One evening, I must have been twelve years old, my mother found an old movie on a VHS tape she wanted the family to see. It was based on a book titled Yo, Pecador. Upon watching it, I was soon intrigued with the story line as well as with the music. The film was about a Mexican man named Jose Mojica who became a famous operatic tenor, film star and recording artist. To the surprise of many, after all of his fame and fortune, at the age of forty-six he quit show business and devoted the rest of his life to the priesthood. After we watched the film my mother revealed that she had met this star in real life. In 1968 while fixing her passport, my mother and grandmother spotted Jose Mojica visiting downtown El Paso. They both immediately recognized him and asked if he could sign their copy of Yo, Pecador. They both ran home to retrieve the book while Padre Jose kindly waited for them to return. By chance he also had an extra 8 x 10 black and white photo that he dedicated to my grandmother. The dedication reads: “A friendly memory for Rafaela Delgado with my blessings, Fray Jose de Guadalupe Mojica.” To this day my mother, Maria Aguirre, has that photo framed and on display at her house. Little did I know years later I would be writing a blog post about that man in the black and white picture.
Jose Mojica was born on September 14, 1896 in San Gabriel, Jalisco. Around the age of six, he and his mother moved to Mexico City (he never knew his biological father). When the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, Mojica was a student at the National School of Agriculture. The violence of the revolution was so intense that it caused the school to shut down. During this time Jose was a teenager and witnessed many Mexican citizens protesting against dictator Porfirio Diaz. Jose was a supporter of Francisco Madero and sided with the Mexican people that wanted Diaz and his regime terminated. Amongst all the political chaos, he was introduced to opera and was inspired to study music. Mojica began taking classes at the Conservatorio Nacional with Maestro Jose Pierson. Thanks to the Revolution, conditions were still unstable in Mexico, therefore Mojica decided to venture to the United States to broaden his musical path. In 1919 he was offered many lead roles that showcased his artistic range with the Chicago Opera Company (Aida, Faust and Otello, just to name a few). Later, Hollywood came knocking at his door and Jose signed with Fox Studio company in 1929 to appear in several Spanish language musical films. With his new found fame, Mojica also toured and performed solo recitals usually showcasing popular Mexican songs, folk music and several arias from operas. Then suddenly, in the early 1940s he received his spiritual calling and answered his Catholic vocation. He was ordained in Peru in 1947. Even as a priest, he still performed for benefit concerts to help fundraise money for the Franciscan order. His memoir Yo, Pecador, was published in 1956 and soon after the film with the same title was released in 1959. Toward the end of his life he gradually became deaf and died in 1974. Thousands of mourners attended his funeral in Lima, Peru.
I was only familiar with Jose Mojica based off of his biographical film. Though I do speak Spanish fairly well, I lack the ability to read it at a high level. I have never attempted to read his entire biography in that language. For this research, my parents leant their knowledge and assisted me in reading portions of his book. Upon learning more about Padre Mojica, this led me to contemplate how a historical event such as the Mexican Revolution can change the course of one man’s life to lead him into another world of possibilities. It is almost like a domino effect; one event causes other events to happen. The event in this case was the tumultuous revolution. Had Mojica never left Mexico City, would he have achieved as much success as he did? Would his talent be known beyond Mexico? One thing is certain, Jose Mojica is a prime example of an immigrant that left his country to evolve as an artist and share his talent with the world. Though not as famous as others, he left a positive impact on the musical spectrum. It is unfortunate that in today’s society there is a stigma associated with certain foreigners that ruin it for all the good people that wish to better their lives.
Blake, Alfonso Corona, dir. 1959. Yo Pecador. Laguna Films. VHS, 1992.
Britannica Academic, s.v. “Mexican Revolution,” accessed January 28, 2017, http://0-academic.eb.com.lib.utep.edu/levels/collegiate/article/52382
Hernandez, Juan. “The Influence Of The Mexican American Culture Upon The Arts.” American Music Teacher 22, no. 3 (1973): 32-42. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/43534160
J.B. Steane. “Mojica, José.” The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed January 29, 2017, http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/O009321.
Jarvinen, Lisa. The rise of Spanish-language filmmaking: out from Hollywood’s shadow, 1929-1939. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012.
Koegel, John. “Mexican Musicians in California and the United States, 1910-50.” California History 84, no. 1 (2006): 6-29. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/25161856.
Mojica, José. Yo pecador. Mexico: Editorial Jus, 1959.