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Stuff Mexicans Like #21: La Colita (The Mexican Ponytail)

10 Dec

The Mexican ponytail is a critical component in every Mexican girl’s life from the breast to the grave. It consists of brushing wet hair back, applying a handful of gel (see: “Stuff Mexicans Like #19: El Gel”), pulling the hair as taut as humanly possible, and twisting an elastic hair band around the tail, leaving the female with a death grip on the back of her scull for 10-12 hours each day. This phenemenon can be observed in each and every Mexican school throughout the republic, viewing from the back of the classroom: a sea of dark colitas.

Why the obsession with the tight pigtail in the rear-center of the head? There are a couple schools of thought. One is that the Spanish Catholic Macho influence has left parents with the desire to make their girls seem more masculine. Another is that of control. La Virgencita (See “Stuff Mexicans Like #2: La Virgen de Guadalupe”) is the center of Mexican culture and values. The idea of control, rigidity, and simplicity all jive with the image of a virgen or “niña bien” (good girl). Hair hanging loose all over the place swinging to and fro with the wind, doing just as it pleases is not an acceptable state for Mexican tresses. Nor is a single barrette, a simple loose braid, or 2 casually ribboned pigtails. It is all-or-nothing when it comes to Mexican hairdressing.

The last theory is my own, based on the deep-seated rascism I have felt and witnessed here in Northern Latin America. A Chicana (Mexican-American or pocha: ruined one, as Mexicans lovingly refer to them) friend of mine posted to her personal internet site: “I am Mexican. If you don’t believe me, I can pull back my bangs.”  She was referring to her very low hairline and almost non-existent forehead. This is a typical look for many, if not most, indigenous Mexican people. That being said, with the combination of the low forehead being equated with Indios (an insult in Mexico. See “Stuff Mexicans Like #10: Las Güeras”) and the desire to look more European, (namely white), it makes sense that many Mexican women may want to pull their hair back as far off the forehead as possibly, thus lengthening the start of the hairline, creating a somehwat more European, less Indio look.

Whatever the reason, I am always acutely aware at Mexican children’s birthday parties & social gatherings that my child’s sloppy side braid or loose curls make a stark contrast to other Mexican children’s tight, super gel’d du’s. I wonder if other parents at the party equate the loose hairstyles of me and my child to be congruent with their ideas of loose, uncontrollable Gringas in general.

Just for today, I am ok with that. Happy Hair scrutinizing!

Exhibit A: Little Mexican girl headed to a birthday party

Exhibit B: Little Gringa girl headed to a birthday party

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Stuff Mexicans Like #18: Whiskey, Tequila, & Tecate

2 Jun

 There are certain unfallible truths that all Mexicans hold to be self-evident: La Virgen de Guadalupe is everything. Family always comes first. Everything is better with limon and chile. Futbol (soccer) is the only real sport. Seat belts are overrated. Real men drink Tecate beer.

While Corona maintains a cult-following in the states as well as among those in Mexico who do not have access to Tecate or are on a Mega Caguama budget (pronounced cahWAHmah; the Mega Caguama costs only $24 pesos for your giant 1.2 liter brown bottle), everyone knows Tecate is the only option for true red-blooded, cock-fighting, mariachi-singing Mexicans.

El Wiski

Whiskey (pronounced WEE-ski for those of you trying to improve your espanol), is the standard drink of all fresas (literally strawberries, fresa  refers to snobby, money-hungry, high-society Mexicans). Whiskey is synonymous for wealth, prestige, and power in Mexican society. A bottle or 16 are bought for the whole fresa table at upscale night clubs, like our own Mint, on Mesones here in SMA. Wiski is normally enjoyed with mineral water on the rocas or with la coca (see SML #12: La Coca).

El Tequila

Tequila, the staple beverage of Mexico made from the agave plant in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, is classic. Timeless. Mexicans abroad who want to publicize their Mexican pride drink Tequila. Wealthy high-class Mexicans drink Tequila. Poor Mexicans and nacos (low-class, uneducated Mexicans) drink Tequila. Housewives drink Tequila. 12 year-old boys drink Tequila. Singer/activist, Mexi-Tica, Chavela Vargas, reportedly drank at least one shot of Tequila everyday.

