MEXICO CITY - The last time I saw Viola Trigo was on a movie set in South Houston over a decade ago. She was in an indie film I was helping produce.
Viola was already a movie, television, radio and concert legend in Mexico when we first met. I was amazed she was willing to play a role in "The Culture of Silence."
Her name recently came up in a conversation with Estevana Castillo, who is giving up her law career and taking up acting.
I had her doubled over laughing after telling her how we needed an overhead shot and the town mayor had a cherry picker pull up to do the job. The chief of police even emptied the jail so our crew could work there. Most memorable was how the town people not only served as extras but held a potluck buffet because -- well, as I said, this was a very, very low-budget movie, with Raul Julia Jr. and Viola Trigo in starring roles.
"You know Viola Trigo?" Estevana asked. So I placed a call to her and we agreed to meet for lunch.
Viola Trigo already had had a formidable entertainment career when I met her. She told us about starting out on the staff of a PR firm. At a party with some of the firm's clients, she was asked to sing a song when she was "it" in spin-the-bottle. She did and a music producer-guest asked her to come in for a tryout.
She was part of the quartet Los Vocalistas under Nacho Mendez's direction. Then she was the first voice of Los Tres con Ella.
Viola married the highly acclaimed composer Guadalupe Trigo, who had himself started out in a legal career but followed, in the 1960s, his other talent, developing the Trigo Sound -- with guitar, bass and other guitar-like string instruments -- accompanied by poetry arranged into lyrics.
He and Viola helped inaugurate the New Songs wave that swept Latin America. In the U.S. it took the form of the songs by Joan Baez that, among others, were often banned by Latin American authoritarians until the 1980s.
In 1966, Viola Trigo was selected by Walt Disney as the voice of Julie Andews in the Spanish-language version of "Mary Poppins." Later she did the voice in another Disney film, "El Blanco."
She related how Disney had a special affinity for Mexico. She suspected that he wanted to unfurl an entertainment campaign in Mexico following the 1968 Olympics, but it didn't happen because of his death in late 1966.
Viola's film career even had her in the leading role of the first color-film version of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1976, co-starring with Fernando Allende.
Outside of the movies, Trigo has been a voice for social justice. She ran for governor of Mexico City in 1976 as the candidate for the Partido del Trabajo. She brought a sense of humane consideration to politics, insisting democracy is also about civic decency, and the kind of civilizing effect the arts can bring to society. Her impact was later recognized in a commemorative postage stamp by the federal government.
Viola Trigo helps organize and performs in festivals and concerts promoting solidarity among bi-national towns along the U.S.-Mexico border. She reminds me that mets'ichi chena is the name of the Rio Grande in the New Mexico Keresan pueblos and that it's worth remembering we are just caretakers, not owners of nature and society.
Last April she helped organize and performed with Jose Feliciano in a concert in Zacatecas.
What did I think?, Estevana asked after Viola boarded her waiting radio taxi.
"I wonder," I told her, "how many of my countrymen would believe we had just heard Mary Poppins say "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" in Spanish.