days to remember

Every culture has its days of remembrance, and living in Mexico has taught me about some that are new to me. It’s also given me deeper insights onto a few days I thought I already understood pretty well.

9/11

I was surprised to hear my host family talking about 9/11 exactly like Americans do. “Fifteen years today,” my host mom said to her dad on our way to Sunday brunch with the extended family. At breakfast it was the beginning of the conversation, everyone asking same question you hear in the U.S.: “Do you remember where you were?” One person remembered she had been in her apartment. Another, a younger man, remembered being in high school. They asked me too, but I was in kindergarten at the time. I remember seeing the footage playing on TV, and my parents turning it off. They didn’t want me to see.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that people from another country have memories – it was an event that affected the world’s future. Hearing from another perspective was also a lesson that the world watches the U.S., something particularly important to remember this election year. (And that’s all I’m going to say about that…)

But not all days of remembrance are of tragedies: some are of triumph.

9/16: mexico’s independence day

The 16th is the official holiday, but the big celebration starts the night before with El Grito de Dolores (the Cry of Dolores). All over the nation, people gather in town squares to reenact the call to arms given by Father Miguel Hidalgo in 1810, when he rang the bell in the town of Dolores and shouted “Viva México!” (and some other stuff). It’s actually contested whether that story is historically accurate, but it’s a source of pride nonetheless. The bell from the church has been relocated to the capital and the president rings it in the town center and thousands pack in to shout “Viva México!” and all the rest. It’s an important night for the whole country.

It’s also a big party night. When I asked my host brother what it would be like, he said it would be a lot of drunk people shooting off fireworks. “So it’ll be just like home!” I said. And I was partially right – Independence Day in Mexico shares some commonalities with the Fourth of July in the U.S.

On the actual night, I hung out with my other host brother and his friends for awhile. His female friends tried to teach me how to dance “perreo,” a booty-shaking move similar to twerking, which my body will simply not allow. I’ll stick to weekly salsa classes.

It started getting late and I figured I should go to the center to see El Grito. They weren’t interested in going, but said I should stick around since nothing would happen until midnight. When I finally left, I couldn’t get a taxi, had to walk, and missed the thing by about an hour. It’s still not the end of the world: now I have a reason to come back to Mexico someday. And lesson learned: when it comes to schedules, don’t listen to your a-few-drinks-in Mexican host brother.

9/28: the battle for the alhóndiga

On this day, Guanajuato celebrates the story of a battle and its hero. One of the first battles of Mexico’s war for independence was fought right here in the city, at the Alhóndiga de Granaditas. The loyalists were holed up in the Alhóndiga, shooting at the rebels outside to keep them at bay. One guy got an idea and picked up this big stone and carried it like a shield towards the doors, which he then set on fire, giving the rebels their chance to bust in and triumph. That guy, Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro, is now called “El Pípila” (hey, at least it’s shorter) and there’s a big statue of him on the hill stoically overlooking the town.

Funny story about the statue: you can take a staircase up next to it and see what El Pípila sees, and you stand in this glass box with holes cut out for air, but people have been taking advantage for another necessity – to reach through and stick gum to El Pípila, right about where the guy’s kidneys would be. I just thought you should know (maybe someone should tell him?) El Pípila has gum on his butt.

For the holiday though, classes were cancelled and a lot of people had off from work. There was a huge parade that went on for hours – they started lining up at nine a.m. and they were still walking around at one in the afternoon. The surprising thing was the military presence in the parade – it was pretty freaky, actually. A lot of them carried guns and were decked out like they were going off to war – bulletproof vests, camouflage face paint, the whole deal.

But that’s not to say the whole thing was overly serious – there was a band, and people on horses, and kids throwing confetti.  Walking home the street was a booby trap of rainbow confetti and and road apples. (One of these things smells a bit more potent than the other…)

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