Holy Obsession!

thumbnail-2I am a non-practicing Catholic.  My first sign of rebellion reared its ugly head when I was in the second grade.  I chose not to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confessing my sins to a priest, prior to receiving my First Communion.  I have no idea why I felt so uncomfortable about this.  My sins at the time could have been no worse than sneaking an extra cookie for dessert or hitting my brother.

I do, however, remember informing my parents of my decision while my face was planted firmly in the kitchen table (Catholic guilt already at work) and spending Reconciliation morning running around the school gym in a one piece, royal blue P.E. uniform with a lot of other students.  I realize today that those kids were probably all the non-Catholics who attended the school for a “more traditional”, “more structured” education.  Or to avoid the public schools.  That day though, they offered a little comfort to me in that I was not alone in my decision.

I loved the church my family attended.  We met in the band room of one of the city’s Catholic High Schools.  We sat on folding chairs.  One parishioner actually made the bread the priest blessed, turning it into the Body of Christ.  Another made the wine.  Someone played the flute, and there were guitars in our little church band.  Sharing the sign of peace took 20 minutes or more because we got out of our chairs to greet people sitting on the other side of the room.  We didn’t just shake hands.  People asked after one another and hugged.  We wore blue jeans and sweatshirts.  Every spring, we had mass outside in one of the most beautiful flower gardens in the city.

thumbnailMaybe I just never found a church I felt at home in after that.  Maybe I was more worried that this time there would be no way out of confession.  And surely it would last three days and kill the priest.  So I am at a complete loss as to how I have come home with an 8”x 10” picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Pope John Paul II (what?!) and a tank top emblazoned with the image of Guadalupe on both sides in the past week.  Never mind the collection of Guadalupe candles, folk art, and jewelry I am slowly amassing.  I even have a Virgin de Guadalupe Pinterest page!  I recently pinned a freaking tattoo!!

I fell inexplicably in love with Our Lady from the very moment we crossed the border, and I saw her likeness for the first time, painted on a mountainside.  When my son applied to law school, I visited her shrine in San Carlos regularly to light candles.  I want desperately to buy a stone work carving for my front yard just to save myself some time.  My husband does not think I notice that he speeds up every time we drive through Magdalena where these beauties are on display.  I have a plan to design a “shrine wall” or “icon corner” in my home, sneaking in one new piece a month or so (and no, the tank top does not count).

Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico

According to Catholic accounts, the Virgin Mary presented herself on four different occasions to a native Mexican peasant named Juan Diego.  She first appeared to him on December 9, 1531 at the Hill of Tepeyac, today, a suburb of Mexico City.  She asked him (in his native Aztec language) to have a church built in her honor there.  Juan Diego’s request was refused by the archbishop.  La Virgin appeared again to encourage Juan Diego to persist.

The second time Juan Diego approached the archbishop, he indicated that he needed some kind of miraculous sign.  Juan Diego passed the message along, and the young woman promised one the next day.  Juan Diego missed the next meeting because he was caring for his sick uncle.  La Virgin tracked him down, promised his uncle was well, and instructed him to return to the Hill of Tepeyac to pick the flowers that were blooming there.  Juan Diego brought non-native, Castilian roses to La Virgin.  She arranged them in his cloak and told him to deliver them to the archbishop.

Iglesia San Fernando, Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico

When Juan Diego opened his cloak for the archbishop, the flowers fell to the floor and the image of La Virgin was imbedded in the material.  She then appeared as a vision to Juan Diego’s uncle and asked him to tell the archbishop of his miraculous recovery.  At this time, she shared that she wanted to be known as Guadalupe.  A small chapel was quickly built on the Hill of Tepeyac.

Today, the original cloak of Juan Diego is housed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, north of Mexico City.  Her shrine is the most visited Catholic shrine in the world and the third most visited religious site.

Perhaps I feel a special love for La Virgin de Guadalupe because my grandmother had such a strong devotion and deep relationship with the Virgin Mary.  I am able to honor my grandmother’s memory and show my respect for her religion, to which she was deeply faithful, while  plodding along my lapsed course.  Then again, La Virgin de Guadalupe is credited with converting nearly seven million native people to Catholicism.  There may be hope for me yet.

