Dawn Housand has lived in Mexico for
several years. She lives just southwest of Mexico
City. There is a "newcomers club" in
the area, a social club for Americans who have
moved to the area. The club puts out a monthly
newsletter, and Dawn has written several articles
for the newsleter. The articles attempt to
acquaint newcomers with the history of that area.
Below are some of Dawn's
RACE DAY FOR THE
Come on! Get up!
Were going to be late!
The sun isnt up yet, but the village is a
hive of activity. Today is not just market day.
It is to be the start of the tribal race, a race
that will last for several days.
For the Rarámuri, the ancient people of
the Barranca del Cobre and the Sierra Tarahumara,
Race Day is the culmination of months of hard
work and training. Teams from several villages
and their families have come together. Two teams
compete at a time, alternately kicking and
chasing wooden balls around the race course until
all members of one team have dropped from
exhaustion or conceded. Many races have lasted
for several days and nights.
The two cabeceros (team leaders) have
been building their teams for weeks. As the day
of the race nears, men from the nearest village
begin to clear and ready the course, careful to
remove only the largest of obstacles, leaving the
way still a rugged and rocky trail. The course is
approximately 2 to 5 kilometers in length.
The two chosen teams gather to prepare for the
upcoming race. Spells and hexes are cast against
the opposing team. Pinole, a cornmeal
mixture thinned with water is prepared, and this
will be the main source of nutrition for the team
The time for the race has come. The teams walk to
an area that is not marked in any way, but
appears to have been designated as the starting
point. Suddenly, the balls are thrown into the
air, a cry goes up, and the race is on! Each team
has a spot along the route chosen as an aid
station. The chosen medicine man waits with
ointments, charms, and years of experience.
Stones are lined up to represent laps completed
by each team. Todays race, it has been
decided, will have 34 laps.
The track is lined with spectators and family
members of each team. The runners will not stop
for food and will only take that which is handed
to them. As the sun moves across the sky, the
teams become smaller and smaller as the older men
tire or are injured. The younger, less
experienced men and boys fall by the way. The
teams have been at it for several hours, but
there is no sign of any slowing down. Only the
strongest runners continue.
As evening falls, the final runner on the losing
team finally drops out. He has suffered too many
injuries to his feet. Three runners on the other
team remain. As they come to the aid station of
their opponents, they raise a cry of victory and
relief. The game balls are collected and given to
the elder of the winning team for blessing and to
be saved for the next race.
As the last rays of the sun color the hillsides,
winners and losers alike gather together to rest,
joke, and share the glow of a time well spent.
The sound of a distant drum echoes the rhythm of
running footfalls and another race day comes to
THE POET KING
The ancient poets of the Aztecs
were considered to be writing the words of the
gods. Laws, fables, morality, and history were
written or sung by god-speakers. The poems of
Nezahualcoyotl are unique in that his writings
are among a small number which actually can be
linked to a known author. Many of the translated
works remain anonymous.
Nezahualcoyotl lived from 1402 to about 1472 and
ruled the area in and around Texcoco. He was a
learned man, interested in the sciences of time.
He was a patron of the arts, devoted to insuring
that all poets of all levels of life had a place
to come to learn and share their poems. He
founded an academy for the arts and sciences. In
an effort to promote learning for all in the
area, the great hall of this academy contained 3
thrones for the 3 neighboring kings of
Acolhuacan, Mexico, and Tlacopa. Poets,
philosophers, and even members of the military
were encouraged to gather and share their poems,
songs, or morality tales.
Legend tells of a time when the son-in-law of the
king was brought before him to answer for a crime
he had committed. The trial dragged on for years
with no end in sight. There came a day when King
Nezahualcoyotl called for his son-in-law to be
sent forth. Thinking that this was to be his
final day, the hapless young man composed a song
to sing. In moving terms, he pleaded his
innocence. The king was so moved by the beauty of
the words and sentiment, that he forgave his
During his reign, Nezahualcoyotl tried to restore
the Nahua culture to its lost greatness, but a
moral and cultural revival. This was,
unfortunately doomed to failure, even in the
works of this great leader is reflected a
pessimism with life. The essence of his thought
is that the here and now is what is important:
The passing vanities of
the world are like the green willow.
