family.  So for those of us without family here . . . it’s really kind of difficult.


And for those who don’t speak Spanish–it’s even more difficult!


So take advantage of community where you can find it!  I’m glad I did!

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Christmas Markets in Saltillo

For any holiday in Mexico, street corner vendors take over, hawking flags for Independence Day, Guadalupe statues for Guadalupe Day, fake mustaches for Revolution Day, and team jerseys for the football finals–because that’s as big a holiday as any in Mexico!

Christmas in Mexico is no exception.  But instead of merely just the street vendors hawking Christmas trinkets, entire plazas get taken over and turned into a veritable Christmas market.


What will you find at a Mexican Christmas market?

Nativity Scenes

Throughout Mexico, the national obsession from mid-December to the 2ed of February  is arranging enormous nativity scenes.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m convinced that there’s an unofficial competition among all the Mexican grandmas as to who has the most elaborate Nativity Scene.  These things literally take over the large part of most living rooms!

(If anyone has a photo of a spectacular one, please share it in the comments section.)

Where to all these abuelitas get the figurines for their Nativity scenes?  At the Christmas market, of course!  There are rows and rows of baby Jesuses, Wise Men, Angles, cows, shepherds, Marys and Josephs . . . plus ladies making tortillas, old men roasting goats, and Satan.


Because every Nativity scene needs a Satan, right?  (Well, they do in Mexico!)


They also need stables to house Mary and Joseph, and moss for them to rest on.


Christmas TreesIMG_8057

Christmas trees are popular in Mexico, too.  Mexico is quite mountainous, so one doesn’t have to go far in order to find a decent pine forest.  But most trees are imported, so check with the seller if you’re dead-set on finding a locally-sourced one.

Unless you live on the coast.  Then you’re out of luck, and they’re all likely imported.  But those probably all come from Christmas tree farms, so that’s a good thing, too.  (Here’s hoping that domestic trees come from tree farms.  On the books, cutting down trees is well-regulated in Mexico.  But like with most laws here, it’s questionable how well those laws are enforced.)


And there are plenty of people at the Christmas market selling lights to put on that tree!  Good luck finding a strand that doesn’t play annoying music.


Ponche and Champurrado

A quality Mexican Christmas market will have stands selling ponche and champurrado–and if there’s champurrado, there’s likely tamales, too!

What is ponche and champurrado?

Selling ponche in huge quantities–as it was meant to be!

Ponche is a hot, fruit punch, made from apples, guavas, tejocotes, sugar cane, cinnamon, and piloncillo.  It’s just marvelous, and very seasonal.  Part of the ponche magic is eating the fruit along with the drink, so ponche should be served with a spoon or fork.

Champurrado is basically hot chocolate, fortified with tortilla dough.  It may sound weird, but it tastes amazing.  That extra thickness from the dough makes it even thicker, so it’s more of a stick-to-your-ribs kind of drink than normal hot chocolate.Ponche de frutas navideño - 3

Unfortunately, my market in Saltillo didn’t feature any hot drinks sellers.  But if you’re exploring in Saltillo, you don’t have to go far for a decent champurrado.  Head up toward the San Francisco church, and take a left at the corner of Juarez.  Compadre’s restaurant has a good café de olla, but if you’re in the market for champurrado, head a few doors farther down Juarez to the Cafeteria y Hotel Doña Ofelia–well, it’s Doña Somebody-or-Other, but Ofelia sounds about right.  Anyway, their champurrado is excellent.  (The tamales are just OK.)

Or there are plenty of other hot drink/tamal/gordita options right behind the cathedral, on the corner of Calle Bravo and Juarez, and around the Plaza San Francisco.

Where’s the Christmas market in Saltillo?


Joseph with a Zapata-style mustache!

It’s in the Plaza Francisco I. Madero, on the corner of General Cepeda and Emilio Castelar, just a block behind the cathedral.  (And about half a block to the left of the cathedral, if you’re facing it.  Or, north of the cathedral, for those who can process cardinal directions.)

Don’t get Plaza Francisco I. Madero confused with Plaza San Francisco.  That’s just a block up the road.  Or, if you get to Plaza San Francisco, walk down the street (literally, down–this is Saltillo, and the city was built on a hill) and you’ll find it sooner than later!

If you’re elsewhere in Mexico, poke around any historic city center, and there is bound to be a Christmas market somewhere.

