The International Writers
Mexican Symbolism - Archives
other day I saw a hummingbird just outside my house. There is
an area several metres from my front gate that acts to take the
excess rainwater as there are no proper drains and we are on a
hill. The majority of the time it resembles a dried river bed
and sadly some people will throw their rubbish there. However,
there are some lovely flowers and I watched the hummingbird flying
up to them and having a drink! It goes to show that even in the
grottiest places you can find beauty.
Life plods on here in Pachuca. Soon I will have a two week holiday for
Easter. Its something Im looking forward to as I plan to go
across the country from Veracruz City beside the Gulf of Mexico to Puerto
Vallarta on the Pacific Coast. Ill be doing it by bus so I should
take in a few other places en route, like Xapala and Guadalajara. It should
I am also happy to report that I have some tea! It was sent from England
via Norway and hand-delivered to me in Pachuca. There is a Norwegian girl
at work and her parents (who have come to visit for three weeks) kindly
took a package sent from my mother. The kindly couriers actually live
on an island with a population of three thousand. My mother sent them
the parcel on the Thursday evening and it arrived at their house in Norway
on the Saturday morning, yet the birthday cards sent to me from various
addresses in England have yet to materialise
the kindly Norwegians
also brought me chocolate from England, such as Cadburys Creme Eggs!
Why on earth do the Irish have a patron saint who is Welsh? Why do so
many people celebrate a day that has little to do with him or the Church
but alcoholism? I remember an advert in England some years ago in the
build up to the 17th of March which said Dont forget St. Patrick
on Guinness Day. I would quite happy celebrate Guinness!
Pachuca in Mexico has got to be one of the least Irish places on Earth!
My Canadian chum Rob has held a St. Patricks Day party for several
years now. I went along to that being the only person who had any sort
of Irish connection whatsoever. Everyone else was there to get blind drunk
whereas I dont drink that much anymore.
Someone came and painted a shamrock on my face and some Americans told
me how they were part Irish
which to me is a real bore
cant they just concentrate on being American instead of going back
to when their ancestors left Ireland? If Ireland is so great then why
did they leave in the first place? The idea that everyone was forcibly
evicted is false: despite the awfulness of the famine (which is when the
largest migration happened), most people left Ireland for economic reasons.
The eldest son would always inherit the farm and so the rest of the children
would have to emigrate as there simply wasnt enough land for everyone.
Also, post-independence from the 1950s right up to the late 1980s there
just wasnt enough in employment in the country. The highly educated
Irish workforce flourished in other parts of the world. Despite the romantic
idea of Ireland, not many Irish people were rushing to go home
- hence my parents being in England for 33 years!
I was only person to track down some Guinness in Pachuca. Unfortunately
it was rather pricey, one can costing 30 pesos, three or four times more
than the local beers. My friend put on a good party though and I was grateful
for his effort. Ill still never understand why so many people want
to pretend to be Irish. Its just plain weird to me!
England is a rather odd nation in that we dont have much in the
way of self-conscious nationalism or patriotism. We pretty much know who
we are and we just get on with it. In the U.S. it seems you that you can
say that youre a patriot and God Bless America and the
nation whoops and cheers (and then probably cries afterwards).
The States like many nations feels the need to invent and keep an identity
for itself. The English have done it in the past but it was so long ago
that were very removed from it. The only time you find overt patriotism
is at international football matches. We have been through many changes
since 1066, not least changes of language, the rise and fall of Empire
and the union of the four countries of the British Isles into the State
of Britain. The lack of a self-conscious identity is probably the reason
that foreign people find it so easy to integrate into Britain, as opposed
to France where they seemingly regard those of North African descent as
non-French even when they are several generations down the line.
Mexico is a country both sure and unsure of its identity. It has successfully
been able to foster and install one into its population, to the point
that Mexicans find it harder to integrate into the United States much
more so than other Latin Americans, e.g. Cubans. Another complication
is that in many ways regional identity is stronger for many Mexicans.
Southern states such as Oaxaca, Chiapas and the Yucatán have particularly
strong identities, probably due to the large indigenous populations they
Norteños, whose traditional dress seems to be that of a Mexican
rancher from the U.S. border, are very different too. The state
that I live in, Hidalgo, seems not to have much of an identity to
speak of, probably due to its close proximity to Mexico City.
