History of the Term Pata Salada

I have heard stories from locals about what it was like to grow up in Puerto Vallarta in the 1950s. 

Once, a taxi driver told me this story: 

In the 1950s, it was common that children in Puerto Vallarta didn’t wear shoes until they were about 10 years old. This is why now people born in Puerto Vallarta are called pata salada. The term means “salty paws,” which is a reference to children going everywhere barefoot. The children, of course, loved this lifestyle. 

At that time, the school in the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood had no wooden doors or glass windows, only openings in the building where they would go. Anyone who lives full time in Vallarta can tell you that during the hot, humid summer months it’s better to have an open air design, and this is why some of the older buildings and homes in Vallarta do not have doors or windows. Now that air conditionings are becoming ubiquitous, this is changing, but in the 1950s it was common to have openings to let the air pass in and out. 

Many people know the Hollywood history of Puerto Vallarta: In 1963, filmmaker John Huston arrived with cast and crew to film the movie Night of the Iguana, starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, and Sue Lyon. Burton brought his then girlfriend, soon-to-be wife, Elizabeth Taylor to the set. They were both stars and both married to other people at the time, so their illicit romance drew paparazzis around the world after them, including to Puerto Vallarta.

The movie put this small Mexican fishing village on the map, and Burton and Taylor’s romance became legend. An airstrip had been built for the film crew, and started servicing wealthy people. More Hollywood movie stars started to come to Vallarta for vacation and touring the city.

One particular group of movie stars (the taxi driver didn’t know who) visited the school in Colonia Emiliano Zapata, and they found children with no shoes and a school building with no doors or windows. They automatically assumed this was due to poverty, as opposed to logical reasons and choices. Maybe it was, but from a child’s perspective, everything was normal. 

So the stars returned with glass and wood, and they installed doors and windows on the school building. They returned again with shoes for all of the children. They came back again, built a basketball court at the school, and hired a teacher to teach the kids how to play basketball. 

The taxi driver told me as kids they were grateful for the basketball court, but they didn’t understand why they had to wear shoes! 

To this day, people from Puerto Vallarta are called pata salada.

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