Cananea Hopes Revolutionary Past Earns ‘Pueblo Magico’ Recognition

By Murphy Woodhouse
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2018 - 5:10am
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2018 - 10:45am

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Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
The architecture in Cananea is more akin to Arizona mining towns like Bisbee or Jerome than other Mexican cities.

“You walk up, and you can see the indentations that the feet have been making for over 100 years,” said amateur historian Humberto de Hoyos as he climbed up the stairs of the old Cananea Jail, which now serves as the Museum of Worker Struggle.

“The first thing that greets us here is the newspaper. The first newspaper printed in Cananea was Sept. 21, 1902 and it was in English,” he added at the top of the stairs. “Back then Cananea was more of an American town than a Mexican town.”

It was William Cornell Greene’s founding of the Cananea Consolidated Copper Company in 1899 that marked the beginning of the town’s modern era, according to De Hoyos. But it was what happened in 1906 that forever secured Cananea’s place in Mexican history. That summer, Mexican miners who were paid less and treated worse than their American counterparts went on strike — and 23 were killed in the ensuing bloodshed.

“You have to realize the strike was in 1906 and the revolution started in 1910, four years later. But what sparked everything was the strike here in Cananea,” De Hoyos said.

That’s the dramatic history many in Cananea hope will earn the town recognition as a Pueblo Magico, or Magical Town. The federal designation is reserved for Mexican communities with unique historic and cultural significance, as well as tourism potential. It also brings much needed support for infrastructure projects and cachet among travelers.

Pueblos Magicos
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
The copper mining town of Cananea, Sonora is hoping to earn recognition as a Pueblo Magico, or magical town.

This week federal officials are considering adding several towns to the current list of 111 Pueblos Magicos. Two more cities in Sonora — Cócorit and San Carlos — are also in the running, along with dozens of others across Mexico.

If Cananea is successful in its bid, that could mean federal funding for moving utility lines underground, beautification, promotion of the city, support for cultural events and training for local businesses, according to Oscar Damian Hernandez, Cananea city secretary.

But even if it doesn’t win, Economic Development and Tourism Director Alejandro Villa said the years-long process of getting ready to meet all of the program requisites has instilled pride in the community for its complex history and unique, turn of the 19th century architecture.

“People started to realize that what they saw as everyday — their houses, buildings, stories, traditions — were valuable, and that they could offer them to the world,” he said.

Greene mansion
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
Cananea Tourism and Economic Development Director Alejandro Villa, left, and amateur historian Humberto de Hoyos chat in an attic with a secret passageway in the old William Cornell Greene mansion.

The Pueblos Magicos program has not been without controversy. Through the 2000s, the program grew slowly, with a handful of new cities being added each year. Then in 2012 — the last year of Felipe Calderon’s presidency — several dozen were added, leading to charges of political favors. A similar jump came in 2015 under outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The incoming Secretary of Tourism Miguel Torruco said designations were given out like gifts, according to a July story in the Mexican newspaper Milenio. He called for a review of the program. Hernandez welcomes that review.

“Then it will be seen that Cananea deserved the title,” he said. “And without disparaging the other towns that perhaps were named in the last presidency, that opens up a window of opportunity for Cananea.”

Magdalena de Kino, Pueblo Magico

An hour and a half west in Magdalena de Kino, a band plays for pilgrims exiting the San Francisco Xavier chapel. During the first week of October, thousands travel to the town to pay homage to Magdalena’s patron saint.

Magdalena was founded in 1687 by Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino. His remains are on display in the charming main square.

Magdalena plaza
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
The Plaza Monumental in Magdalena de Kino has seen improvements in recent years thanks to the town being named a Pueblo Magico in 2012.

That square has recently seen major improvements, thanks to its designation as a Pueblo Magico in 2012. The number of visitors and the hotels and restaurants serving them have risen.

“Definitely the naming of Magdalena as a Pueblo Magico has profoundly impacted the local economy,” said Raul Millan, a part of the committee that works to maintain program eligibility. “But the most important thing is it has inspired in residents a sense of belonging.”

Brian Savoie brought his mother, son and fiance Martha Garcia down for the festival from Tucson. He’s been a regular visitor for decades because his mother was born and raised in Magdalena.

“It’s beautiful down here. The people, everybody invites you in,” he said. “Everybody is caring and loving down here. Everyone's is willing to give a helping hand. It’s amazing down here.

“I definitely believe that this recognition it’s getting now, it definitely deserves it,” Garcia, a first-time festival attendee, said.

Pueblos Magicos
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
Cananea's mining history is visible all over town.

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