THREE AMAZING WOMEN | PART 1 | PEPITA SERRANO | PATRON OF THE ARTS
I would like the first three posts of this blog to focus on the recent Amazing Women Jennifer Milliken and I selected for the 2017 Women’s Forum Mexico. They had one concept in common: being relentless.
Pepita Serrano is one of these women. Pepita Serrano is the founder of SIVAM (International Society of Mexican Art and Values), a foundation dedicated to culture and the arts in Mexico and one of the most well-known women in Mexico City.
The salon next to the entrance of the Bristol palace on rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, near France’s Presidential Palace in Paris, is filling fast on this first Sunday afternoon of 2018. Prominent international guests of the hotel and Parisians take their seats as Pepita Serrano arrives to introduce three young opera prodigies from Mexico: Alejandra Gomez, Angélica Alejandre and Leonardo Sanchez.
In the front row, the 46-year old Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón and his wife Lucia have joined the audience. This is no surprise: as a young man, Villazón had found in the foundation Pepita Serrano created in 1996, SIVAM, a pathway to studies, which led him to Placido Domingo’s Operalia competition. He won second prize in 1999, and this launched his international career.
Pepita is now helping a new generation of Mexican singers to follow in Villazòn steps.
This drives her life: unearthing Mexican cultural talent and promoting it at all costs – hoping that Mexico’s culture will keep growing and shining.
Yet as Pepita Serrano dedication to SIVAM and to enhancing culture in her country makes her remarkable, it is her determination to free herself from a comfortable life striving to make a difference in Mexico and beyond that makes her extraordinary.
Born in a wealthy family that was part of the large Hacienda de las Morales in Mexico City, Pepita could have easily been the perfect shadow-housewife, benefiting from a comfortable, risk-free and potentially more mundane existence
During the conversation held at the 2017 Women’s Forum Mexico with journalist Javier Solorzano, 70-year old Pepita explained that when she was born, “Mexico was a country where women were not educated; they did not go to university.” Pepita did go to school but “we didn’t think about much more than just being housewives, getting married, and having children.”
Pepita decided to go further.
Becoming a woman leader in a country recognized for its machismo added another challenging layer to her own ambition. She later wrote a book dedicated to women and friends who, like her, have made a difference, who took up that challenge.
She acknowledges, however, times are changing. “Women are coming together, which is something that was not happening before – and women could be a defining factor for the future of Mexico,” she told Solorzano.
For Pepita, fate came through her uncle and her father (a friend of Mexican composer José Alfredo Jiménez) who both, unknowingly, opened the world of music to her, and thus a world of endless opportunities.
One of these first opportunities was to experience life and culture abroad.
Before she married at the age of 21, Pepita lived in Paris. She studied at La Sorbonne, spoke four languages, and in lieu of savoring tea at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée on Avenue Montaigne, she pushed the doors of DIOR across the street and became one of the many (almost) anonymous interns. Preparing coffee for the models and bringing scissors to the couturiers, she was far from the bourgeois-life she had left in Mexico. Pepita is dreamer, always filled with projects, and focused on the arts, her love for her country, and her determination to make something of her life regardless of the misogynistic traditions of her culture. Pepita dreamed of becoming a painter and of singing. She wanted La Bohème.
Once she got married and became a mother of four, Pepita still never abandoned her dreams.
In fact, quite the opposite: she dedicated her energy and life to further cultural institutions in Mexico, and to become a great patron for the arts in a country where culture, including for example music and art, is not yet taught at the level of the talent of its people and often not at all.
In an interview with Agence France Presse, Pepita shared her conviction that “culture is capable of saving a conservative country.” But recognizing the lack or weak cultural education in her native country, she lamented during her conversation with Solorzano, that what Mexicans “seem to want is to have uneducated people because it is much easier to manipulate uneducated people than educated people.”
Yet on that cold January Parisian day, Pepita’s passion, pride and optimism showed through: Passion as promoting singers and Mexico against all social odds has become her legacy; Pride as the audience that afternoon at the Bristol was taken away by the indescribable talent of these three voices singing; and Optimism as not only will Alejandra, Leonard and Angélika go on to have celebrated international careers, but also because Pepita has supported Mexican culture, dedicatedly, powerfully, and graciously .
“Like the Mexican song says, this is the life that you have built, and this is the life that you have made, the present and the future,” Pepita concluded.
A relentless life.
MORE ON Pepita Serrano: check out AFP Story and SIVAM website:
MORE ON Pepita Serrano: check out the Amazing Women section: