All week, we’d been anticipating Mexico’s gold-medal football match. When you are dismissed from faculty meetings on your first day back at school to watch a football game (Olympic semi-finals: Mexico v. Japan), you know you are in a country that is serious about its soccer. And when that match results in a football-crazed country’s first Olympic medal…and a GOLD no less…you wonder what insanity might await. How were the Mexicans going to celebrate this monumental victory? With an impromptu party in the streets, of course–complete with drumming, singing, flag waving, and capitalist verve.
As we were teaching Anna how to high-five in celebration of Mexico’s victory over Brazil on Saturday, images from around Mexico began flashing across the TV screen. Mexico City, Puebla — wait! Is that La Minerva? Here in Guadalajara? Let’s go!
Now, keep in mind that I grew up in the era of the Bulls’ championships, where almost annually Chicago would erupt into mini-riots to ‘celebrate’ another year’s victory before the city threw its carefully orchestrated homecoming celebration for the team. And keep in mind that Fresh is a Buckeye, and that in Columbus every football game — win or lose, it seems — is celebrated with furniture burning, drunk rampaging, and tear gas. So our anticipation of athletic celebrations is tempered by a little trepidation.
But what awaited us at La Minerva was perhaps the sweetest, most emblematically Mexican celebration we could’ve imagined.
There were, of course, police officers. But unlike back home, they were not in riot gear. They did not have their clubs or guns out. They were not staring stoically over revelers’ heads. Instead, they were either (a) standing guard over the mini-agave field at La Minerva (behind yellow police tape; no barricades), or (b) taking pictures of flag-draped celebrators pretending to ride off on Los Lobos’ motorcycles. Some were even mingling with fans, singing Cielito Lindo along with everyone else.
And there were also enterprising businessfolk throughout the crowd, as to be expected. All around the glorieta, you could buy flags, jerseys, beanies, bandera-striped afros, bandera-colored antennae headbands, and just about anything else Mexico-themed you could imagine. There were vendors selling refreshments: families who had clearly bought the local Soriana out of all of its water and paletas and resold them here. And there were the roving face painters, who would stealthily plaster your face with a “¡Viva Mexico!” tag before you could protest. Some of these guys even started a whole layered economy on the glorieta -- selling bandera-striped face crayons for five pesos, which teenage girls would buy and then turn around and offer to paint a flag on your face for five pesos. Capitalism at work.
On the fringe of the celebration, there was a gaggle of adolescent girls who set up a station selling paraphernalia for their favorite boy band: stickers, CDs, membership to the fan club. They happened to also take a liking to Anna, bringing her into their boy band love fest fold, petting her hair, showing her who each adolescent stud was, and generally schooling in the ways of the teenage world. Why we didn’t hit them up for future babysitting we’ll never know…
In fact, Anna was probably the biggest hit in our family. Dressed in the colors of the bandera, she quickly took to waving her little flag–and waving at everyone who made eye contact with her. At first, she wasn’t quite sure what to make of the controlled chaos, but by day’s end, she was cheering along with the drummers and dancing in her stroller to the crowd’s various songs. She also had a starring role in many a stranger’s photos. Just like in India where strangers come up to take pictures with us, here in Guadalajara, strangers come up to us, tell us how beautiful our baby is, and then ask if they can take a picture with her. I mean, we definitely agree that she’s cute, but, um…really?!
And so we whiled away a Saturday walking around and around the glorieta, waving our Mexican flags, singing along as the crowd belted out Cielito Lindo over and over and over (which in itself is pretty awesome: of all the songs to sing, it’s a mariachi folk tune they pick), watching replay after replay of Mexico’s goals on the Corona jumbotron, marveling at how well behaved the crowd was, and laughing hysterically when it was a rascally grandmother of all people who wreaked havoc on the crowd–running headlong into the moving throng and spraying hundreds with a bottle of shaving cream.
We ended our celebration following every other family at La Minerva to the Burger King for beverages and bathrooms. As we navigated through the crowd to the kids’ area, a man came up to us and asked where we were from. When we said the US, he replied, “That’s awesome. That you’re celebrating for us. I guess everybody wants to be a Mexican today!” We nodded, grateful to be in our adopted home to partake in the festivities. As he reminded us, “Mexicans know how to celebrate. I mean, we work hard, but whenever there is an excuse to take off work for a fiesta, we do! This is what life is about in Mexico.”
It’s a life we’re liking a whole lot.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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