One way that the identity is created is through the teaching of
history in school. The struggle for Independence from the Spanish
is seen as key. I asked a student what they thought the most important
year in Spanish history was (I had in mind 1492 as there was the
discovery of the New World, the fall of Grenada and Antonio de Nabrija
wrote the first rules of the Spanish language up to that
point it had been considered a vulgar form of Latin). The immediate
answer from some of the students was Mexican Independence.
Considering that happened from 1810 to 1822 it was over three centuries
off what I had in mind!
The teaching of history here seems to place Mexico above all else.
For some reason unbeknownst to me, I have been chosen to teach the children
about Mexican patriotism through the medium of their national anthem.
I can hardly think of anyone less suited to this, but my students have
to put on a display about the history of the national anthem and why it
is so wonderful. It would be funny if it werent for the seriousness
that Mexicans view the flag and the national anthem. They are so sensitive
(probably due to insecurity) to outside criticism that they overreact
to any perceived slight to their nation. The students have the presentation
in front of the school at the end of this week: hopefully they (and I)
wont screw it up.
All of what Ive described may be strange for an Englishman but it
tends to be the norm in other countries. Turkey is a place where the idea
of a nation has been created. Just as Mustapha Kemel is revered in Turkey,
the heroes of independence are venerated in Mexico. Miguel Hidalgo was
the priest who led the revolt against the Spanish and the state that I
live in is named after him. He was later captured by the Spanish and beheaded.
The seminal moment in Mexican history though was the Revolution. It started
in 1910 and lasted for ten years. It started as a revolt against the thirty
year rule of President Porfirio Díaz and his repressive regime.
The liberal Francisco Madero became President in 1911 and Díaz
fled to France. However Madero wasnt able to control the different
factions fighting for power throughout the country. In the north Pancho
Villa, a bandit turned revolutionary, and the even more radical Emiliano
Zapata in the south. He was fighting for the transfer of hacienda land
to the peasants who worked the land.
Due to the machinations of the U.S. ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, a coup
brought down Madero in 1913. One of his top generals, Victoriana Huerta,
switched sides to the conservatives and Madero was executed. After this
came a reign of terror where Huertas troops raped, pillaged and
plundered throughout the country. The leftist forces defeated him in July
1914 but then started fighting amongst themselves until 1917. A constitution
was enacted then which is still largely in force today. Zapata was assassinated
in 1919 and Pancho Villa in 1923. By the end of the revolution ten years
of violent civil war had left one in eight Mexicans dead and the economy
The revolution on many levels was a failure. The constitution was maybe
its greatest success though it seems a lot of people had to die to get
to that point. After the revolution the same party was in power for over
seventy years: the Partido Nacional Revolucionario, the National Revolutionary
Party, which then became the Partido de la Revolución Mexicana,
the Party of Mexican Revolution, which then became the ironically named
Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the Institutional Revolutionary
Party! The PRI, as they are called, are still together today and were
in power until the year 2000. However, the word failure doesnt
seem to appear in the teaching of the subject to children.
Its All A Little Bit Too Fascistic For Me:
install a feeling of a nation into the schoolchildren, every Monday
the children must attend or participate in the flag ceremony
or homenaje. During the course of the ceremony, with martial music
blaring out of loudspeakers, some of the students march around with
the flag as if they are North Koreans or members of the Nation of
Islam. When all of the students make the pledge to the flag they
stand to attention with their arms extended in a sort of Nazi-esque
salute, though whereas the Germans has their arms at a 35° angle,
the children here hold their arm directly in front of them horizontally.
It is a most unnerving sight and something most gringos never get
The idea for the homenaje comes from the 1930s when overt displays of
patriotism were considered desirable. Most nations have long since left
this sort of thing behind, especially in Europe. We do not play the national
anthem at sporting fixtures unless it is an international match and you
seldom see the flag been flown in England compared to the States. The
sight of Americans waving their flags manically or weeping with their
hands on their hearts as they sing their national anthem makes English
people at least feel deeply uncomfortable. This is nothing compared to
what goes on here in Mexico: when the children sing the Mexican national
anthem at the homenaje they have their hands in front of their hearts
but with the palms facing the ground in some sort of crypto-Roman quasi-fascist
stance. It is both completely ludicrous and deeply unpleasant. The amazing
thing is that Mexicans have no idea how other nationalities regard the
symbolism. I suspect that if they did they wouldnt care anyway!