It falls before the axe,
Is uprooted by the wind,
Is scarred and saddened by age.
Lifes splendors are like flowers whose
color and whose fate they share.
The beauty of flowers lasts only as long
As their unsullied blossoms
Gather and store
The precious pearls of dawn
And let them fall
in liquid dew.
But when the Lord of All
Causes the sun
To shine upon them, their beauty and their
The reign of flowers is short.
In morning they boast
Of their beauty and strength
But by evening they mourn
For the downfall
Of their thrones
And the misfortunes
That lead to loss, poverty,
Death, and the grave.
In his efforts to preserve the
living culture of his people, Nezahualcoyotl
built aqueducts and temples, places of learning
and of lawmaking. Even as his own thoughts were
on the futility of it all, he urged his people to
try and recapture the faded glory of their past:
All things on earth
Come to an end,
And in the midst,
Of the happiest life
Our breath fails
And fall to earth.
The translated psalms of
Nezahualcoyotl are taken from A Guide to
Mexican Poetry, by Irene Nicholson.
TLALOC - The Rain God - a very ancient deity. Tlal
is the combining form for earth, and Oc,
the suffix. The suffix would be equal to the
English suffix "ed," so that his name
ought to be earthed or perhaps
Old Mud an apt name for a chthonic
The months from March to June seem to be the
hottest and the dryest. Wildfires pop up on
hillsides and ravines all across Mexico. Water
rationing becomes a weekly occurrance, and I
begin my annual rain dance. I admit it. I plead
guilty. I love snow. The hotter and dryer it
gets, the more I long for deep, cold drifts of
the white stuff. But lets be realistic.
Its not going to happen - not here, anyway.
So, on some hot, dry day in March, I gaze up into
that wonderful clear, blue sky with sweat
dripping in my eyes, and I lift my fist to the
heavens and cry out, Rain, damn it!
Rain! Thus begins my rain dance. I scan the
horizon for even the tiniest wisp of a cloud.
Come April, as I finish off my third pitcher of
ice tea since morning, I look up at the still
clear, cloudless sky and whisper, Come on,
please rain. By May, the skies are no
longer clear. The clouds roll in. The sky darkens
and lightning flashes. And the clouds roll out.
Still no rain.
In the evening, I gather up a quilt, a couple of
pillows and my ever-present glass of iced tea,
and I go out onto the patio. I spread out my
quilt, drop the pillows and stretch out on my
back in the cooling evening air. As I lay
watching the changing patterns of the clouds
overhead, I muse, Maybe, just maybe, it
In the month of May, the time for planting
begins. There are rituals to be performed,
prayers to be chanted, and offerings to be made.
The farmer stands at the edge of his field and
gazes across the freshly turned earth. All the
signs bode well. As he lifts his hand up to shade
his eyes from the bright hot sun, his lips move
in silent supplication.
In the state of Guerrero, petitioners for rain
gather at the ancient holy place called Oztotempa
(at the edge of the cave) for the
nightlong ceremony. While the men join in ritual
dances, the women and children sing and pray. At
four in the morning, offerings of mole, coffee,
bread, and tamales are presented. Candles are lit
and garlands of flowers a draped upon the altar.
The chief priest steps forward and begins the
ancient Nahuatl chant:
Accept what you are
Let those who have come here rejoice in good
May their seeds be blessed.
May no one return to his home without rain.
Bless us, keep misfortune from us, give us
Flower petals are thrown into
the air to simulate rainfall.
In the other villages, the Pedidores de
Lluvia (rain petitioners) and Graniceros
(those who prevent hail) lead the procession up
the side of Ixtaccihuatl mountain to special
caves to pray and make offering of the fruits of
the fields and arbors.
Captain of the heavens, captain of the
earth. Generous prince, captain of the moving
clouds, accept these candles and keep the wind,
the storm, the hail from ruining our
All the prayers for a successful growing season
are offered up to Tlaloc, the god of rain.
Huitzilopochtli might be the all-powerful
leader-god, but without the blessings of the rain
god, there would be no one to lead. Even at the
main temples of the Plaza Mayor, the cry goes up:
Give us Rain!