Malinchistas (sell-outs)

Many of my Mexican male friends, however, claim that Tequila makes them bravo (aggressive/violent), thus the standard replacement beverage: wiski. I don’t buy it though. When I hear the bravo argument, I interpret it as, “I have shame because I am Mexican but prefer to drink a foreign alcoholic beverage over my country’s own specialty:Tequila. The real reason I prefer Johnie Walker to Don Julio is because I am Malinchista.” (Malinchista refers to a Mexican who prefers a foreign culture over his or her own, usually due to an inferiority complex. The root word is Malinche, the Spanish name of the beautiful Aztec lover of Cortez and original sell-out/second mother of the Mexican race. She is the root of the famed Mexican word Chingada, the violated one)

Tequila is usually taken straight with sal y limon (salt & lime). It is sipped like tea, not downed into a greedy open throat, like some of my paisanos (fellow countrymen) are so fond of while on vacation in Cabo. Tequila is also popular in margaritas and palomas. Literally dove, a paloma is tequila with lime, salt, and grapefruit flavored soda, like Squirt, (or Esqueert, for those of you who are improving your espanol). Lastly, no visit to Mexico is complete without experiencing la bandera. La bandera (the flag) consists of a red, white, and green shot, just one of many drinks and recipes representing Mexican pride. In this case, you need a shot of white Tequila, a shot of fresh squeezed lime juice, and a shot of spicy bloody-mary mix. Don’t forget the salt. You take a sip of each, swirl them in your mouth, and swallow. Repeat. Yum! 

Top Shelf Tequilas

While Patron is the king of top-shelf Tequila where I come from in the states, Don Julio reigns south of the border. “Patron who?” my Mexican friends asked me when I first mentioned the big time label. Patron is a nobody in Mexico. Opening a bottle of Patron at a real Mexican fiesta would be like busting out the Taco Bell at Doña Maria’s rancho. It is not the same as the original. Not even close.

How much is too much?

“No menos de tres, no mas de seis” (no less than 3, no more than 6) is the conventional Mexican wisdom. I find, however, that this little gem of advice is only used for women, as men drink no less than 12, no more than 22. Double A, as Mexicans call it, is also quite popular for those who don’t know when to say when. This binge drinking is not, however, at all related to indigenous Mexican societies. Though Tequila was well-known and cultivated, it was punishable by death to get inebriated in Aztec culture. It was the benditos españoles (blessed Spanish) no less, who brought with them the love of excess and el machismo to the New World.

Want to get around a Mexican’s extreme manners (see SML #3: Manners) and hear what he or she really thinks? Offer him or her a drink or 5 of Wiski, Tequila, or Tecate. Los niños y los borrachos siempre dicen la verdad.”  (Children and drunks always tell the truth.) Or so goes the Mexican proverb anyway.

Salud!

