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Stuff Mexicans Like #14: Los Payasos

2 Jun
In Mexico, clowns are not just birthday party entertainment or circus acts. They are an integral part of what I like to call, the zócalo mentality (pronounced SO- cah- loh. Remember the Z always says SSSSSS in Spanish). A zócalo culture/mentality places great value on outdoor fellowship, mass celebration, and community participation. The original Zócalo is the town square in la Ciudad de México, where initially the Aztecs gathered when it was the known as the great city of Tenochtitlan. Today it is often used to describe a town square with parks, benches, trees, flora, kiosks, statues, and central iglesias. It is a Latino town’s living room, as later recreated by American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, a place in the middle of a structure where all inhabitants spill into (out of bedrooms or elsewhere). Zócalo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z%C3%B3calo Clowns perform in town squares, even here in San Miguel de Allende in el jardín, on weekends and días festivas for adoring audiences ranging from 6 months to 96 years of age.
TRADICIÓN
There have been famous clowns in Mexico for decades that most Mexicans (age 20 and up) can recite quickly for you off the top of their heads:
* Nifu & Nifa
* Bozo (I asked my Mexican friend & his family if they were sure this wasn’t an American clown, and they assured me he was a full-blooded, chile-eating Mexican.)
 
 
* Cepillín
 
LOS PAYASOS de SAN MIGUEL de ALLENDE
Here in San Miguel de Allende, clowns also receive the spotlight every weekend in el jardín (our village’s zocalo or town square). Our pueblos’s most famous, revered payaso is Don Bombonini. He is a unique combination of wit, sarcasm, physical comedy, adult-humor, and amazing tricks involving balloons and objects thrown in the air. He prefers to refer to himself as “Brahd Peet” and “Don Sexi.” Seen below, he is entertaining an audience of all ages in the jardín with one of his usual sensual poses. 🙂
* Don Bombonini
Don Bombonini has performed at at least 3 San Miguel 3 year-old birthday parties I have attended and I must confess, I am a huge fan. He is more like a stand-up comedian than anything else. Don B lives in la San Rafa (that’s “Colonia San Rafael” for outsiders), and his family generally comes along to his shows: children assisting and wife painting faces. I recommend you try to catch a show in the jardín if you haven’t already on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (beginning around 4-6pm). His audience participation is a crack-up.
¿POR QUÉ PAYASOS?
I once read a short story wherein clowns were mentioned with disdain as the most pathetic creatures on the planet. The character said tears welled up in her eyes each time she saw one because they are the definition of trying-too-hard desperation. What is the deal anyway? The bright, shocking make-up with either an exaggerrated maniacal smile or a depressed weeping frown and the jarring flash of outrageous hair… what’s that about? This is what makes us laugh? Why?
Imagen 3: Payasos espantosos                                 
Oscar Wilde said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Do we need a mask in order to give ourselves permission to be real? Is alcohol a mask? Anger? A round red nose and size 42 shoes? Is this the honesty serum we crave? Or is it just that life is so pinche triste that we have to laugh to keep from crying? 
Is the Mexican obsession with payasos  saying yet another something about the conquistador vs the conquistado syndrome (the conquerers vs. the conquered syndrome)? Chinga or be chingado? (Fuck others over or be fucked over yourself.) No sé. You be the judge.
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Stuff Mexicans Like #10: Las Güeras (WAY-duh: Light skinned/blonde women)

21 May

This is me at my favorite taco joint in Juriquilla. I was cold, so I was permitted to stand at the grill and touch their utinsels. A special guera privilege. 🙂

Most scientists concur that the human race began on the continent of Africa with exclusively dark-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed people (the dark hair, skin, and eyes allow protection from the sun). After generations of migration and mixed breeding, however, deviations, adaptations, and mutations or defects began to pop up in the world. Many people who migrated to colder climates with little sun exposure began to produce offspring with hazel, green, or even blue eyes (the lighter the eye color, the more light can be absorbed). Others came out with light brown, blonde, or even red hair (the lighter the hair color, the more sunlight can be absorbed). Little by little, the migrants also produced children with light brown, tan, and even white pigmented skin (the lighter the skin, the more benefits one can absorb from rarely exposed sunlight).
 
These “defects” with light skin, light hair, and light eyes were rare, unique, and therefore highly valued and coveted. Although there was no intellectual, emotional, physical, or spiritual superiority to these people (in fact, they were inferior physically due to their vulnerability and inability to adapt in warmer climates), they were treated as though they were better than others. They were given better education, treatment from family and society, and offered more opportunities because of their unique pigmentation alone. Even today, having blonde hair and blue eyes is the epitomy of desirable physical features and is associated with the highest social status one can achieve.
 