The prayer and chant were taken from "The
Aztecs Then and Now," by Fernando
IN THE LAND OF TIME
As we begin our lives in the twenty-first
century, we are constantly reminded of how short
a time we have been on this blue water planet.
Holy books tell of the fast-approaching End
of Time. The Christian Bible tells all in
the Book of Revelation. Cults are springing up
all around, claiming to be in the
know as to just when the end of the world
as we know it will come. There are programs on
TV, articles in magazines, articles in scientific
journals predicting how much time we have left on
The fascination with time is not a new
phenomenon. The ancient Toltecs developed a
calendar system which was adopted by the Nahua,
Mayan, and Zapotec cultures. The Nexiuhilpilitztli
(binding of years) constisted of two separate
cycles -- one of 52 years of 365 days each, and
the second of 73 groups of 260 days each. It gets
somewhat complicated here. The first was based on
solar years. A solar year was made up of 18
periods of 20 days each, a month.
There were five Nemontemi (unlucky
days), as well. These five days were included in
the year and overflowed the division
of the time of 20 days. The grouping cycle of 73
years of 260 days was then subdivided into groups
of 13 days. This was the birth cycle.
The 20-day cycle was based on the waxing and
waning of the moon and was called Cempohualli.
Each Cempohualli was subdivided into
four groups of five days each. Each day in a
week was denoted by a sign such as
wind, etc. These day names ran
continuously regardless of the length of the
year. The year itself was designated by the name
of the middle day of the week in which it began.
(Anyone ready for New Math?) Out of 20 day names,
it was inevitable that the four most common, calli
(house), tochtli (rabbit), acatl
(reed), and tecpati (flint) should
appear in sequence because of the frequency of
these days in the solar year. Four years made up
a year of the sun. On the Nemontemi
(unlucky days), no work was done for obvious
Within a single cycle, there were smaller
groupings. Thirteen years made up a Xiumalpilli
(bundle) and four of these bundles, made up a Nexiuhilpilitztli
(complete binding of the years.) The
importance of the Binding of the Years was based
on a fear that at the end of a 52-year grouping,
time would stop and the world would end. This
fear existed because of the belief that A
stated period of time had expired, a period which
was regarded as fixed by divine command, and it
had been ordained that on the completion of one
of those series of 52 years, earthly time would
cease and the universe be demolished. This
explanation was taken from "Myths of Mexico
and Peru," by Lewis Spencer.
During the last days of the Nexiuhilpilitztli,
there was a great deal of repenting, of
fence-mending, and generally vowing to do better.
The truly evil were truly scared. There was great
ceremony to insure the binding of the years.
Human sacrifice was made. A fire was built of
wood on the still living chest of the human
offering and the heart and body given up to the
gods. As the morning of the first day of the 53rd
year dawned, the people scanned the heavens in
search of the Pleiades. As the planets
of hope reached their zenith, sighs
of relief were given. The celebrations began with
each household lighting a torch from the
sacrificial fire and carrying it home to rekindle
the house fires which had been allowed to die
out. The ceremony was completed, the planets had
followed their natural path, the gods were happy.
The world was safe for another season of time.
At the stroke of midnight on December 31, we
celebrate with wine, good food, and friends.
Fireworks light the night skies and song fills
the air. We vow to try to do better -- lose
weight, stop smoking, get along. Come sundown of
the next day, we are back in the saddle again. A
bidding farewell to the old year and a
celebration of the new.
But wait, is that a clock I hear out in the hall,
The Aztec calendar ends in the year 2012. Do you
think that it might be a good time to revive an
old custom? The time for Nexiuhilpilitztli draws
SERPENTS IN THE GARDEN
Towering high above the surrounding buildings of
the metropolis that was ancient Mexico City stand
the Teocallis, the legendary temples of
the gods. These are not, in reality, actual
covered buildings. They are "high
places," great pyramids that rose level upon
level to end in a final shrine at the summit.
Housed inside are the images of the favored gods.
