Mexican Night of the Grito
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- Each year on the night before independence day the president of Mexico will get on national TV and do something called, “El Grito.” The yell. The rest of the country will follow his refrain, mimicking his words:
“Mexicanos, viva Mexico Aiiiyaiyai!”
These words were those that reputedly set Mexico off upon a 12 year revolutionary war that ended with independence from Spain.
Mexicans, Mexico lives!
The first Grito was said to have been given by the priest, Miguel Hidalgo. They were said to have started a revolution. From then on out these words are yelled at the climax of massive independence day parties. This year, for the bicentennial, the party is planned to be the most massive in 200 years.
The great Mexican party it has been called.
Tomorrow is El Grito
“Tomorrow night is the night of El Grito,” a juice vendor from whom I had just purchased a carrot/ orange juice from told me.
“That is when everybody yells, ‘Mexicanos, viva Mexico,’ right?
The juice vendor continued, “Do you do that in your country?”
I said that we do for good measure, I took his question generally — Yes, we celebrate Independence Day — but my wife took him with the proper literalness:
“No, we don’t yell that in the USA,” she corrected.
It was interesting talking to Mexicans here about El Grito before I knew what it was. They would say matter of factly, “Wednesday is the yell,” as if I was suppose to know what this meant. I doubted my Spanish.
“El Grito?” I understood this to mean, “The yell,” I came to find that I did understand, the celebration is really called “The Yell.” Everybody, the president, yells at the climax of Independence Day Eve activities. Mexico is then said to go crazy.
Mariachis on Independence Day
“El Grito” soon came. I fear for my daughter, she loves mariachis. At one year of age, she goes crazy whenever she sees a pack of men dressed up with brass buttons, belt buckles, and tight pants playing music.
Chaya, Petra, and I were walking in the street looking for something to do for El Grito.
“Those are my favorite mariachis,” I spoke to my wife as I watched a couple of young guys with instruments walked by. I suppose these guys were not mariachis by definition, perhaps, they were just young musicians that make their money playing traditional Vera Cruz songs in bars. I have watched them play before. They are very good.
We gave chase.
We found them in a bar. Chaya, Petra, and I entered. I bought a 20 peso beer, Petra made headway straight for the mariachis. She stood right in front of them as they performed, yelling, smiling, and dancing.
“She is our biggest fan,” one of them eventually commented with a smile.
Another one dedicated a song to her. The bass player allowed her to strum the strings of his instrument for a song. Petra really liked that.
Petra danced, she refused to leave. She danced until 10 PM. I drank beer after beer watching her being mesmerized by the mariachis, I dug the music.
As a father, I know that someday I am going to be in trouble with this one.
The Night of El Grito
It is now Wednesday night, I am standing in the main park of San Cristobal de las Casas, my family has gone to sleep in the hotel. I am getting ready for “El Grito.” I am ready, I have rehearsed my script: “Mexicanos, viva Mexico.” I think I can remember that. But, in actuality, the full text of El Grito de Dolares goes something like this:
Long Live the Heroes that gave us our Fatherland!
Long Live Hidalgo!
Long Live Morelos!
Long Live Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!
Long Live Allende!
Long Live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long Live National Independence!
Long Live the Independence Bicentennial!
Long Love the Centennial of the Revolution!
Long Live Mexico!
Long Live Mexico!
Long Live Mexico!
For those who don’t want to remember much, it is my impression that a simper “AAAAAYYYYYYEEEEEE! Viva Mexico!” would be fully adequate.
I am waiting for El Grito, there are thousands of people spread over the park and standing in the surrounding streets — everywhere is packed, people move between each other in little, organically created worm holes — when someone walks by and successfully makes a hole in the crowd, you follow them, as it is easier to move through the seas of people as a long “worm” than as an individual.
In the park, beer is only being sold by the liter — no smaller sizes are available. Perhaps the vendors know that the lines would be far too long if they sold it in smaller quantities, perhaps they only serve their substance in large quantities to stave off the hoards a little longer. Perhaps they just know what the people want — this is Mexico’s bicentennial, people are not here to sip at a Corona, they are drinking to celebrate, they want a lot of beer.
