Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Musings on a Mexican Christmas

One of the neat things about my job is I get to go places and see things I wouldn't ordinarily see. Saturday, I went up the road for my second visit to a Mexican-migrant community of fernery workers, and watched a celebration of Las Posadas.

Las Posadas is a traditional Mexican Christmas celebration. Beginning Dec. 16, nine consecutive days of candlelight processions, prayers to God and parties pave the way for Christmas Day.

Each day, children lead a procession, re-enacting the Holy Family's attempt to find lodging in Bethlehem. The procession stops at a designated house to sing a traditional litany, through which the Holy Family requests shelter for the night. The children are turned away.

The scene is repeated at a second home.

At the third stop, the pilgrims are told that while there is no room in the posada (inn), they are welcome to take refuge in the stable. This time, the doors open wide, all are invited to enter, and the celebration begins, with food, music, and gifts for the children.

Since the homes here in Central Florida are more spread out and along a road busy with traffic, the, the procession went to the front door, then to the rear door, and back to the front door of the same home, three times. This kept the children on the same property all evening.

The group entreating entry sang a litany to the accompaniment of a guitarist, and the “innkeepers” inside sang responsively.
Upon the third visit to the front door, the procession was told there was no room at the inn, but there was room at the stable, and the children bearing the Holy Family were allowed to enter.

Children quickly headed for the tables of toys. Food ran a distant second in this race.

Holding hands and talking with friends made time in the toy line go by more quickly.

I got a fresh-hot tamale. Before the processional started, I went into the house, where a team of cooks was preparing the food. One of them pulled a piping hot tamale out of the giant pot of them and put it on a plate for me.

For the Brits and others who may not be familiar with tamales, its a spicy meat mixture wrapped inside a cornmeal breading. The concoction is wrapped in a corn husk and put into a pot with its brethern and a little water, and steamed until done. It's yummy. Tamales, rice, beans, tortillas and similar fare are staples of the Mexican diet.

After consuming the goody and turning down offers of a second -- not because I didn't want one, but because I was afraid they might run short for all the people they had to serve -- I wandered back outside.

I watched the kids playing tag, weaving between pockets of socializing grownups. It struck me that I saw no children screaming in temper tantrums. I saw no exasperated parents screaming at children. On the contrary, children were frequently picked up and hugged. They are treated as precious.

For all our lip service about the importance of family in the U.S. culture, I don't think we always treat our children as precious. They're often viewed as baggage, or attachments to their parents. I've seen a lot of young-adult parents who see no reason to change their lifestyles just because they have children. So, the kids are left at home while dad's out wherever and mom is down at the karaoke bar, even if the parents aren't divorced.

Even when left with caring people, kids get the impression they're not that important to the people who matter the most to them.

By the time they're teenagers, some of these kids are psychopathic young people who are used to spending a lot of time alone, without adult supervision, and with minimal interaction with adults. These kids know they're "baggage." They spend time on the Internet learning ways to blow things up or shoot people. Or, they're out doing drugs. Doing whtever is antisocial.

An oversimplification, I know, and a lot of other factors are involved, but I think there's some truth there.

I hardly ever see the migrant workers out without their kids. Whether it's grocery shopping, a trip to the laundromat or an occasional meal in a restaurant, their children are with them.

I wonder.


Mike L said...

Pat, we have observed the same thing here in New Mexico where we live in an Hispanic community. Children are precious to these people and are loved. My wife and I have often commented on how gently a noisy child is treated in Church, a finger to the lips is generally enough to quiet a restless child. Or perhaps the child gets passed to another relative for some love.

If things really become difficult at home, there is always a relative to take the child in and love it like a parent. Extended families are more the rule than the exception out here. Living in a land grant area we find that almost everyone is related to everyone else, often through several paths.

Unfortunately the care and love is not a cure all. Poverty rates are high and opportunities are limited. We try to hire local kids to do work for us that we are getting too old and too tired to do ourselves, and I suspect it is an appreciated influx of money. While no one starves, no one lives on steak and lobster, thats for sure.

As in most areas of high poverty, we know that there is a lot of drug usage, and of course if you are going to be a man out here, you have to be able to hold you liquor, which many of them can't. As a result there is a fairly high crime rate, but not nearly as bad as in the cities.

We like the people, there are perhaps the main reason we decided to settle down out here. It seems like everyone out here can weld, work on a car, build their own house, ride a horse, round up cattle, shoot a bear, or just about anything else you might want to name. And most are quite willing to help others that are less talented.

The only real downside that we find is the problem of hair envy. I don't have any, and the people around here have so much! It isn't unusual to see hair well below the waist, and even if they cut it short, in a few months it is long again. I have always thought that if I could figure out a way to transplant their ability to grow hair I could make a fortune.

A Merry and Blessed Christmas to you and all of yours.



Saint Pat said...

Mike, yes, the poverty among these workers is extreme.

The reason I knew about the Las Posadas celebration was a sponsor made a request for toys so they'd have enough for all the kids. I bought one and collected some toys at work for them, and publicized the need for them. These people are poor, and they live hard lives.

A number of them are in the country illegally, and so are afraid to go for help -- police, medical, etc. -- for fear of being deported.

I haven't heard of a lot of drug use in the migrant community, but that may be coming with the younger generations becoming more exposed to it. There's a lot of drinking, for sure.