The grandest of all the Teocallis was
home to Huitzilopochtli, the war god. Built by
King Ahuizotl, this high complex is surrounded by
4800 feet of wall that measures 375 feet by 300
feet. It rose six platforms into the tropical
sky. The top of this structure holds two
three-story tall towers. The Coetpantli (walls
of serpents) keep watch at the base of the
Huitzilopochtli has always been associated with
the serpent. The name Huitzilopochtli
means hummingbird. The serpent is held in deepest
veneration as a symbol of wisdom and magic --
both necessary for success in war. The serpent
also signifies lightening, an expression of the
divine spear, the symbol of war-like power.
The mother of Huitzilopochtli was called Coatlantona
(robe of serpents). Huitzilopochtli's
image is often depicted surrounded by serpents
and resting on serpent-shaped supports. His
sceptre was a single snake, and his war drum was
made of serpent skin.
Before Huitzilopochtli became a god
(transcending all around him), he was a man, a
traditional Nahuatl chief. Legend tells
of the day when Huitzilopochtli beheld an eagle
of great size and majesty perched on a cactus
plant. Grasped in its talons was a huge serpent,
and the eagle spread its wings to catch the
rising sun. When Huitzilopochtli related this to
the shaman of his tribe, the shaman saw it as a
good omen and advised the leader to build his
city on this spot.
Around 1325 AD, the Aztecs fled to the area
around the Lake of Tezcuco. Forty years earlier,
one of their priests had offered up a local
prince called Copal as a sacrifice to
the gods. Upon the spot where the royal prisoner
had been slain, a nopal plant sprang from an
earth-filled crevice. On a certain day, a priest
of high rank was passing by when an eagle of
great size flew down and perched on the nopal
plant. In its talons was a serpent. Beholding
this good omen, the priest lept into a nearby
pool where he came face to face with the god of
waters, Tlaloc. Tlaloc, seeing that the priest
was of good heart and devotion, gave his
permission for a community to be established on
Today, the eagle with a serpent grasped in its
talons is the national emblem of Mexico, a symbol
of the valiant struggle for freedom by the
December is a month filled with excitement,
holidays, and special events everywhere in
Mexico. On December 12, the feast day of the
Virgin of Guadalupe is honored. This is a time of
pilgrimages. People from all over Mexico make
their way to the Basilica. They come on foot, by
bicycle and by bus. Millions come, by whatever
means available. On December 12, 1531, a vision
of the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, a Nahuatl
campesino, as he was making his way to
Sunday Mass. He heard a wondrous chant and
stopped to listen. Above him, he saw something
that shone like the sun. In the center was a most
beautiful lady. She approached him and told him
that he was to build a temple for her on this
spot. This spot, as it turns out, was over the
ruins of a previous local goddess.
Juan Diego made his way to the home of Fray Juan
de Zummáraga, a local prelate, and tried to
convince him of what he had see. After several
trips back and forth, the Virgin told Juan Diego
to climb a nearby hill where he would find a
beautiful rose bush. He gathered the fresh
flowers in his cape and brought them back to the
home of Fray Zumárraga. When Juan Diego opened
the cape he had carried the roses in, instead of
flowers, there was imprinted an image of the
Virgin. This cape, with the image undimmed,
exists to this day.
There have been many tests conducted to prove or
disprove the reality of the image. Within the
Catholic Church, the story of the vision and the
continued existence of the cape and its image are
considered a miracle.
A man, standing on the back of his horse,
flourishes a rope in intricate patterns and casts
it over the head of a running steer. His horse
remains perfectly still as he drops to the
saddle, secures the rope around the oversized
saddle horn & gradually plays it out to stop
the steer. Charreria celebrates an
equestrian tradition whose beginning can be
traced to 16th century Spain but which has
developed into a unique & complicated form of
horsemanship. The style of horsemanship is charro;
the arena, a lienzo; the actual
The charreada is based on the dominance of rider
over animal & has evolved from skills
necessary in the management of large cattle
ranches. During competitions, time is not of the
essence. Finesse & attention to detail are
the bottom line -- from the clothing of the
riders to the tack of their horse. Minutes are
taken instead of seconds to complete an event
that involves in rope flourishes and complicated
spins & maneuvers on horse back.
