Thursday, May 29, 2008
Everyone Loves a Parade
The first time I heard a marching band approaching my house I was lying in my hammock reading the Sunday paper, El Diario del Yucatán. It was early August, 2007. I had recently moved to Mérida from the Big Island of Hawaii, a rural area that reluctantly tolerates two annual parades, but none up in the hills where I used to live. Here, adrenaline pumping and filled with intrigue, I ran out into the street. What a sight it was! It would be the first of fifteen days of random (or so it seemed to me) processions from San Sebastian Church to the Virgin of Guadalupe Church. There were Mayan women in colorful huipiles in horse carriages, the men on horseback dressed in their finest guayabera shirts, fixated Mexican flag bearers, numerous school marching bands, and women carrying elaborately adorned statues of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. A while after the parade had passed, when I thought the ceremonies had ended, I was surprised to hear fireworks exploding in the sky. They originated from the church two blocks over as well as from the parade’s destination church 12 blocks away. The lighting of aerials went on every fifteen minutes all day every day for the next fifteen days.
To the best of my recollection, after midnight that they did not blow off fireworks, but they started up again at 5am. Perhaps they were announcing church services as well. The Mayans may have adopted Catholicism and other Christian religions, but they never actually abandoned all of their indigenous beliefs. Rather they incorporated them into the teachings of the Spaniards to keep the peace.
At the time I did not know how many festivities Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe required per annum, but there are many and they take place for weeks at a time seemingly several times a year. Later I found out that the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. What was being celebrated was the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. All the activities culminated August 15th. Again in December, the parades began to celebrate the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12th.
Having lots of parades was a surprising bonus to this move to Mérida. When I first arrived here, I was in a state of overwhelm. I was trying to adjust to a different culture, speak and think entirely in Spanish, renovate a house, find my lost cat Buster, and figure out what to do with the rest of my new life. I would ask my acquaintances about what was going on, but much of the information went over my head. This ongoing
learning experience is time consuming and often causes brain freeze.
Mexican Revolution Day is November 20th. My friend Pablo had been preparing some sort of march for “the parade”, but the gist of it went right over my head. He was teaching physical education to preschoolers in a small Mayan village and was in charge of his school’s participation in an important annual event. Before the big day Pablo played one particular marching song over and over and marched around the house for weeks. Then came the big weekend. I accompanied him to Oxcutzcab to watch the parade, which was held the Friday before Revolution Day. The participants were all school children and each school had worked a theme. The costumes, the makeup, the flowers, the routines….every bit of it gave me chicken skin. The little girls gussied up in full Mayan huipiles and big smiles brought tears to my eyes. The young boys were all little Pancho Villas. They wore white cotton shirts and bullet belts and carried plastic guns. They had little mustaches and big eyebrows painted on their pudgy faces. Some little girls wore colonial dresses with white gloves carrying umbrellas. There were miniature tricycles decorated in orange branches and oranges; filled with fruit and enchanting Mayan boys and girls. . These folks do not like to have their photos taken, so with caution I filled my camera that day.
Each group of them - there must have been 80 participating groups, also had their precise and proud flag bearers, all the students with hula hoops or props in green, red and white (the colors of the Mexican flag). The parade lasted over two hours. It was a moment in time I felt blessed to experience, just to watch the smiles and pride on the faces of the parents, children and teachers that day.
On the day of the 16th, Mérida had its own Revolution Day Parade. There were 2200 participants. By that I mean groups participating, not individuals. The festivities went on for well over three hours. Every school in the municipality must have been involved. Each with stoic flag bearers, drummers or complete marching band, all alumni walking uniformly in uniform, the firemen and emergency personnel performing firefighting stunts and pretend rescues, the policemen taking down fake criminals. I almost forgot to mention the floats with the spectacular paper flowers and live green foliage. Or the stilt walkers, jugglers, and others. There was so much going on. The street vendors were out in full force. It was impossible to avoid a hot roasted corn on the cob with salt and chile. Or an ice cream cone. When it was nearly over, Pablo said simply to my awestruck eyes, “Just wait until Carnaval!”