A Festival for the Living on The Day of the Dead

I had been looking forward to Saturday all week—maybe all month even.  October 28 was the opening day of the Festival de la Calaca in Guaymas.  My relationship with festivals in Guaymas has been spotty at best, leaving me feeling a bit underwhelmed most of the time.  The Posada last December was mostly a raffle for bicycles.  And a free hot dog.  El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos involved standing in line for a piece of Rosca de Reyes, or King Cake.  My son was so disappointed by both events, he told me that I was on my own from here on out.  No worries.  I rallied a new group of festival goers, who had no idea of past fails.

thumbnail-2The festival was organized by Casa de Cultura, a government sponsored organization that promotes Mexican Arts and Culture.  In the week leading up to the  celebration, the center sponsored several workshops including the art of paper flower making, skull painting, and traditional Catrina make-up.  I surprised myself by  stepping outside of my comfort zone, attending the workshop on make-up- -ALONE!  The workshop was well crowded, and I quickly made a new friend.  I call her a friend because I believe that once you have used your fingers to apply white paint to a stranger’s face and lips, a certain level of intimacy has been achieved.

Props to both Steve and Brad, who did not bat an eye, upon seeing Patty and me in our
Catrina makeup on Saturday afternoon.  We both got a “you look great” and then “I’m going to try and pretend there is nothing weird about this”.  Small children, however, were fascinated by the two gringas in face paint.  We got a lot of stares (okay, I am assuming it was fascination here), shy smiles, tentative waves, and whispered “holas”.

Our first stop was Plaza 13 de Julio.  Colorful papel picado was strung from the thumbnail-1thumbnail-1thumbnail
lampposts above us.  Floral wreaths hung on the posts and the center kiosk as well.  Venders sold tamales, Cheetos and chamoy, totopos, raspados, aqua de jamaica and horchata.  There were carts full of children’s toys, jewelry, paintings, instruments, and crafts for sale.  There were balloons and blow-up toys on sticks.  They were so bright and colorful, I was looking for any excuse to buy one.  A band played lively music.  Catrinas, standing 12 feet tall, overlooked the festivities from their corner posts.

We then headed over to Plaza de la Pistola where the ofrendas were displayed.  Most were sponsored by universities and high schools and honored important  Mexicans of the past and present like Cantiflas, Nezahualcoyoti, and La Cruz Roja.    I nearly cried at the ofrenda of a young boy; it included special touches like his school books and favorite snacks.   I wondered if he had been a student at the school that designed his altar.  There were incredible sawdust carpets in front of many of the altars, some of which look longer than a week to make.  These lead the soul to the ofrenda and help minimize the contact it makes with the earth.

We walked over to the parade route.  It was scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm.  With our bags of churros in hand, we found a seat on the curb and waited.  And waited. And waited a little more.  Cars kept coming down the parade route.  We weren’t entirely sure how road closures for events like this were handled in guaymas.  We could see the lights of the lead police vehicle and hear the band, but still the cars kept coming.  The sidewalks were IMG_4580lined with people on both sides.  No one seemed to mind the delay.  They visited with one another and enjoyed treats like paletas, algodón de azúcar, and chamoy apples.

Finally, at 6:45 we caught our first glimpse of the parade.  There were two marching bands, baton twirlers, dance troupes, and floats- -that were pushed by hand!  Parents walked alongside the parade, keeping watchful eyes on their children who were participating and/or directing them back into proper position.  Yaqui Deer Dancer Catrinas threw candy to children along the route.  Everyone clapped in time to the music and even sang along when the band played Despacito!  There was a long line of cars (those that had apparently just missed the ambiguous cutoff time) crawling behind the parade down Avenida Serdán.

thumbnail-6After the parade, we headed back to the Plaza for one last loop.  Things were really happening now.  Colorful lights blinked on and off.  The music was louder, as was the crowd.  A movie screen featured children’s cartoons starring Catrinas.  There were arts and crafts for the kiddos.  People were lining up to have their faces painted. Candles had been lit at each of the altars.  Everyone was eating or drinking something yummy!

This was not a festival of death.  This was a festival of life.   Thethumbnail serious business will take place Tuesday and Wednesday nights in homes across the city.  This night was about embracing the living and discovering joy in spite of the sadness.  Casa de Cultura created a marvelous spectacle for all and taught us something about one of Mexico’s most important cultural traditions at the same time.  I am certain that even Caleb would have loved it!