A charro (rider) in a tailored shirt with a
butterfly tie, tight chaps over pants decorated
with embroidered designs, low cut botinas,
embossed waist-length suede jacket, &
wide-brimmed sombrero salutes the judges as he
spurs his horse & the event begins. There is
no prize given for the fastest roping time or the
fastest time in any event. There are no prizes
given at all during the events of a Charreada. A
charro competes purely for love of tradition
& for the prestige accorded to superior
The day is bright & sunny. Brightly colored
flags snap in the brisk wind. Hammers ring as
stands go up to offer food & drink. Mariachis
wander, practicing their songs. The crowd arrives
in a festive mood, chatting and waving to friends
& neighbors. Excitement is high. Many
families have traveled miles to see sons,
brothers, uncles, & friends compete in the
days events. There is a small admission fee
to be paid for entry to the grandstand. This fee
is solely for the maintenance of the lienzo (arena
area). It also helps support the charro teams.
The teams, in turn, must pay association dues,
which helps provide the special costumes &
tack for their horses. They also spilt the costs
of animal stock rental for the events.
The burst of trumpets announces the grand entry
parade & the beginning of the charreada.
Vendors call out their offerings of food &
drink; families & friends visit, and
children, often dressed in miniature charro
costumes, play in the grandstands or perch on the
rails of the arena fence. As the desfile
(grand parade) goes on, members of the community
who hold official titles wave & call out to
the crowd. Association officers, the local Queen
and her court, and visiting dignitaries ride by
on proud strutting horses arrayed in elaborate
tack. Designated riders carry the national flags
as well as the banners of the competing
associations and teams. The riders fan out to the
sides of the arena and salute the audience &
judges before the national anthem and the
traditional charro anthem, March of the
Zacatecas. An arena steward, el mayoral,
directs the movements of the riders &
controls the progress of the events of the
With the exit of the desfile riders, the
competition events begin. The cala is a reining
event, and the best horse & rider of each
team compete in a series of patterns, spins &
sliding stops with multiple rotating spins. The
second event is the piales en el lienzo,
in which members of the competing teams attempt
to rope the hind legs of a running mare and bring
her to a gradual stop. The third event is the cola,
or the tailing of a bull. This is a very ancient
means of pulling a steer down without a rope.
The next event is one for las mujeres.
We have all seen the beautiful mujeres &
their stunning horses riding in the Rose Parade
on New Year's Day. That is just a remote hint of
the beauty and grandeur of the full display of
the Escaramuza drill team riders.
Although the escaramuza riding looks smooth and
elegant, it requires athletic ability and
strength. The members of the team, which has from
6 to 12 riders, perform intricate maneuvers at a
Following the completion of the mujeres event is
the jinete de novillos, or bull riding.
The next event is the terna en el ruedo,
or team roping, and the fancier the better.
Control of the rope is the key to this event.
This is the slowest event of the day, and it is a
demonstration of intricate flourishes of the
A series of events dealing with roping &
riding of wild mares follow, showing skills
necessary on a working ranch. The jinete de
yegua (rides a wild mare), the manganas
a pie and manganos a cabal (roping
on foot and on horse back) and the final event of
the day, the paso de la muerte (death
leap) where the rider leaps from the back of his
galloping horse onto the back of an unbroken
With this final event, the riders of all the
competing teams gather in a last parade, circling
the arena to the cheers of the crowd.
THE MIRACLES OF SANTA
Standing tall and stately in the center of the
ancient Aztec city of Tlachco (which means
"the place where ball is played"), the
church of Santa Prisca celebrates the glory of
God and of the Churrigueresque style of
architecture, named for the Spanish architect
Jose de Churriguera.
Built over a ten-year period, beginning in 1748,
the church of Santa Prisca is the result of one
mans belief in God and great good fortune.
Legend has it that in 1743 the Frenchman Jose de
la Borda came to Mexico in search of his fortune.
While on a ride around Tlachco (Taxco), his horse
slipped on a stone and exposed traces of a rich
silver vein. Borda vowed that what God had given
to him he would return to God, and in 1748 he
began building the remarkable church of Santa
Prisca for his son, Manuel, a priest. The
ten-year project was completely financed by
profits from Bordas silver mines. The
masterminds behind the grand design were Spanish
architects Diego Duran and Juan Caballero. The
clock high above the ornate center entrance was
constructed by clock master Isaac Rogers, who
also made Londons Big Ben.