To be honest, the kids do it because theyre told that they have
to it. The Mexican teachers do it as they had to do it at school plus
the Department of Education tells them that they have to do it. What baffles
me is when foreign teachers join in the act as well. Youd never
get me pledging my allegiance to some foreign nation nor make a fascist
salute to a flag.
When the children are seven years of age they make their first pledge
to the flag. For this event the army goes to every Mexican school and
parades and marches. One young boy will march out and make the pledge
for all of the students. The headmaster will hold the flag and then all
of the seven year olds will march out to him and shout that they are present
and march around the place. Their parents will come and take photos. The
army will march out of the school just as they marched in
this is the only thing that I have been involved with in Mexico that has
started on time! I put it down to military time-keeping. It seemed to
have most Mexican scrambling to get to their places at the bugles started
up. Being on time is something beyond most Mexicans.
Not surprisingly I didnt enjoy the ceremony. I didnt find
it cute seeing a seven year old drill and make some lofty promise to die
for his flag, but then I hated singing I Vow To Thee My Country
at school. I never understood why we should sing such pre-First World
War nonsense when the plaques of the boys killed in that war were on the
wall beside us.
Another bizarre concept tied into Mexican identity is that of La Raza,
which literally means the Race. It was invented around the
1930s (though Im not 100% sure about that fact) in direct contradiction
to some of the Social Darwinist ideas to do with race that were popular
in Europe at that time. There is even a metro stop in Mexico City called
The idea is that Mexicans are neither Europeans nor are they indigenous
peoples but a mix, una mescla, something unique and from that they can
take their identity. There is always a need with Mexicans to identify
themselves as different from the Spanish even though the whiter you are
in Mexico it seems the further up the class system you are. Being part
of the Mexican mix also differentiates you from being indigenous as they
are at the bottom of the class system. Its completely ridiculous
as Mexicans also look back to the Aztecs, Toltecs and Mayans for their
identity (they being the direct opposite of what it would be to be Spanish).
Id like to be able to explain the concept better but I dont
really understand it myself. Its amazing how much of this fascist
nonsense has persisted even though the majority of the world moved on
actually came across some proper indigenous women on the metro in
Mexico City some weeks ago
it was a bit of an eye-opener
I had never heard Náhuatl spoken before and it was
completely different to how I imagined it. There wasnt a hint
of Spanish in it, in fact it sounded like Korean! There was a family
of women chatting away: a grandmother, the mother and a whole army
what happened next though really surprised me.
It seems that some yob, as he got off the metro train, made some
sort of a rude gesture at the women and might have even spat at
the outside window as he went out. The women immediately switched
to Spanish and fired off a tirade of obscenities at the man!
Both my companion and I were quite taken aback by the language, which
continued long after the train had left the station. Granma, mother and
the young daughters all joined in the effing and blinding until they tired
of it, and then they switched back to Náhuatl to discuss whatever
they chatting about previously
I always had looked at indigenous
types somewhat differently up to that moment, probably due to my encounters
with the Mapuche and the Aymara in Chile. However, the feeling I got from
them in Mexico City was close to being like Irish gypsies! I wonder how
they are in the rest of the country
Im sure its different
in the south
or maybe Im being particularly naïve
we shall see when I go down there in the summer.
© Dermot Sullivan April 2007
dermotsullivan at hotmail.com
Turns 30 in Mexico
Sullivan in Chile 2004/5
Year in Santiago
Dermot Sullivan's Chile Diary
Gringo - Diary Entry 2
From Santiago No 3
Diary No 4
Diary No 5
The Naruda House
Dermot Sullivan No 6
Week in Bolvia:
Dermot Sullivan's Diary No.7
Dermot Sullivan's Diary No 8
Diary No 9
Dermot Sullivan explores
Dermot goes North & South
Airies: Diary No 11
Dermot is back 2005
Le Boca & Iguaca Falls
Santiago - Politics and Religion
Chile Diary 14 - Sawdust
Chile Diary 15
- Floods, fruit and beer
Back to Life
Dermot Sullivan Oct 2005
World Destinations in Hacktreks
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