Offerings of Love

Who does not love a good festival?  Great food, music, displays, and handicrafts…  They offer a little something for everyone and a lot of opportunity to learn more about local customs and traditions.  And while many towns and cities throughout Mexico are finalizing months worth of plans for community Día de Muertos celebrations, the most important and meaningful of these preparations take place at home.

It is believed that at midnight on October 31, and again, on November 1, the gates of heaven open for a 24 hour period.  At this time, the souls of the departed may return to visit with their loved ones here earth.  There is a belief that the dead provide their families protection, good luck, and wisdom from beyond the grave.  Therefore, souls are welcomed home in grand fashion.  Families erect altars in honor of the deceased.  These altars are not shrines, rather, they are ofrendas, or offerings, designed to lead the spirits home.

There is rich symbolism in each of the items included in the ofrenda.  These vary regionally, depending on the local customs, traditions, and/or the availability of special foods, drinks, and flowers.  Cost even factors in; some families may spend two month’s worth of earnings!

Ofrendas  have two, three, or seven levels, representing earth, heaven, purgatory, and/or the steps necessary to reach

Ofrenda welcoming the soul of Buz, by his wife, Patty
The ofrenda displayed in my home

heaven.  Photographs of the deceased are prominently featured.  Flowers, whose strong scents and bright colors are believed to guide the way, are arranged on the ofrendas.  Some people, use petals from the flowers to create pathways from the door to the altar, extra insurance that loved ones do not lose their way.    Baby’s Breath is often used on altars of children; symbolizing innocence and purity.  Cempasuchil, orange marigolds, are another popular choice.   These flowers are native to Mexico and were used by the Aztecs during funeral ceremonies.  Other popular flowers include cockscombs, hoary stock, chrysanthemums, and gladiolas.  Copal incense is burned, providing another sweet fragrance, and candles illuminate the way.

Papel picado, or chiseled paper, is a folk art that originated in the town of Puebla.  Artists used papel de China (tissue paper) to create paper ornaments, lamp shades, and other artworks.  By the 1920’s, artisans were displaying and distributing paper flags they made by “chiseling” designs on the tissue paper.  Papel picado is used for numerous special occasions today, including Día de Muertos.  Ofrendas include papel picado flags decorated with Catrinas, skeletons, and other religious icons.


Families often include water (to quench the thirst of the soul after its long journey), salt (it acts as a purifier), personal items of the deceased (tools, books, cigarettes), crosses, statues of La Virgin de Guadalupe and other patron saints, and decorations like incense burners, figurines of skeletons or skulls, and candy skulls made of sugar or chocolate.  These items personalize the altar for the person being remembered and help each soul feel welcomed and calm.

Ofrenda in honor of Frida Kahlo, designed by students at Secundaria de La Manga

In the early evening hours, preceding the midnight return, foods (served only on very special occasions due to cost) and drinks are added to the offrendas.  Turkey with mole sauce, tamales, tortillas, hot chocolate, tequila, fruits, and pan de muerto, a sweet bread baked as an offering to the dead, are arranged on the altars.  The soul’s journey from heaven is long, and the food and drink provide nourishment upon its arrival.  After the soul has enjoyed the “essence” of the meal, family members share the treats.  Sometimes entire communities come together to share and celebrate together.

November 2 is spent at the cemetery.  The majority in Mexico are public, meaning there are no caretakers to maintain the grounds and keep the areas tidy.  Families gather to clean the gravesite by pulling weeds, planting flowers, and cutting back grasses.  After the hard work is over, they enjoy a picnic style meal together, often to the music of mariachi bands.

Cemeteries and death are not seen as scary, dark, or creepy.  The bright colors, loud music, pleasing smells, and delicious food evoke feelings of happiness, love and togetherness.  Día de Muertos is my very favorite of all Mexican celebrations for this reason.  I can not help but be filled with excitement over the idea of a bonus visit from my grandparents and father-in-law.

And in true “teacher fashion” I have gone on much too long.  Surely, it is time for “recess”.  Or a shot of that tequila sitting on the altar!