The earliest colonial architecture in Mexico
usually followed strict classical European
models. However, over time, the Mexican
architects gradually developed a taste for the
highly ornate, designing as they built rather
than working from a completed plan. This style
reached its peak in the 18th century. In 1785,
less than 30 years after the completion of Santa
Prisca, academics at the newly founded Academy of
San Carlos for the study of art and architecture
decided that the Churrigueresque style had become
too arbitrary and confusing, and they effectively
banned it from all new major commissions. Plans
for destroying and replacing all Churrigueresque
detail were abandoned before they reached
Tlachco, and over 200 years later Santa Prisca
still dominates the town.
Santa Prisca also features more than 50 works by
Miguel Cabrera, an untrained Zapotec Indian.
Above the doorway to the Chapel of the Indians is
his interpretation of the martyrdom of the
13-year-old Santa Prisca who was unsuccessfully
thrown to the lions by Emperor Claudius in 270
HAPPY TRAILS TO YOU!
The wild, wild West began as
the sunny south. The original "cowboys"
were part of the world of the Spanish land grant
period of Mexican history (1521-1821). As the
number of mixed bloods (part Spanish, part
Indian) grew, some mixtures were allowed to work
with horses and, in time, to own horses. It was
these mixed bloods who became the first cowboys (vaqueros).
The vaqueros wore high crown
hats made of woven straw, loose pantaloons of
softened deer skin, and chaps of goat skin. For
protection from the varied elements, the serape
was draped over the shoulder. Over time,
adaptations and subtle changes evolved into a
combination of the look of their Spanish
overlords and their original, distinctive dress.
In later decades, the woven hat evolved into the
broad-brimmed sombrero of today. Saddles grew
pommels, better suited for anchoring the lariat (lazo)
that was used to rope the wild cattle native to
the area. The heel of the boot became higher to
keep it in the stirrup of the saddle.
The huge ranches (ranchos)
of the Spanish grandees were located in the great
Bajio Valley, between Mexico City and the dry
Sonoran desert of the north. This area of Mexico
was also home to tribes of Apache and Comanche
Indians. The mixed bloods (mestizos),
used as vaqueros on the ranches, became master
horsemen and fierce fighters with guns and
knives. The vast size of the ranches made it
necessary for these men to be strong,
independent, and loyal workers. There was a
certain honor in protecting the property and
livestock of their home land.
As time passed, bands of
vaqueros traversed the lands of the cattle
ranches of northern Mexico, looking for work.
When they couldn't find any, they turned to
rustling and banditry. The modern rodeo grew out
of the love of horsemanship of the vaqueros.
Downtime was spent honing skills. The vaqueros
put on exhibitions of riding and roping, fighting
bulls from horseback with long lances, racing
alongside bulls and throwing them to the ground
by their tails or horns. To the vaqueros, it was
a case of I can do anything better than
you!" "No, you can't!" "Yes,
Acts of wild bravado were
common during these exhibitions. The men who
prospered as vaqueros, because of their fierce
sense of independence and many specialized
skills, became a strong and vital part of
Mexico's history and growth.
The vaquero predates the
"American" cowboy by 200 years.
An interesting aside: In 1838,
at the request of Hawaii's Kamehameha III,
Spanish-Mexican vaqueros went from California to
Hawaii to teach Hawaiians how to manage the wild
herds. The vaqueros became "paniolo," a
word derived from "español" or
"Spanish." The name was also given to
the new Hawaiian cowboys. Paniolo music, dress,
and arts are uniquely Hawaiian.
Central to paniolo heritage is
an appreciation of nature, music, and the skills
of artisans who created saddles, lau hala hats,
featherwork, braided rope, flower lei and other
items. Island cowboys favored ukulele and kika
(guitar) music and songs written in Hawaiian.
Though the cattle industry has declined, paniolo
traditions remain popular in local culture today.