Stuff Mexicans Like #16: 20 en la Casa; 10 en el Carro; 5 en la Cama

2 Jun
Headed to Rosa & Fernando’s wedding at the Rancho.
Mexico is a Catholic country. Very Catholic. It is also, like Catholocism, full of contrasts and contradictions. Ie; It is not ok to be gay. It is not ok to have sex outside of marriage. It is not ok to use condoms or other birth control. HOWEVER, if you are gay and do happen to be having sex outside of marriage, you fall into a lucky loophole which says that you, sir, can use condoms! Unfortunately, poor Sra. Fulana, with 8 small mouths to feed and an overworked, under-paid husband, cannot. Go figure. (Did I mention that it is also not ok to refuse conjugal relations with your mate, even if you are already sleeping 7 to the “matrimonial” size bed, with 2 on the sofa?)
Well, this is orthodox Mexican Catholic thinking, anyway.Which brings me to the topic: highly populated casas, coches, & camas. Thanks to extremely strict catholic sex rules and extremely lax Mexican seat belt laws, one can find 16-24 people in any small home or flat-bed pickup truck at any given time. I go to visit some of my Sanmiguelense friends and while they slip off to the bathroom, people- men, women, teens,  small children, and the elderly- begin seeping out of every nook and cranny like kitchen-counter ants.
“Ummm…. Who was that group of people that just came out of door #2?” I ask inquisitively. Seems like a logical question to me. What people, he says. “That family of 6?” I say. “Oh, probably just my brother or my cousin, Juana.” He tells me. “And the three elderly men out on the patio?” I inquire. “Es el primo y los hermanos de mi mama,” I am informed. (It’s the cousin & the brothers of my mother.)
EL COCHE
When it is time to take a trip to el mercado in Celaya, which we all know is the biggest and most ghetto-fabulous of all Guanajuato markets, anyone and everyone interested heads out to the family’s 3 cylander pickup for an adventure. “You sat by the cab window last time,” whines Tia Carla to Abuelita. Eventually, everyone is squeezed in, often with Popis, the family Terrier-Retriever-Poodle-Rot mix, and a handful of livestock. No one usually falls out along the way, due to Mexican Personal Responsability (see Stuff Mexicans Like #8), but if someone does happen to take a spill on the carretera hacia Celaya (the freeway to Celaya) or at the Pipila Glorieta (the roundabout with the Pipila monument), no te preocupes! (Don’t worry!) Everyone works together to pull Great Grandpa Pablo back to the safety of the truck bed and all cross themselves, giving thanks to La Virgencita (see Stuff Mexicans Like #2), for Seguro Popular (Mexican Free Public Health Insurance). (See Stuff Mexicans Like #6: Personal Responsability.)
I digress. Back to this Mexican Population Mentality. When my 15 year-old niece, Amanda, and I flew back to Seattle after her 6 month stay with me in Queretaro, my sister, Melodie, and younger niece picked us up at the airport. Walking to the car, Amanda and I were still in culture shock over the luxury one can encounter in the SeaTac Airport bathrooms. Things like toilet seats, locking stall doors, and soap had somehow eluded us for a great deal of time. “Oh shoot,” said my sister, looking at her four-door sedan with fatality in her eyes. “I didn’t think of all the luggage. How are all four of us going to fit in the car with three suitcases?”
Amanda and I silently turned to look at one another, then burst into laughter. “What?!?” challenged Melodie. “Actually,” ventured Manda, “I’m pretty sure this vehicle could hold at least 12 or maybe even 13 people. With luggage.” Our thinking had changed. When instructed sternly to “Get your seat belts on!”  by my sister, before even inserting the key into the ignition, Amanda and I exchanged yet another glance that said, “Do not let your mother become aware of the fact that you haven’t worn a seatbelt for 6 months.” Ni modo. (See Stuff Mexicans Like #12: Ni Modo.)
LA CASA
Some 6 months after arriving to Mexico, I found myself with two teenagers, a small dog, and no employment. I reluctantly procured a large room for rent at a local frat house from UVM (Valley of Mexico University) for half of what I was paying in our spacious home. My 15 year-old niece; 13 year-old son; Mercy, the yellow Pomeranian; and I hauled our suitcases and mattresses (no bed bases) into the room with the concrete slab floor and thus began our one-room, “Night, John-Boy,” adventure. (I had to explain to the teens where “Night, John-Boy” originated. They just stared blankly.)
It was fun! At night I would turn on my cell phone flashlight and read short stories and poetry to them from my corner of the room. Though no light shone from under our bedroom door, laughter and loud English could be heard throughout the casa every night. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves or out-of-place because all my kids’ friends in their new public junior high had the same living accommodations or worse! I did makeovers on my girl and homemade haircuts on my boy. We each dressed in the bathroom after showering. The occassional late-night mellow college party was a welcome distraction from our sparse living conditions; we all practiced our Spanish and dance skills. When we needed space, we headed out to the one of the front yard hammocks or up to the roof to bask in the sun. My now young adult babies still laugh, telling people about the time three of us and a small dog lived on floor mattresses in one frat house bedroom in central Mexico.
Whether it’s 20 to a home, 10 to a car, or 5 to a bed, Mexicans love Family and Togetherness (See Stuff Mexicans Like #1: La Familia).  Night, John-Boy!
Exhibit A:
This family is waiting for the rest of the relatives to arrive so they can leave.    
 On the way to La Placita (Tuesday Market).
Exhibit B: 
Siblings of all ages often sleep together in the same bed.
It’s always nice to snuggle & keep warm on cold nights.
       
  Grandparents are no exception!

Stuff Mexicans Like #13: Los Santos & Angeles

2 Jun

Saints and angels are quite popular these days. Perhaps your colonia (neighborhood) in San Miguel de Allende is named after one: Guadalupe; Santa Julia; San Juan de Di-s; San Rafael; San Antonio, etc. In Mexico, they are more than just key chains, good luck charms, or statues in the church. They are a key component of the Mexican Catholic faith, worthy of worship and regular offerings and petitions.