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Photo of Woman Making Ponche by JEDIKNIGHT1970 from wikicommons

Photo of Mug of Ponche by ProtoplasmaKid from wikicommons

The Fair Is In Town!

The annual Fair of Saltillo is in full swing!  It runs through August 5th, so if you’re in town, head out to the fairgrounds!  (On the road to Arteaga.)

Last year, the Tripps documented their experience at the fair.  Click on the video below to see the fair through their eyes.


If you liked that, subscribe to their youtube channel here!

Curious about the concerts?  Here’s the official poster!


Bus Routes Explained!

I stumbled upon maps of many of Saltillo’s bus routes!

This HAS to be shared!

For those looking to hop on a bus for the first time, it costs $11 a ride (July 2018).  So yes, if you have more than 2 people, getting a taxi is more economical.  There are discounts for prepaid cards, students with prepaid cards, seniors with prepaid cards, and handicapped people with prepaid cards.

For full disclosure, I found the maps at transparencia.saltillo.gob.mx

Can’t find the route that runs by your house?  Maybe transparencia.saltillo.gob.mx will have it!  (We can hope.)

Or, hop on a bus and see where it takes you!



ruta 8 morelos directaruta 13Aruta 13BRuta 14Ruta 18 ColoniasRuta ArteagaRuta Los Valdez

Mural Tour on Calle Bolivar

Last May, Colectivo Tomate took to the streets–well, one street in particular–and, quite literally, painted the town.  (OK, they painted the street.)  The effect is impressive, and one that Saltillo can enjoy for years to come.

Murals are one of Mexico’s more notable art forms.  The Mexican mural tradition dates back to prehispanic times, but had a notable resurgence in the 1930s, thanks to artists like Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siquieros.

Weaving Dinosaur
The ultimate Saltillo mural–a dinosaur making sarapes!

The Tomato Colective has been drawing attention to neighborhoods, making murals throughout the country, notably in Puebla, Mexico City, Querétaro, Monterrey, La Paz, and San Luis Potosí.  “It is a project based on the active participation of the community through the creation of murals that will be in their neighborhoods and, above all, on their houses.  This will create a connection between people:  it will tell the story of the neighborhood and, doing so, will result in a healthier society,” explained Liz Raschel, chief of public relations for the Tomato Colective to Zocalo reporter, Christian Garcia.


The Tomato Colective‘s artists planned and painted (with help from the community) 50 different murals, painted by 25 different artists.  Some artists are from Saltillo, some from other parts of Mexico, and some came from other countries.  (Scroll down for a list of the participating artists.)


“The impact of the Tomato Colective‘s work is that all the neighborhood comes together and all the neighbors collaborate.  It’s not just having 50 random pieces of art.  These 50 murals reflect the history of these houses,” commented Mabel Garza, director of the Municipal Institute of Culture last year.  [Quote also from the Zocalo, May 2017.]

Not only do these murals reflect the history of the houses they’re painted on, but the artists worked closely with the families who donated the exteriors of their houses to this project, making sure that the finished products would be a source of pride for the families, the Águila de Oro neighborhood, and the larger community of Saltillo.




Where to find the Águila de Oro Murals?

It’s on Calle Bolivar downtown.  Calle Bolivar dead ends at the parking lot for the Museo de los Aves.  It is often easiest to park on Calle Bravo (the next street parallel to Hidalgo), and then walk the four blocks to where the murals really start.  (There is one on a building near the Bird Museum.)

Towards the end of the Parade of Murals, some streets that cross Bolivar end in a set of stairs that will lead to the Mirador.  It’s a pretty intense hike, but if you’ve made it that far (and are in pretty good health), it’s worth finishing off the mural tour with the best view of Saltillo.

Still not sure how to get there?  Contact Jill Douglas at jilldouglas01@hotmail.com, and we can arrange a guided tour.


Participating Artists:


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Saltillo's downtownmuraltour

Downtown Tour–on Video!

For those who aren’t yet in Saltillo, and are looking to get a feel for the place, I’ve added this video from Hannah and Doren.  They’re missionaries affiliated with SALT church (on Eulalio Gutierrez, just north of HEB San Patricio, and services are informal and largely in English, for those interested).

Doren grew up here in Saltillo, and Hannah moved here last year, and this is one of their many videos showcasing what they enjoy about living in Saltillo.

This one gives us a brief walking tour of Saltillo’s colonial downtown area.

Thanks for sharing, Hannah and Doren!