I want a lot of beer, too. I have decided to celebrate properly. It has been ages since I have drank more beer than my equilibrium could handle. I watched everybody walking around the park holding giant ballpark disposable cups full of liters of beer. I soon found myself holding one, too.
There is some bozo lounge singer up on a full sized, fully provisioned with lights and smoke, stage which was erected this morning just for the Independence Day celebration. The singer is around 50 years old, he is doing sexy man dances. One of his band mates is sodomizing a saxophone behind him. I almost feel bad for them, they are looking pretty corny. I can’t do much else than cringe as I watch the old guys on stage dancing.
I am waiting for the cultural experience of the Mexican Independence Day Grito.
When is this going to happen?
In the mean time, I ponder about how special it is that every city, town, village — any population center with more than a goat, two dogs, and a gaggle of feral kids — in all of Mexico is having a similar type of party with music, fireworks, and beer in their respective central parks. I knew that right then all of Mexico was doing just what I was doing: getting drunk in a park listening to music — dancing.
I am still waiting for El Grito, it is ten past midnight. It was my impression that this thing was suppose to happen at 24:00. Apparently, I thought wrong. I allowed sense to override proper inquiry, I figured that it would be completely logical for El Grito to happen on Midnight of Independence Day Eve, but the world is not shaped with cookie cutters.
I figured that I must have gotten something wrong. I decided to abandon the park and El Grito and go find the kids I was drinking beer with earlier in the night. I gave up on the cultural experience.
I resolved to put up someone else’s video of El Grito in this article. All as well.
I missed El Grito
I met a girl in the street. She told me earlier in the night that she liked my beard, I said thank you as we walked by each other in opposite directions. Now we met again, so we talked. Her friends promptly ditched her. We were left together in the street.
“Want to grab a beer?” I asked.
She found no reason to refuse.
“Were you in the park for El Grito?” she asked.
“I waited for it but it never happened,” I replied, “wasn’t it suppose to be at midnight?”
“No, it was at 11, there were fireworks. It was pretty lame.”
All as well.
Video of El Grito on Mexico’s bicentennial
Everybody Drunk in Mexico
Everybody was drunk in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico Wednesday night. Everybody in the entire country was drunk. I realized that I was too, for the first time in at least a year. I got wind of a house party that was suppose to be some place in San Cristobal. I went to find it with my new companion. I asked the oldest looking person I could find where the street was, he told me.
We walked into a dark residential area of San Cristobal. I led the way, I began feeling uncomfortable for my new friend. She was an American girl that just met some funny looking drunk guy in the street and started following him into the night. Each turn we took to get the party, I groaned that the streets kept getting darker and more deserted. I did not want this girl to think I was some sort of creep leading her into peril.
“Maybe this is stupid to follow a stranger in the streets, but you seem alright to me,” she eventually stated a little nervously.
Her judgment of character was perhaps acute, but I had no idea how she could have known this. She just met me five minutes ago. But perhaps I don’t look as tough as I think.
“I’m not a stranger to me,” I said trying to reassure her that I was feeling as awkward about lassoing her off into the dark recesses of a drunken city as she was.
I found the party just in time.
The place was full of young people dancing, drinking, the party was in full tilt. 90% of the people were young foreigners, I am sure that many of them could take the title “hippy.” I soon got the impression that we found were “it” was at — for whatever merit could be taken from this.
I got some beer, talked with my new friend. I became worried that she may have thought that I was trying to pick her up — it sure seemed that way to me. I looked at her, she was pretty, I applauded myself for a moment.
Now how to tell her that I am married and have a baby?
I decide to use the pronoun “we” in places were “me” would have been more appropriate. After doing this a few times, my new friend looked up at me:
“Oh, my wife and baby,” I said with an intentional nonchalance.
The acquaintance that I sort of awkwardly went to the hippy party with was eventually rescued by the friends — the same friends who left her standing in the street with me earlier in the night. No, they did not want to enter the party, they were on a rescue mission.