 PEREGRINACIÓN
In addition to their adoración via offerings in the iglesia and at home, one may also worship, express gratitude, or make a request by completing a peregrinación (pilgrimage). This consists of walking miles, often for days or weeks in a group from your home town to another church or pueblo where you will visit, deliver, or pick up a relic of the saint or angel and leave it in another town’s church. One may also create a home altar for his or her saint or angel.
SANTERÍA
When the respect and adoration for saints and angels becomes worship, it is known as Santería. It is its own religion and is in the same category as la brujería (witchcraft). With origins from Nigerian faith, La Santería mixes Catholicism and Nigerian spirituality to form a union of the two. La Santeria originated in Cuba from slaves recently immigrated, where only Catholocism was permitted. Variations of the original Santeria are used in daily Mexican Catholocism. http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santeria
SANTOS POPULARES de SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
* Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuestra_Se%C3%B1ora_de_Guadalupe_%28M%C3%A9xico%29
La Virgen de Guadalupe is La Reina de México; Nuestra Señora; La Virgen Morena; La Madre de México. She came for the Indigenous of Mexico to represent the poor, undesireable, and downtrodden. She came to give them comfort and hope. (*Also believed by many to be an incarnation of Tonantzin, Our Revered Mother, Principal goddess of the Aztecs. See Stuff Mexicans Like #2: La Virgen de Guadalupe.)
San Miguel Arcangel is the Patrono de San Miguel de Allende and is a protector who carries a sword. He helps you when you need protection (physical, emotional, or from witchcraft).
La Virgen de los Dolores understands the pain of losing a child. Of watching one’s own child suffer and die.
San Francisco is the saint of animals and had stigmata.
San Benito y San Rafael protect against witchcraft, spells, and evil against you or your household. The ruda plant (rue) is also known to be helpful to keep at the entrance of your home and/or business as it absorbs bad energy and negative spiritual influences, as well as coconuts strategically placed throughout the home.
San Benito
Rafael Arcángel
* San Antonio de Padua: (Santo Patrono de la Colonia aqui en San Miguel): http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_de_Padua
San Antonio Abad carries a baby in his arms and helps you find a pareja (partner/boyfriend/girlfriend) for yourself or someone else. You must hang him upside down so he’ll get the job done faster. When he sends you your pareja, you put him right-side-up again. This is the rhyme:
“Tengo a San Antonio
puesto de cabeza,
Si no me da un novio,
Nadie lo endereza.”
“I’ve got San Antonio
Sitting on his head.
If he doesn’t give me a boyfriend,
He’ll be left for dead.”*
*Ok. I took my own liberties with my translation for the sake of rhyming. The Spanish version just says that no one will upright him. Pobrecito de todos modos.
San Antonio Abad is the saint of animals. When your cow or prize-fighting gallo becomes ill, this is your go-to guy. Here in San Miguel, he is the sponsor of the Blessing of the Animals day and Blessing of the horses, too.
* San Judás Tadeo: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Judas
San Judas Tadeo, saint of impossible situations, helps you get a job and maintain your finances. He carries a coin. You say the prayer of San Judas and light a green candle for him until you find and retain gainful employment.
San Juan de Di-s helps the sick, mentally ill, addicts, and downtrodden.
La Santa Muerte is a Mexican’s “best friend, his daily companion” according to revolutionary Mexican artist, David Alfaro Siqueiros. This idea is also well expresed in the book and movie, Macario, by Mexi-German, Bruno Traven. While death is regularly mocked in Mexico, it is also highly revered. With roots in Aztec faith, Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of death, now is combined with Mexican Catholic Santeria.The skeleton wearing a cape representing holy death is the saint and protector of criminals, gang members, those who do evil, and narco-traficantes (drug-traffickers).
 File:Muerte-Blanca 6.jpg

#3: La Cleanliness

17 May
 https://i0.wp.com/images.travelpod.com/users/kupdegra/copper_canyon.1188405000.p1020554.jpg
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness” had to have been originally quoted by a Mexican. Mexicans value cleanliness so much that it is the first thing one does after arising and the last thing one does before bed. During the course of the day, one needs helpers if things are to be kept adequately clean. First things first: the sidewalk in front of your house. You don’t want your neighbors seeing a surplus of fallen leaves just outside your gate or dog urine or an empty Coke bottle. This is what “not taking care of your house and family” looks like. As for before bed, well, there are dishes and teeth to be washed, faces to be scrubbed, and showers to be had by all. One person alone could never take on all the dirst that comes your way during the day. This is why my maid has a maid. And her maid has a maid. And I’m nearly certain that if I were to investigate, I would discover that my maid’s maid has a maid. Maid service in Mexico is like having a garrafón or basic cable. It is not optional.
A male Mexican friend of mine was watching my then 15 year old sweep and mop the tile floor of my bookstore one day. I felt proud and content, like Mother of the Year. Unfortunately my friend interrupted my self-satisfaction with, “Why don’t you teach your hijo to clean?” What?!? Was my son not there, sleeves rolled up, pushing a wet soapy mop around like nobody’s business? “He is cleaning,” I replied. “I mean real cleaning,” retorted the Mexican. I gave the Mexican permission to “teach” my son “real cleaning” and I stood back to take notes. A hand-held scrub brush was produced, as well as a bucket of fuming bleach water mixed with purple Fabuloso. I pulled out the camera as the two young men rolled up their jeans, hit their knees, and began to sweat profusely while manually removing any trace of dirt from the last 500 years from my antique floor. A Mexican taught me to clean a floor.
 