If you enjoyed that, pass on some love and subscribe to their youtube channel!


If anyone else has photos, videos, or written reflections they’d like to share here, send them to saltilloexpats@gmail.com or send Jill a message through the SaltilloExpats facebook group.



Guadalupe Day in Saltillo

002A word of warning:  if anyone plans on going downtown this weekend, particularly on the streets just northwest of the Alameda, you might be sitting in traffic for much longer than usual.

Why?  Monday, December 12th, is the annual commemoration of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  All the little old (Catholic) ladies go nuts for her.  In fact, for many people in Saltillo, Guadalupe Day is a big, fat, hairy deal.

Why?  Nearly 500 years ago, Mexico was in the earliest stages of adjusting to Spanish colonial rule.  To put it lightly, the conquest was rather devastating for just about everyone 005involved.  Indians were being round up and enslaved.  There was even a debate going on about whether Indians had souls–after all, it´s much easier to enslave people if it´s possible to convince others that the people in question aren´t fully people.  (Oh, the horrible things people do for power.)

In the midst of all this turmoil, a man named Juan Diego was on his way to Mexico City when he was stopped on top of a hill by a vision of the Virgin Mary.  She asked him to go to the bishop and ask him to build her a church.  He kept trying to convince the bishop, but understandably, the bishop wasn´t about to build a church for everyone who waltzed through his door.  The bishop asked Juan Diego for some miraculous sign.  Guadalupe appeared to him again, telling him to go to the bishop one more time.  She told him to pick some roses growing on the hill for the sign the bishop asked for.  Roses weren´t native to Mexico, were blooming out 006of season, and had not been planted on that hill–all reason enough to constitute the necessary miracle, right?

Juan Diego gathered the roses in his tunic.  When he met with the bishop, he let his tunic fall open, showering the floor with roses.  Moreover, everyone in the room could see the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe imprinted on his tunic.  All those present noted that this apparition appeared to be of an Indian woman, which effectively ended the debate of whether Indians were to be counted as fully human in the eyes of God.  Horrible things still happened to the native population, but at least those atrocities weren´t theologically justified.

Juan Diego´s  tunic is still on display in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, just about007 on the very spot where Juan Diego met Guadalupe.  However, since she is so popular all over Mexico, Saltillo has a Sanctuary to Guadalupe on Perez Treviño, just west of the Alameda.

So watch out if you´re headed that way!  Street vendors, food stalls, matlachines, and pilgrims will be blocking traffic all weekend.  But it´s a good time, too.  So–for those not faint of heart–come on down!  It´s a good time to buy a cup of champurrado and enjoy soaking in some culture.

Matlachines come in and out all day long.  Bring earplugs, because I´m sure everyone inside loses a few decibels of hearing when they come thundering in!


Government Palace Museum


During Spring Break, I took my visitors through the Sarape Museum, and they were still game for more museums.  (My favorite kind of visitors!)  We were hanging out in the Plaza de Armas, so I suggested that we wander through the Museum of Coahuila’s Government Palace, which is located in the back corner of the big, pink, state government building.

Now, for years, I assumed that the state building was off-limits for the public.  Then one day, I was at the Plaza de Armas with a friend and her preschooler had to use the bathroom.  She just waltzed past the security guards at the entrance and that kid was able to use a beautiful, clean, free, public toilet!047

So don´t shy away from entering the state government building on the Plaza de Armas.  The metal detectors and guards are a little intimidating, but it´s well worth a visit.  One reason for visiting is the Government Palace Museum, which occupies one corner.  Like most of Saltillo’s government-run museums, it´s tiny.  If one reads fast (or doesn’t have enough Spanish to read much), a visit can take 5-10 minutes.IMG_3819

However, if visitors do like to read, it´s a pleasant way to spend a small portion of an afternoon.

The first part of this tiny museum is a quick overview of Mexican history.  Colonialism to the modern day, all in about 5 minutes!

The second part of the museum seemed to go off on a tangent, singing the praises of
IMG_3821Coahuila’s governors.  After all, this is the building where the governors go to work everyday.  When they’re in their offices, of course.


For those who have ever wondered who Perez Treviño and Nazario Ortiz Garza were–major streets are now named after these men–look no further.  This museum will clue us in.

The museum has a third gallery, housing rotating exhibits.  At the moment, there are a collection of photographs and some costumes celebrating matachines.  No festival in Coahuila is complete without a group of matachines, so it was an appropriate exhibit in the state government building.