White Privilege
We all know that being white has its benefits. One can count on one hand the amount of societies conquered by dark-skinned peoples. One does not have enough fingers on both hands to count the number of brown-skinned societies conquered by light-skinned persons. White is synonymous for Power, Prestige, and Wealth. In her now famous 1988 essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh broke down some of the most common but often overlooked unearned priviledges/birth rights given to anyone happening to be born white. Here is an excerpt: 

 1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area, which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

10. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability.

11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

12. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

16. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

20. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

21. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.

22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.

23. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the place I have chosen.

24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my race will not work against me.

25. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.
http://nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf

Baby Dolls in Mexico
Almost all little girls, by natural instinct to nurture and create, are attracted to baby dolls and Barbies in childhood (and beyond) and playing the role of the Mother. Most Mothers want to provide dolls for their little girls, to develop these innate abilities and satisfy these natural urges toward caretaking. However, what effect does it have on a young girls mind, emotions, and beliefs if none of her dolls look like she does? Is there a difference if the little girl comes from a conquistador group (white!) and plays with dolls representing los conquistados (dark-skinned) vs. little girls from a conquered society (brown-skinned) playing only with dolls from the conquistadores (white)?
 
A dark-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed child has little-to-no chance of producing a light-skinned, light-eyed, light-haired baby in the future. Knowing this, why would a Mother give her daughter dolls to play with with these unattainable features? What psychological effect does this have on that little girl? What does it tell her about her own color and her own babies who do not posess these features? How is her self-esteem affected? Her World-View?    
 
http://danielhernandez.typepad.com/daniel_hernandez/2011/12/mexico-racism-1.html “Mexicans Confront Racism with White Doll/Black Doll Video” (December 2011)
 
In an informal survey of dolls and race in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, our town located in central MEXICO, where the overwhelming majority of citizens have dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes, I counted the number of dolls (large babies as well as Barbie dolls) with dark colored eyes, hair, and/or skin in the two largest, most popular chain stores in town: Mega (Comercial Mexicana, owned by the owners of Costco) & Bodega Aurrera (Walmart, owned by the owners of Sam’s Club). The results were startling, but much better than two years ago, when I could not find even ONE doll with dark eyes in either store to purchase for my dark-eyed Mexican daughter.
 
                                  MEGA                    BODEGA AURRERA
Total Dolls:                 128                        104
Brown Skinned:          15 (11.7%)             5 (4.8%)
Dark Haired:               18 (14%)               18 (17%)
Dark Eyed:                  20 (15.6%)            17 (16%)
 
The remaining 85% + of the dolls in both stores had blonde or red hair, white skin, and blue, green, or purple eyes, a vast discrepancy with the real-life Mexican society physical representation. You may be saying, “But Michelle, we are in San Miguel, “Mexico Light,” where there are more than 5,000 light-skinned foreigners here in town on any given day, thus the high number of light-skinned baby dolls.” NO! San Miguel actually has more dark-skinned, dark-haired dolls than the rest of the republic! We foreigners with dark-haired, dark-eyed children purchase more of these dolls than Mexicans, thus the higher availability here in town.
 
Supply & Demand
My friend, Adriana, owns a Papelería here in town that also offers a nice variety of toys. She tells me that the two dark-skinned official Barbies she has in the store have been there collecting dust for more than two years while the blonde dolls, even the poorly made generic ones, fly off the shelves. She’s stopped buying dark-complected dolls for resale. I asked Adriana’s sister why she thinks people don’t want buy the “dark” dolls at the store and she said it’s because everyone just wants “pretty dolls.”
 
Little Mommy Doll
My three-year-old, María, has always wanted a Little Mommy interactive doll by Fisher Price. They are widely available here in town, but generally sell for more than $850 pesos. A month ago, I found one at la Placita (the Tuesday/Sunday market) that was a better model with more features than any offered here in San Miguel. She sits down, stands up, speaks, responds when you touch her, sucks on her bottle, and commands you to do things. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! “Cuánto es?”  I asked, getting mentally prepared to talk her down to 500p (about $40 USD) for the little treasure. “Esteeee….. 200 pesos,” said the booth keeper. I stared at her in disbelief, wondering if I understood correctly. “Bueno… 150.” (approximately $12 USD)  She lowered the price on her own, figuring I was having second thoughts. I snatched her up and María is still quite happy playing with Paola regularly.
 