The “After” Party

thumbnailIt seems odd to see jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, black cats, and witches’ hats on display in the stores and restaurants throughout Guaymas and San Carlos.  Día de Muertos, is Mexico’s most popular holiday, and I fully expected that it would have more influence in my little town than it seems to.  I have learned, however, that due to Sonora’s proximity to the U.S. border, and greater access to images via television and social media, Halloween has become increasingly popular.  Residents in our state, as well as those in many border states, adopt more American traditions  There are more Halloween costumes and treat bags on sale at the local Walmart than calaveras, Catrinas, and candles.  Día de Muertos is still widely celebrated in the central and southern states of Mexico where there is a greater indigenous presence, and less American influence.

In 2003, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) proclaimed Día de Muertos as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  Intangible Cultural Heritage refers to traditions that are passed down through the generations via arts, storytelling, performance, and rituals associated with nature and the universe.  I was determined to ignore the Halloween trappings (especially the chocolate) and focus on learning more about and celebrating Día de Muertos.

Hundreds of years ago, the Aztecs celebrated a festival during August in honor of
Mictecacihuatl, a goddess who served as guardian of the dead.  After Spanish colonization and due to the influence of the Catholic Church, ancient religious traditions were combined with Catholic ones.  Today, the festival coincides with All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day.  It is believed that at midnight on October 31 (Día de los Angelitos), the gates of heaven open so that the souls of deceased children come down from above and reunite with their families for a 24 hour period.  At midnight on November 1, the souls of deceased adults  rejoin their loved ones.

Día de Muertos is not a sad, scary time.  The tradition is described beautifully by Christina Preiss when she says, “The first death you die is when you stop breathing, the second when you are buried in the earth, the third is when the last person here forgets you. So this traditions ensures you never die the third death and your family member comes back and is always with you.”  Families remember the best of times and the very best of the people they have lost with bright colors, beautiful flowers, candles, incense, music, and favorite foods, drinks, and toys.  Many families spend the equivalent of more than two month of their salaries on preparations for this holiday, decorating altars and planning celebrations at grave sites.

One of the most recognizable figures in Día de Muertos festivities is La Catrina.thumbnail-17.jpeg  Designed by José Guadalupe Posada in 1910, La Calavera Catrina, became the symbol of the Mexican Revolution and “death” of the privileged class.  Today she represents the idea that everyone is equal in death.   Catrina Parades and/or Festivales de las Calacas are held in many cities and towns throughout Mexico.  By dressing up, participants hope to ward off death, tricking her into believing they are already dead.

And fortunately, in spite of all the Halloween excitement, Guaymas is hosting a Festival de la Calaca this coming weekend!  I will continue with this same theme in my next article, sharing information about the elaborate atlars and gravesite visits.  But for now, I need to add the finishing touches to my Catrina costume!


A Day in the Life of an Outlaw

I really needed (okay, wanted) to buy a Día de los Muertos Lotería game.  The only place I had seen one was at the Super Farmacia in Guaymas.  Finding a place to park in downtown Guaymas is difficult enough, never mind that I need a spot big enough for a full-size Dodge pick up truck.  So I was feeling pretty lucky when I spotted several spaces right in front of the drugstore!  Unfortunately, I was driving on the opposite side of the street.

thumbnailI got a little panicky.  “Where in the #&!! can I turn around?” and “Oh no, someone will take my spot!” and “I’m basically driving a boat on Hot Wheel size tracks here…”  The first two streets I checked were out of the question.  They were both one way.  The third looked promising.  In fact, I was pretty sure Steve and I had turned around on that same street a week or so ago when I needed (er, wanted) a Día de los Muertos Memory card game.

As I stopped at the light, I noticed a lefthand arrow with a big red slash through it hanging right below the traffic signal.  I weighed my options as I waited for the light to change.  Once it did, I watched as two of the cars in front of me made left turns.  Hmm.  Maybe it was an old sign?  Maybe it was just a suggestion?  At the last minute I decided that I was going to follow the two cars that had turned in front of me.  They both had Sonora plates.  If I could not trust the locals, who could I trust?

Note to self:  Do not trust the locals.

I made the left and had just gotten in position to negotiate the turn that would take me back in the direction of the prime parking spots I had seen, when the Policía Municipal pulled up behind me, lights flashing.  My first thought is that they were stopping traffic to give me a little room to turn around.  Yeah, I am a dreamer.  What I thought next is not printable.