However, that which makes a visit inside the state government building most worthwhile isn’t even in the museum.  On entering the government palace, look up, or go up a flight of stairs.  On the second story is a fantastic mural highlighting key events in history and a few of Coahuila’s most famous citizens.


That mural will bring me back inside the government building.  That, and the free restrooms.  But I’ll swing through the museum before or after, so they’ll continue to keep the restrooms open to the public.

The Tools to Make It Through

Kids whose families are struggling face tremendous pressure to find a job, forcing far too many students to consider dropping out of school to work full-time, even before they´ve finished junior high.


Many rally to that article in the Constitution that declares every Mexican child is entitled to a free education.  But the reality of public education is that the government pays the teachers´ salaries and the construction of the school building.  The parents are responsible for the maintenance of that building.  So when the school asks for supplies, they often ask for toilet paper and bleach more often than they ask for paper and pencils.

Every school has a registration fee, in the name of parents´ association dues, to maintain the building.  Then teachers ask for bleach, toilet paper, and sanitary napkins, and $10 to $20 pesos every few weeks to keep the school functioning.  Add in the cost of school supplies, uniforms, and backpacks, and this quickly becomes overwhelming!

How do parents who struggle to put food on the table manage?

Seeing the need of these struggling students, the Christian Relief Fund (CRF), founded the community center last year, with the help of a group of full-time volunters from Ft. Worth.  The Christian Relief Fund provides funds for sponsored students to pay their school fees and school supplies, taking some pressure off of parents and providing a safe and supportive place for students to spend their afternoons.

CRF Saltillo birthdays
Celebrating a birthday.

So the community center got the word out, sent around questionnaires for interested families, and those families in the most need now receive uniforms, school supplies, and school fees from the Christian Relief Fund, as well as enrollment at the community center on a regular basis for homework help and enrichment classes.  In Saltillo, the Christian Relief Fund currently sponsors 104 children.

The center is open every afternoon, Monday through Friday, and on Saturday mornings.  Kids can drop in to do their homework and use the computers.  They begin organized activities every afternoon with a short IMG_7628devotion and songs.  Then they offer English classes, grammar classes, reading workshops, a career exploration class, and–everyone´s favorite–a “trip around the world” class, exploring different countries.  A number of the moms like to join in for that one!  On Friday afternoons, they take it easier, playing games and watching movies.  Saturday mornings, they serve breakfast and make crafts, in addition to holding a solid class or two.

The children who attend the community center need to be sponsored by the Christian Relief Fund.  Sponsored students are required to keep up their grades, write letters to their sponsors, and must visit the center at least once a month.  However, many of the kids come just about every day.  A number of the kids´ moms help organize snacks, maintain the building, and participate in classes of their own.

In just over a year, they´ve already met with some sucess stories.  Brian was a bit of a troublemaker in the spring.  The community center offered a day camp program during the summer, and Brian–despite his tendency to cause trouble–came every day.  However, by the end of the summer he was volunteering to serve snacks to the other kids, possibly noticing that he got more attention by being helpful than by causing problems.

CRF Saltillo
A rock climbing field trip during summer camp in August at “La Maquinita”.

While the classes offered by the center are largely secular, the Christian Relief Fund does want this to be a place where participants can learn about God, so they begin the afternoon reading a Bible story and singing praise songs together.  Now, for those who have spent any time in “church-y” circles in Mexico, it´s abundantly clear that Catholics and Protestants mix like oil and water.   So, given the evangelical nature of this project, is the community center more welcoming to Protestant kids?  Not at all!  Of the current, full-time directors, one is Catholic, one is Protestant, and the third is at home in both camps.  It´s encouraging to know that the leadership within this organization is taking a step to stop this inter-religious polarization.  Thanks to the example of the directors, the kids who attend have the chance to learn about God together–regardless of their denomination.

Knowing that expats–particularly accompanying spouses–have a need to get out and get involved in the community, I asked if there were any volunteer opportunities at CRF Saltillo.  They have a real need for a psychologist on a regular basis.  Also, given the number of classes they offer every afternoon, they´d be happy to have volunteers to teach on a regular basis.  They already offer English, and anyone with any kind of passion might be welcome to share that passion with the kids.  For example, they used to have a dance teacher.  But she is no longer able to come.  Is anyone willing to fill that void?

CRF Saltillo
A visitor, talking about her job as a journalist (the kids are looking at samples of her articles that she passed around).