For many in the expatriate community, family
support is thousands of miles away, sometimes
oceans away. In Mexico, family ties are only a
quick phone call away, a call to your compadre
or comadre and the stream of connections
Historically in Mexico, personal rights based on
equality and justice -- supported by fairly and
efficiently enforced laws -- did not exist. This
fundamental factor resulted in a society in which
people had to depend on personal relations and
connections. From the first years of the Spanish
regime in Mexico in the 16th century, the compadrazgo/comadrazgo
system, which had its origins in medieval times
as a kinship ritual, became the core of Mexican
society. These ties included a spiritual bond
that made the compadres and comadres appointed
god parents of new babies and responsible for
influencing the upbringing and behavior of the
child to become a good Catholic and a good
citizen. Padrinos were expected to
participate in all important events in the
childs life: baptism, confirmation,
marriage, etc. If anything should happen to the
parents, the compadre and comadre were expected
to take the child and raise it as their own.
The compadres and comadres are usually chosen
before the child is born. Before a desirable
person could be approached, the person had to
already have some kind of connection or
relationship with the family. The ideal padrinos
were on a higher social level. To be a padrino
was a prestigious honor and was much sought
after. Parents were often approached by couples
wanting to be godparents before the baby was even
born. The request to give me your
child was not unusual. This custom is both
a way of strengthening existing networks and
gradually expanding them.
The god parenting system is still an important
part of life in Mexico. Well-placed compadres,
especially, take a personal interest in the
welfare of their godchildren and become key
figures in the network of connections that are
vital to accomplishing things. A great deal of
the corporate world in Mexico is run by 25
families, close relatives and people who have god
Once the god parenting relationship is
established, the father calls the godfather
compadre at all times and the mother
addresses the godmother as comadre.
To the child, the godfather is its
padrino and the godmother its
madrina. Friends will also address
each other as compadre or comadre, either as a
sign of respect or as a bit of flattery. The god
parenting is taken seriously, and the role of
protector not only applies to the individual
child, but to the family as a whole. In times of
need, the compadre and the comadre can and will
be there for whatever the need, be it financial
support, moral support, or emotional support.
Often, good friends may be asked to become the
compadre of cerveza, or plastics such as
plates, cups, etc, for a special Fiesta or
Foreigners in Mexico are not generally eligible
for formal godparent relationships, but it is
possible to be adopted by older señores or
señoras and be welcomed into the family.
IN THE BEGINNING
The history of the land enclosed roughly between
the tropic of cancer and the border of what is
today Honduras (known as ancient Mexico) has had
a written chronicle extending over a period of
some 4,000 years, from the middle of the third
millennium B.C. until the collapse of the Aztec
empire in the 16th century A.D. However, more
than half of this written history is
undecipherable by todays archaeologists.
Many agree that the people of
Mexico began to cultivate corn about 3,000 to
2,500 B.C. They originally filtered down in small
groups from the frozen north, nomadic hunters
clad in animal skins, armed with powerful bows
and a need to survive. These Athapascan tribes
came into the Americas by way of the land bridge
connecting Asian to the North American continent.
They came following game animals into Alaska and
over centuries drifted into British Columbia and
down into Mexico.
They then abandoned their
nomadic life of hunting and gathering, formed
villages, planted seeds from local plants near
the villages, and began a culture based less on
wandering and more on learning to create with the
things around them. They learned to manufacture
clay containers, to weave with vegetable fibers,
with each clan discovering which plants or clay
deposits were the most durable. All were
decorated with pigments available, with stylized
representations of the local flora and fauna.
Only a few bits and pieces of these long lost
first attempts of civilized life remain, just
enough to tantalize, to hint at, to tease.
The permanent buildings which
date from the same period give a clearer
indication of the first attempts of communal life
on the part of the first people of Mexico. The
skeletal remains of the earliest people were
found along side the bones of mammoths at Santa
Anna Ixtapan and at Tepexpan on the central
plateau. They probably lived between 15,000 and
10,000 B. C.
The weather was more humid
then. The now semi-arid land of the north was
home to lakes with quiet lagoons and marshy areas
teaming with plants, game, and fish. Further
north the drier land of cacti and brush scrub
extended as far north as present day southwestern
United States. This land is still the home of the
wandering tribes of the Chichimeca who lived on
the northern edges of what was to become the land
of the Aztec empire. It was only after 200 years
of effort that the Spanish were able to conquer
these wild peoples. The first cultures of Mexico
survived almost until the present day. There are
still some remote areas, as in the Copper Canyon
region, which harken back to the earliest
beginnings of civilization