As you see yourself, I once saw myself; as you see me now, you will be seen.
      Mexican Proverb


México is the most populous Spanish-
speaking country in the world. According to the latest statistics, México's total population is over 99 million. Mestizos, of Indian and Spanish blood), make up 60% of the population, followed by indigenous peoples  (30%), whites (9%), and other ethnic minorities  (1%).

Carnaval in Mazatlan

Visitors and locals scream, sing, shout and dance amid confetti and ribbons. Bands of all kinds play the infectious rhythms of the State of Sinaloa. And the food–oh, the food–camarones (shrimp) prepared in every way possible, washed down with ice cold Pacifico beer, for it’s Carnaval Time, Mazatlán’s biggest pachanga (fiesta). 
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March 12, 2006

by Bob Brooke

It’s Fiestas Patrias, Independence Day in Mexico, as a four-hour long parade of soldiers, athletes, horsemen, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, makes its way up the Paseo de Reforma from the Zocalo to Chapultepec Park in Mexico City.

I make my way through the crowd to a vantage point on the monument to Cuahtemoc near the Zona Rosa. A older gentleman, named Antonio, helps me up onto the monument so that I can get a better view.

"It wasn't long ago that I was marching in that parade," he says. "We were all so proud. Everyone wore their best clothes. I can remember how my father made sure that my sombrero was on straight. I pretended that I was a wealthy haciendado riding my horse up the Reforma before there were automobiles. Is this your first parade?"

"Yes," I reply.

"Look over there," he says, as he points to a woman selling wooden boxes. "Do you see those boxes? They are renting them to stand on so that they can see the parade."

As Antonio points out the crates, I notice young men standing on the roof of a bus stop, a family of five is lying on blankets on the roof of their father's taxi, a young boy is sitting on his brother's shoulders.

I say goodbye to Antonio and move on up toward Chapultepec Park. The air hangs heavy with the pungent smell of oil and roasted corn. All sorts of vendors line the Reforma. Young Indian women sell food at make-shift stands--tortas, chicarrones, tostados. Older women sell egg shells filled with confetti. Boys sell games and toys. Men sell nuts of all kinds, and dates filled with nuts. Some give away little bags of peanuts to parade watchers.

A little girl of about six, her face all sticky with pink fuzz, looks out from behind the biggest ball of cotton candy she can find. Another, smiling from ear to ear, has just taken a big bite of a mango on a stick.

Everything is For Sale
Everything is for sale--hot dogs, fresh fruit, mezcal, mounds and mounds of watermelon, tiny grilled tortillas, cucumbers. But the most unusual items are handwoven palm-frond hats that passersby purchase to protect them from the hundreds of rockets that constantly explode overhead.

Though the people, themselves, are quiet, there's a raucous symphony of horns blowing. Bands play patriotic songs and marching groups sing along. I feel even more stirred inside than last night at the Zocalo. It's Mexican life multiplied one hundred fold. A rainbow of color, a sea of humanity as far as I can see in all directions.

As the parade makes its way to Chapultepec Park, the crowd meanders along and I follow. This is possibly the biggest fiesta in Mexico. Families sit in circles on the grass munching on fruit and roasted corn. The niños play with the pinwheels on each other's heads. A young couple nestle in a loving embrace.

I stop to smile at a young boy having his picture taken. He sits astride a pony and wears a sombrero so big it makes his ears stick out at right angles to his head. For a moment, I remember when I was a kid and the photographer with his pony used to come to my house to take my picture in my cowboy outfit.

Indian women sit on the grass patting tortillas, their babies sound asleep on blankets, oblivious to all the excitement around them.

Just as along the parade route, vendors offer a variety of items for sale. But unlike those along the Reforma, there are finely crafted pieces from all over the country. A young boy purchases a little bird in a basket. The man selling it has others in cages.

Independence Day is for Children
Independence Day is for children. Mimes entertain starry-eyed children. An organ grinder cranks out a tune on his ornate box as his monkey dances to the delight of laughing tots.

A young girl of fifteen, named Dolores, comes up to me and hands me a small gaily painted box. "This is for you," she says. "We are so glad that you've come to spend Independence Day with us. I want you to have this to remember it by." Overwhelmed by the gift and the sentiment, I thank her. This would have never happened back home.

Exhilarated by the events of the day, I go over to the Hotel Camino Real across from the park to meet my friend and fellow writer Jim Barnes. He has been living in Mexico City for the past ten years and has developed quite a market for his work. Jim, a giant of a man with his blond hair streaked with gray, seems out of place among the Mexicans. In all this time, he still hasn't learned any more Spanish than I. It's been several years since I last saw him on a trip to L.A. Jim hasn't changed, although I think I have.

We meet in the stark dark pink and red contemporary lobby of the hotel. "Why don't we go over to the Zona Rosa and get a bite to eat," he suggests. "I know this great Italian place, La Pergola, on Hamburgo Street. Their fettucine alfredo is out of this world."

"Another thing you ought to do is get your shoes shined. These Mexican kids do a great job. It's worth the dollar or so you pay them."

We decide to walk. The night is clear, the air slightly cool. It seems like everyone is out. The grassy knoll above the Chapultepec subway stop is packed with people. Kids run around in little gangs, playing their version of tag. We duck down through a pedestrian underpass. I notice a boy selling miniature wooden tops. I buy a half a dozen to hang as ornaments on my Christmas tree.

It takes about a half hour to walk over to the Zona Rosa. Most shops and restaurants are closed for the holiday. Denny's, of course, is open.

About a block from La Pergola, an older boy in his late teens, named Julio, stops us. "Do you have the time, señor?" he asks Jim.

"Eight o'clock," Jim replies.

Meeting Julio
"How about a shoe shine, señor?" he asks as he bends down to brush some polish on my shoe."

"No, thanks," says Jim.

"Oh, come on. Why not?" I reply. "You just got done telling me I ought to have my shoes shined."

Before another word can be spoken by either of us, Julio sits me down on the edge of a concrete planter and hurriedly wipes a liquid all over my shoes.

"I give you the best shine in Mexico," he says.

All the time he's doing this, I can't help noticing what little equipment he has. Most of the other boys I saw along the streets today had large wooden shoeshine boxes filled with a variety of brushes, rags, and polishes.

Before we know it, another boy comes out from around the corner and begins to put polish on Jim's shoes. Jim refuses a shine, but the more he refuses, the more the other boy insists.

"How much?" Jim asks.

"One hundred pesos," replies the boy.

"No way," says Jim, as he tries to get up to leave. "I'll give ten." Jim stands and argues with the boy.

By this time, I have already paid Julio 200 pesos. Before we know what's happening, the other boy grabs my wallet, which I still have in my hand, and runs with it into the crowd. We both call for help. Because of the holiday, there are few policemen on duty. Try as we might, we find none. I look down at my shoes. The "polish" is already beginning to flake off.

"Let's go eat. I'm starved," says Jim.

"I'm not hungry anymore," I reply.

Jim lends me enough money to get back to my hotel. Luckily, I only brought along enough cash for dinner and taxi fare. The emotional high of the last two days tumbles to a crashing low.

I flag down a taxi. After driving a few minutes, the driver asks, "Can I get you some entertainment, senor? How about a pretty senorita?"

"No, thanks."

"Then how about a pretty boy, instead?"


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