Yesterday we celebrated Mexico’s Independence Day!
[ In case you’re wondering why we don’t celebrate in May, a quick explanation: Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle victory where Mexico fended off imperialist forces (but as the phrase goes, they ‘won the battle but lost the war’). September 16th marks the beginning of a new government and new era in Mexican history. I’m not an historical expert, but I have a few articles below if you want to learn more: ]
“At dawn of September 16, (the day now considered Mexico’s Independence Day) the revolutionary army decided to strike for independence and marched on to Guanajuato, a major colonial mining center governed by Spaniards and criollos. It was on September 16 that the famous “el grito de Dolores” was issued, effectively marking the beginning of the fight for Mexican independence.”
Well, we “celebrated” yesterday, but honestly the party lasted the entire weekend and began on Friday. Everyone ended work early on Friday afternoon and the streets started filling with music. Saturday was a day long siesta that ended in pazole: an incredible soup with lime, chilis, chicken, noodles, and avocados. I spent hours laughing with my host family over dinner as we kept adding tables and chairs to fit everyone. When the whole family’s coming for dinner, the whole house will be full.
On Sunday morning, we left the house early to walk with hundreds of other people to the main square (or sokolo). Thousands of people–including my new host sister!–marched in the parade this morning: caballeros on horseback, mariachi bands, women dancing, along with every school in Tepoztlán. Words can’t describe this incredible spectacle.
The day was absolutely beautiful, and honestly everything I hoped to see when I decided to come to Mexico.
I felt some surprising culture shock at the family meal after the parade.
My host father is a carpenter, and recently finished a beautiful new home next door for his elderly parents. It’s a very modern building, with clean lines and floor-to-ceiling windows. As I was admiring it, the grandmother started splattering the house–along with everything and everyone inside–with holy water.
An observation: culture shock seems to come when we bring preconceived notions on how something ‘ought’ to be, and find we’re duly mistaken. I expected to either see what I considered “traditional” or “modern”, and saw both. Everything turned upside down and I realized just how arbitrary these categories were. I felt like I forgot my Spanish and that the only words in the house I could understand were the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” 80’s pop songs from the U.S. blared as La Doña finished her prayers, and for some reason, I felt incredibly alone in a new country that I realized I barely knew.
As easy as it seemed in that moment to flee the scene, perhaps to flee the country, and flee everything to something that seemed familiar, I took a deep breath and remembered our family motto of what my great-grandfather would always say: “a good soldier never looks back.” There’s no use pining for the past while the present lies before you. I’ve committed to stay in a completely new country for a year, and I had promised to do my best to understand it.
A few deep breaths later, I remembered that what I saw was simply new to me and unexpected. I’ve seen benedictions before in dozens of different contexts. As my host dad playfully splashed his mom with holy water and doused me in turn, I laughed with all of them.
A few more deep breaths later, I moved from a paralyzed shock to profound appreciation. There was something indescribably beautiful seeing so many generations of family members in a single place ~ the youngest and oldest spanning ninety years between them. Mexico mixes the traditional and the modern, the old and the new, in ways that ground the present with history and hope. Siblings shared jokes that had lasted decades, grandkids kissed their grandparent’s cheeks in a traditional greeting, and children showed their parents videos from the parade this morning on their smartphones. I quietly marveled at how while my family had to travel across states to get together while my host family in Mexico only had to cross the street. They had lived in the same neighborhood for generations, and from the looks of it, would continue to live there for generations to come. For a brief moment in that expansive concept of time, here I was, witnessing and participating in that family. An aunt gave a toast that celebrated “our family ~ and our friends,” while passing me a glass of champagne. I almost started to cry, again, but for very different reasons.
“¿Annie? ¡Vamos!” At this point, I’ve given up on asking ‘where are we going’. I hopped in the car with the youngest cousins and their parents as we drove off. My host sister had tried to explain a couple times, but I was hopelessly confused. We stopped at the soccer fields — where my host sister had played yesterday morning — and found a sea of parents and young children gathering around. We started unfolding huge paper lanterns and setting them ablaze. Soon the entire sky filled with them and it was hard to remember when I last saw anything so beautiful.
Nope. A good soldier never looks back. Not when there are so many things to look forward to.