I pulled over to the side of the street, and two officers came up to my window.  They explained to me what I had done; obviously they had no idea I had completely thought this turn through.  I told them that I had just been following the two cars in front of me.  They assured me that those cars were being stopped too.  I suppressed a laugh; those drivers were long gone.  I was surprisingly calm, as in less panicked than I was thinking about not being able to find a parking space!

A Municipal Police officer is one of the lowest paid employees in Mexico. Data collected from misalario.org in May of 2017, shows that an officer can expect a monthly salary of $8,106.00 pesos.  That is roughly $438.16 in U.S. dollars.  These guys are tasked with unarguably, one of the most difficult and potentially dangerous jobs in the country, for peanuts.  As a result, there is an off the books arrangement that can, at times, be made.  Rather than accept the ticket, a lawbreaker, such as myself, can offer a  “mordida”, paid directly to the officer, thereby increasing his monthly salary.

On one hand, I understand this arrangement.  Police officers make less per month than supermarket cashiers, restaurant cooks, and taxi drivers.  A mordida puts cash money in the hands of the one who needs it most.  On the other hand, we cannot expect changes to be made a bad system if we continue to circumvent legal channels.

I handed over my driver’s license.  The officer did not begin writing any of my information down.  It has been my experience that the police will never mention a mordida.  It is up to the person receiving the ticket to bring it up.  Maybe he was waiting for me to do that.  Maybe he was just unsure of where to find the information he needed on an Indiana driver’s license.  Whatever the delay, I waited him out because I had, by this time, decided I was going to accept the ticket.  I was looking at this whole experience as something new and exciting.  I could add “getting a ticket in Mexico” to my list of other Mexican firsts:  open air markets, dolphins, hurricanes, and street vender churros.

Eventually, the clipboard, ticket, and my license were handed over to the second officer.  I chatted with the first while we waited.  He asked how long I had lived in Guaymas and complimented my Spanish.  (I could not wait to share this with my Spanish teacher!)  Finally, it was explained to me that I would need to pick up my license at the Police Department in a couple of hours.  After I paid my fine, my license would be returned.  I wavered a bit here.  Did I really want to hand my license over?  Would I really get it back?  Eh, someone else is living at the address listed on the license anyway.  I decided to just throw caution to the wind.

I waited until the officers had gotten back in their car and drove on down the road before making, what I am certain, was an illegal u-turn to head back to the main drag.  Of course, my parking spots were long gone.  I found another further up the block. (I had two hours to kill, the walk would be good for that.)  The Super Farmacia was completely sold out of the Lotería game I wanted.  Of course it was.

I showed up at the Police Department two hours later.  I paid my fine.  I received a 50% thumbnail-1discount for paying within 24 hours.  I think I probably set a record by paying it in two!  I also noticed that included in my ticket was a donation to La Cruz Roja (Red Cross) and to DIF (Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, a public institution of social assistance that focuses on strengthening and developing the welfare of families).  I actually felt pretty good about that.  My license was there, so that was a good thing too.  And really the only negative to this whole ordeal (aside from the game being unavailable) is that I will not be able to complain about my husband’s driving- – at least for a couple of weeks.

A Fairytale Birthday with Wishes for a Happy Ever After

Our son, Caleb, turns 23 this Sunday.  Not the most exciting of ages, for sure.  He will likely spend the day in the law library or with his study group preparing for the busy week ahead. Hopefully there will be cake at some point.  Caleb preferred small, family parties when he was younger, as opposed to big bashes with lots of friends.  We marked some of the most significant birthdays with annoying themes.  When he turned sixteen, everyone brought him a Matchbox car to unwrap.  (I think he is still mad about that one.)  We celebrated his eighteenth with the Stars and Stripes, in honor of his registering with Selective Services and being eligible to vote.  At twenty-one he received shot glasses.  For the most part, these were quiet affairs, celebrated at home, with the people he was closest to.

Felicidades Presa Family!