Paola is brown.  
 
Being called güera/güero by anyone is considered a compliment, while being called morena/moreno (dark-skinned), or worse, negra/negro or prieta/prieto, (black skinned) is a depreciation. Racism is alive and well in Mexico, although rarely recognized or challenged. Perhaps 2012 will bring the much promised, much hoped for Mayan prophesy of a Drastic Change of Universal Consciousness. Until then, enjoy the steals on expensive American dolls in Mexico. Brown dolls only.

Stuff Mexicans Like #4: La Television

18 May
Watching television is the #1 past-time for Mexicans, according to the super unscientific Garrison Survey of 2004- 2012. In fact, if you ever get out to the campos and ranchos where extreme poverty abounds (like, for example, say… my neighborhood), you may find communities with corrugated plastic roofs and concrete slabs for floors. There will be no refrigerator, no stove, and rudimentary plumbing. Children may be sleeping on a bean-filled mattress on the floor. But you better believe that every family has a television set! I’ve seen tin foil antennas, extension cords creeping out front windows to be rigged directly to the power lines, but it is essential in Mexican culture that every citizen be connected to every other Mexican via the medium of tv. Try to find a true Mexican restaurant or taco stand or tiendita or Mexican home that does not have a television on and blaring at full volume at all times. You’d be hard up to locate one. It is just common Mexican sense. It is good service and good entertainment. It is the most basic necessity of any business or casa. In the US, we might ask ourselves, “How can I open my new business without a phone line and a phone number so my customers can contact me?” In México the question is, “How could I open a business without a tv? What would I do when there are no customers? What would give my customers ganas to stick around and spend money?”  My friend here in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, informs me that at his last visit to El Seguro, (the “nicer” health clinics for people with insurance), there was no soap or toilet paper in the bathroom…. but there was a television set in the waiting area!
 
The Government Loves TV, too!
“La television es nuestra cultura. Leer libros requiere mucho trabajo y atención. La television hace el trabajo por ti.”  (Television is our culture. Reading books requires a lot of work and attention. The television does the work for you.) This is a common sentiment my Mexican friends have shared with me over my time here in México. One of my buddies in his mid 20s in Querétaro made the following comment upon learning that I was opening a bookstore in San Miguel,”Lo que pasa es que después de la conquista de los indígenas, el gobierno Méxicano le declaró a la gente, ‘No es necesario que lean Uds. De hecho, ni es importante que sepan leer. Nosotros vamos a ser sus representantes. Tenemos estudios y educación; nosotros leeremos por Uds. y les diremos lo que necesitan saber. No se preocupen por estudiar ni dominar el español. Lo haremos por ti.’ Así que la gente no tomó la iniciativa de aprender a leer y escribir y el gobierno no hizo nada para apoyar el aprendizaje del público.” (What had happened was that after the Spanish conquest of the indigenous, the Mexican government declared to the people, ‘It is not necesary for you to read. Actually, it’s not even important to know how. We will be your representatives. We have studies and education; we will read for you and we will tell you what you need to know. Don’t worry about studying or dominating the Spanish language. We’ll do it for you.’ So the people didn’t take the initiative to learn to read and write and the government did nothing to support the education of the general public.) Today we continue receiving information hand-selected by the government, via the television. 
 
Knowledge is Poder
In most Mexican homes, the television is located in the center of the sala as a kind of shrine, as the one consistent source of information. of Education. of Knowledge. of Power. If I have a 4th grade education level and still can’t read or write well, at least I have the faithful television to keep me in-the-know. Just as my insightful friend in Querétaro stated, the government/church (can we even make a distinction in México?) is still choosing and interpreting the information it deems acceptable for the average Mexican to know. Whereas in the US we may find important news on the front of a newspaper, magazine, book, public radio show; in México the culture continues to be anti-reading. But no fear, it’s all on the television set.  
 
Happy tv watching!  See below for recommended viewing on the Televisa/Telemundo channels:
  • Laura: talk show representing women and children’s rights: Televisa M-Th 3pm central Mexico (see photo above)
  • Por Ella Soy Eva: telenovela/comedia about a cross-dreesing man who does so to win back his girl: Televisa M-F 8 or 9pm central Mexico
  • 100 Mexicanos Dijieron: Family Feud style celebrity game show: Televisa Sundays at 5or6pm central Mexico
  • Pequenos Gigantes: childrens Talent Show Competition: Televisa Sundays at 8 or 9pm central Mexico
  • Hoy!: Daily show: Televisa M-F 9am central Mexico