If one´s time is more limited, come and share for their career class.  This involves coming in once, for one afternoon, and talking about one´s chosen field of work.  It´s hard to convince kids to study engineering if they have no idea what an engineer does!

And, of course, the CRF community center would love to have more kids sponsored!  There are currently 14 kids on the community center´s waiting list, and they could easily find more.  To sponsor a child, check out the Christian Relief Fund´s webpage here.

For kids who are thinking about dropping out of school in junior high, and the fact that high school does become an even bigger financial burden, the CRF community center in Saltillo makes it possible for kids to stay in school, when they might otherwise drop out to look for a job.  A high school graduate is now able to continue her studies at the university level–an opportunity she would not likely have been able to take advantage of, without the help she received from the Christian Relief Fund.

The more education kids get, the more likely they are to break the cycle of poverty.  The Christian Relief Fund´s community center is Saltillo is making some serious strides to give these kids the means to a better life.


photo credits:  Emily Garcia



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Day of the Dead at the Santiago Cemetery

The Day of the Dead–what is it all about?DayofDead

In many places throughout Saltillo, altars dedicated to deceased family
members or famous people are on display.  If interested in finding some, try the Secretary
of Culture building, on the corner of Juarez and Hidalgo, right across the street from the Casino de Saltillo.  Or Casa Purcell.  Or the art museum that´s on Juarez and General Cepeda, about 2 blocks behind the cathedral.  Museums in general are just a great place to find Day of the Dead altars.  In years past, many of the city high schools sent students to make altars at the Alameda during the last week of October.  I haven´t seen that in a few years, though.

The Katrina Museum draws in a 027huge crowd this time of year, and for good reason.  A visit there is a great way to get an understanding on the holiday.

However, a few years ago, to see how the holiday is really celebrated, I finally took a trip to a cemetery.  Now, I felt a little odd, not having any family members buried in this particular cemetery.  I didn´t want to be an obtrusive cultural observer, crashing a serious party.  But, at the same time, I was dying of curiosity about how families did celebrate the holiday.  My Mexican husband has more “gringo” attitudes than I do regarding the Day of the Dead (as in, it weirds him out), and my in-laws live018 to far away to join them.  (Then again, I don´t think they celebrate the day much, anyway.)

So, off I went to the cemetery, to be a fly on the wall.

First of all, getting to any cemetary on the 1st or 2ed of November is easier said th
an done.  Many bus routes forgo their normal routes and instead, list the cemeteries on their windshields where they´ll leave passengers.  Fortunately, the Santiago Cem014etery (just past the Universitary Hospital on Calz. Francisco I. Madero) is within walking distance for me.  If one wants to drive–good luck.  From what I have seen, parking is nearly impossible.  And the traffic is horrible on these days past any cemetary, so when at all possible, rearrange  normal routes to avoid driving past cemeteries on the way to work, the store, etc.  Outside of every cemetery are numerous flower vendors, further blocking traffic.

Unless, one is looking to buy flowers.  Then they´re a boon.

The cemetery was crowded.  Through some aisles we inched along, rather processional-like.  However, the mood was not terribly solemn.  Families were simply there to clean up their family members´ graves, put some flowers on them, and to say a prayer for their dearly departed.019

Despite my hesitation to intrude on strangers´ solemnities, it turned out to be an afternoon well spent.  Even though I didn´t know anyone buried in the Santiago Cemetery, that afternoon provided me some precious time to reflect on people I´ve lost–healthy reflections that we tend to run away from in US culture.

In fact, this annual national remembrance for those who´ve passed away is no doubt hugely beneficial for most families, providing a regular time to remember those we´ve lost, reflect on our grief, and to heal.  015When I joined total strangers in the Santiago Cemetery, the experience turned out to be more than a cultural observation.  The experience gave me a chance to participate in a healthy time of reflection.  Having learned the value of such a holiday, it´s now a day that I´ll continue to set aside in my calendar from here on out.

Thanks, Mexico!


Looking for Day of the Dead activities?  The Katrina Museum is sponsoring a few ghost story tours throughout the city, and the museum will be open for most of the Halloween/Day of the Dead weekend.  Check out the calendar for dates, times, and locations.

And if you´re out by the Katrina Museum, get hungry, and want to keep to the Halloween/Day of the Dead theme, stop in at Monster Café, on the corner of Allende and Mariano Escobedo.  The owners are some of our most enthusiastic followers!

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