A girl passed a joint to me at the hippy party. For some odd reason I took it — maybe I was trying to seem polite, maybe I wanted to accept the “friendship offering,” maybe it was the liter beers in jumbo cups. Whatever the reason, I took the joint and fumbled with it, I was not going to actually smoke it — that stuff makes me stupid.
I took the joint out of simple reaction, but perhaps my logic was along the lines of how, in China, if you are offered a cigarette from a new acquaintance, you take it — automatically. You don’t have to smoke it, but you take it anyway and stick it behind your ear. Doing this accepts the offering of friendship, it seems vastly more polite than refusing the cigarette outright.
Substances such as alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, and food are offered as ritualized signs of actualizing an acquaintanceship all over the world. In travel, you are often put into a position to accept something that you really do not want in the name of creating a friendship bond. You can refuse the offer — as I do 99% of the time when it is marijuana — and face a potentially stunted acquaintanceship, or you take it with a polite sampling. You often only need to accept the offering once, the next time it is offered it is more acceptable to refuse.
I hate marijuana, it makes me stupid. Why would I want to intentionally make myself stupid? I absolutely refuse to smoke the stuff, but, for an unspecified reason, I took the joint anyway, I fumbled with it for a moment, and then made to return it to its rightful owner. The girl who handed it to me was gone.
The girl ditched me and her stupid joint.
What do I do with this thing?
Luckily, I was at a party of young hippies. I passed it off to a dude dancing to my left. He thanked me with a big smile and took a hit. He passed it back to me. Shit. I tried to pass it off to the dude dancing on my right. He thanked me with a big smile and took a hit. He passed it back to me. Shit. I couldn’t get rid of the f’cking thing, it just kept coming back to me as if it was attached to my hand by a string. This went on, I was clearly making myself out to be vastly more hip than what I really am. My attempts at dumping the joint off onto some hippy ended with me gregariously smoking up a good portion of the party. Finally, I figured it in my best interest to just throw the damn thing on the ground.
For the rest of the night I hear:
“Wade, su mota esta suave.”
I couldn’t have been this cool even if I tried.
End of the night
I chatted with another friend at the party about martial arts, but soon found myself plastered to the wall, not really finding much to talk about with the masses of stoned kids with nest hair and tactless baggy pants dancing to music that I found slightly unpalatable. I tried to dance for a moment too, then, realizing that this was just not my thing, I returned to my place on the wall.
I soon realized that the fun which I was extracting from this party had fizzled out. The novelty of being around people my age, dancing, drinking, celebrating the independence of a country that very few of us were even from began to wan. I again became aware of the fact that my dips into global youth culture are more attempts for me to observe a way of living than something that I can consider myself a part of. I meet people, I talk to them, I observe, I learn, but I am rarely ever a true part of that which I look in upon.
I don’t think I’m having fun anymore.
I made for the door.
One thing in particular stands out in my mind about the Mexican bicentennial celebration in San Cristobal de las Casas:
The tameness spoke volumes.
Thousands of people were drunk together, but everyone that I saw seemed, more or less, well behaved: I did not see any fights, I did not notice anyone inappropriately yelling in the streets, there were many kissing but few quarreling couples, there were no badass dudes trying to be badasses, nobody was breaking windows or overturning cars, the legion of police officers monitoring the park seemed listless, bored, and completely inactive. The most I saw the police do was direct traffic and chase away a group of idealistic teens with hand drawn political signs making angsty statements about the Mexican government.
The night of El Grito ran smoothly, I have never before observed so many people so drunk yet so respectful. This bicentennial celebration was a drunk fest, people were loud and celebrating, but it remained family friendly throughout. Perhaps this was because I am in Chiapas — which was not even a part of Mexico for 200 years — perhaps if I was more near the source — Mexico City — I would have saw a society momentarily deteriorate with drunken reverie and party.
In San Cristobal de las Casas, the drunks seemed to do little more than stumble, mutter a “Viva Mexico” or two, as couples made out in the street, and people smiled joyfully, almost calmly, as Mexico celebrated its 200th birthday.