I never felt so dirty as when I started dating Mexican men. The same scrubbing that applies to a Mexican floor is generally applied to the entire body, including eyelids, scalp, behind the ears, between the toes, etc. (I prefer to wash the hair once every other day to avoid dry-out.) My sidewalk woud shame even the dirtiest street person. I use only a standard mop from the tiendita when doing my twice a week rounds. My maid is called in for emergencies only, and that only being once a month on avergae. I do not wash my clothes by hand with the outside patio clothes-sink. (That is already occupied by Christmas items waiting around for next December.) It is a rare occasion that I stick my hand in the toilet, the obvious best way to get it clean, according to Mexican ways. I leave the cozy seat on my toilet, to avoid unintentional drownings. (Many-most Mexicans remove this seat with tools upon purchase so as not to pose any interference with typical hand-in-the-bowl daily cleaning.
(Note: I am pretty sure that this extreme cleanliness business ties in with the national adoration of La Virgen, also! What Virgin do you know who isn’t sparkling soapy clean?)

Stuff Mexicans Like #2: La Virgen de Guadalupe

17 May
All Mexican culture revolves around its core, its center, its lifesource, its sun: Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Actually she is such a staple presence in daily Mexican life that sometimes her effects go unnoticed by Mexicans. (But not by me.) 🙂
Present-Day Effects
Have you ever gone to a department store in Mexico wanting to purchase a new brasierre only to learn that trying on any kind of under garment is strictly forbidden in most states in the republic? Have you looked for tampons in a local pharmacy (outside of foreigner-laden San Miguel de Allende or la playa)? They are rarely to be found. Want to buy a transparent shower curtain? Think again, pervert! These kinds of behaviors and dry goods simply do not jive well with virginity.
How Can I Know La Virgen?
Who is the first person one should approach with a problem, worry, or confession? La Virgencita, that’s who! Light her a candle and take off a load! She can be trusted with everything from small decisions to heavy burdens. Most altares for La Virgen de Guadalupe are placed prominently in one’s entryway or in the sala for easy access. No one knows tristeza and angustia like the Mother of G-d, who bore the Jewish Messiah as a confused 15 year old virgin, only to watch her promised child die in his early 30s a shameful and agonizing death. La Virgencita does not judge or shame, she is all-accepting and all-forgiving.
Image
Tonantzin, Revered Aztec Goddess Mother
Not only is La Virgen the Mother of the new, Mestizo Mexico, but she existed long before as the central Goddess in Aztec society as Tonantzin(Toe-nant-SEEN, or Our Revered Mother/Mother Earth). Lupita, our Lady of Guadalupe, first appeared on December 9, 1531 (not December 12, as she is presently celebrated), the first day of the Goddess Tonantzin’s holy festival. Not only did Lupita speak with Juan Diego on the first day of Tonantzin’s celebration, but she also happend to make her appearance RIGHT ON Tonantzin’s worship shrine at the Cerro de Tepeyac (hill of Tepeyac) in the Aztec center of action, presently Mexico City (El DF: El Distrito Federal)!
Coincidencia? I think not. Whatever her true identity, she remains the central figure of Love and adoration by indigenous Mexicans, Mestizos, and Mexican-born Spaniards alike. She united the indigenous of Mexico with the Europeans, the conquistados or chingados with the conquistadores or los que chingan. She was and remains the Great Mediator of Mexico.
Feminist Brown Mother
Maintaining such high status as La Madre de la Tierra and La Reina de México, La Virgencita helps the poor and downtrodden, the brown-skinned, the lowly, the conquered. Guadalupe (aka: La Morena/brown-skinned) has elevated the female (and the dark-skinned female) back to the highest position of importance in Mexico at a time when the conquistadores had recently arrived with their machista sexist ways. It is no wonder that matriarchs are so common in Mexican society and that La Virgen is prominently mentioned in the most famous Mexican anthem: Cielito Lindo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVQGxFDINng
“Yo a las morenas quiero
desde que supe que…
morena es la Virgen
de Guadalupe…”