Wednesday, September 17, 2008
El Grito: Recap
As you may have been able to tell from the video, on Monday night we took part in the Fiestas Patrias, Mexico’s annual celebration of its 1810 independence. It was quite an experience…
We (Chris and I plus two other students and two instructors) left the Lutheran Center around 9:00pm, hailed green VW bug street taxis in the drizzling rain and headed south on Insurgentes Sur toward Tlalpan. By heading south we were heading away from the main celebration in Mexico, the celebration in the Zocalo downtown at which the president of Mexico would soon appear. We were avoiding that particular celebration because, well, it would be a mob scene the likes of which we’d rather not imagine. (I’ve been to Chicago’s 4th of July celebration, and Mexico City is at least five times the size of Chicago, so multiply Chicago’s 4th of July mob scene times five…I don’t think so.)
Anyway, Tlalpan is a quieter barrio on the southern edge of Mexico City with lots of old colonial buildings surrounding its central plaza. Plazas: Every neighborhood here has a central plaza with a gazebo in the center, the city government building on one side, and usually an iglesia on another side. They’re kind of like the courthouse squares in many American small towns.
As we stepped out of our taxies on San Fernando street, we could already see increasing groups of people heading in the same direction down the cobblestone roads leading toward the center of town. We followed them around a few corners until we found ourselves heading into an incredible mass of people. Within minutes of meeting this massing mob we were mashed into it. We pushed our way through, past the rows of food stands that lined all of the plaza’s surrounding streets, food stands selling elote (corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise and chili powder…on a stick) and atole (a hot, cornflour-based drink, thick and kind of milky but with cinnamon and pureed rice and, well, cornflour in it) and Mexican versions of fried dough and pulque (a hard liquor from the same plant tequila comes from – it’s like the Mexican version of moonshine) and all sorts of other things Chris calls, with utmost affection, carnie food.
We made it to the plaza’s central gazebo, then stopped for a bit to look around at the myriad decorations – red-white-and-green lights strung everywhere, a giant plumed serpent stretching over one building (Quetzacoatl, of course), a bandstand with mariachis and dancers doing their thing as enthusiastically as you can imagine, and, of course, thousands of people carrying Mexican flags of all sizes. Families were everywhere; Chris was amazed at how many children there were, ninos of every age. Our group split up to wander around the crowd a bit before the official celebration began.
Finally, at exactly 11:00pm, the crowd seemed to focus and face in one direction, and a message swept through the crowd: He’s on the balcony! It’s almost time!
Suddenly it began. The mayor (?) came out onto the balcony and began to cry the following words. To every phrase the crowd responds with a fervent VIVA!
“Mexicanas y Mexicanos! Viva nuestra independencia! (VIVA!) Viva los heroes que nos dieron patria y libertad! (VIVA!) Viva Hidalgo! (VIVA!) Viva Morelos! (VIVA!) Viva Josefa Ortiz De Dominquez. (VIVA!) Viva Allende! (VIVA!) Viva la Virgin De Guadalupe! (VIVA!) Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico! VIVA MEXICO!”
As the grito (the cry of independence) reached its Viva Mexico! crescendo, the energy of the crowd erupted. Confetti flew into the air, as did shaving cream – especially shaving cream sprayed by a little boy on his dad’s shoulders next to us, who managed to get shaving cream all over his little sister’s head (you can catch a bit of this on the video). Suddenly the sound of a million sparks flew up behind us – they had lit the Mexican version of fireworks, these giant wire shapes which light up in colors of flame. Chris says it’s like in the movie Annie, where they light up Annie’s name in the sky. Except these weren’t lit up in the sky, they were lit up on wire frames fixed onto the top of a building. The first one they lit was in the shape of a giant face of Hidalgo in red, a giant face of Josefa in green, and VIVA MEXICO in white in between their two giant heads. We thought it was pretty awesome, until they lit the trump card: a butterfly which began with wings folded upward, which they lit, and then it began to spin around, and then the wings came down – WHAM! – and then it really started spinning around, shooting sparks everywhere as it spun…indescribable.
Then the traditional fireworks shot off into the air, and the flags waved again, and the people broke into song (we didn’t know the song, so we couldn’t join in). After things settled down a bit – only a bit – we started heading home.
It took us a long time to hail a taxi this time, as there were so many others trying to get home, too. As we stood at the edge of the street, a group of young Mexican guys, probably in their early twenties, walked past us. Their leader had a straw cowboy hat on and was waving his Mexican flag. As he passed us, he looked at us out of the corner of his eye. When they were a few steps beyond us, he called back to us without looking back or breaking his stride:
“Viva Mexico, gringos…”