So I could not have been more thrilled when our friend, Alfredo, invited us to attend his daughter’s Quinceañera.  This was going to be the party of the century!  A Quinceañera is a special celebration throughout Latin America (and today in the United States) held in honor of a girl’s fifteenth birthday, similar to a Debutante Ball or Sweet Sixteen, something a boy mom does not get to experience.  In Mexico, during Aztec and Mayan times, a young woman was presented to her community for marriage at this age.  Today, a Quinceañera commemorates the transition of a girl from her childhood to young womanhood, combining the traditions of ancient cultures and the Catholic Church, minus the being ready to marry part.  (Which I am certain Alfredo appreciated.)

The church is where most quince celebrations begin.  In a special mass for the young IMG_4361woman, her quince court, parents, padrinos, (godparents), and other family members stand witness as the birthday girl reconfirms her commitment to God and receives a special blessing from the priest.  The young woman may wear a tiara at this time, symbolizing her morality.  She leaves a bouquet of flowers, a token of her purity, at the alter or near the statue of Mexico’s patron saint, la Virgen de Guadalupe.

After the more private church ceremony, friends and family gathered at the Casino Naval in Guaymas, located on a peninsula in the Sea of Cortez   Mind you, this all started about the time I usually get ready to go to bed!  From this venue, guests were afforded stunning views of the city, sea, and mountains.  But not one of those views compared to the beauty of Esther on her day.  She positively glowed in her full length princess dress.

When she was not on the arm of her father, who radiated nothing but pride, she was attended to by her court of damas and chambelanes.  The court is selected by the birthday girl and numbers from as many as 28 male and female attendees to as few as one male attendant.  The most important role the court plays in the Quinceañera is participation in the Baile Sopresa, a surprise dance, that some courts spend up to six months learning and practicing.

Before there was any dancing, we enjoyed numerous Quinceañera traditions.  Esther’s father removed her tennis shoes and replaced them with her first pair of high heels.  Alfredo created new traditions for the two of them as well, giving Esther sentimental gifts that reminded him of different times the two shared as she was growing up.  For example, as a baby and small child, Esther often woke up at night wanting cereal.  This was a bonding time for the two of them, and Alfredo presented Esther with a gift of the same cereal that  the pair snacked on late at night.

And then the dancing!  Alfredo and Esther enjoyed a father-daughter waltz that brought many to tears.  Esther also danced with her mother.  If you were not crying after her dance with dad, you were for sure as she danced with mom!  Surrounded by her friends on the dance floor, Esther tossed a doll into the group.  This tradition symbolizes the moving away from childlike playthings and embracing more grown up pursuits and interests.  After a waltz with her padrinos, other family members, and her court, we were treated to the Baile Sopresa.  As a klutz with absolutely no musical talent, this alone would have caused me to strongly consider skipping the entire quince, even if there was a princess dress involved!  Kudos to the young dancers for their wonderful performance.

At least a hundred tables surrounded a circular dance floor.  Each was decorated in Esther’s “colors”.  Bowls of totopitos, salsas, and nuts were continuously filled.  Treats of vegetables, salchichas, and queso kept us energized as we danced to music provided by Spectrum, a mobile DJ company.  Disco lights, big screens, and smoke added to the festive atmosphere.  A special toast was made in Ester’s honor and partygoers enjoyed delicious cake that looked almost too pretty to eat.

thumbnailToddlers and small children outlasted me!  We made our way home around 1:30 in the morning.  When we left, there was no sign of the party stopping any time soon.  Food and drink continued to flow, dance music pounded from the speakers, friends and family laughed and danced.

It was an honor to have been invited to Esther’s Quinceañera and celebrate with her family and friends.  I had done quite a bit of research before the big day, and I am glad I did.  It was much more meaningful for me knowing the history of this rite of passage.  But the studying in no way prepared me for the magic that unfolded each step of the way.  And I could not help feeling a little guilty about the Matchbox prank, especially after experiencing this!  Wow!  And so many low key birthday parties…  Um, maybe 23 will be a big deal after all!

(Photos courtesy of Spectrum Disco Móvil and the Presa Family)


The Mask Makes the Man

I have stumbled upon many of my passions by looking into topics that will interest my students, only to end up more invested in them myself.  Just ask my son.  We spent several weeks one summer riding buses and trains from the Kenai Peninsula past the Arctic Circle after I developed a standards based unit on Alaska and the Iditarod.  One summer I drug him across the western United States following the same route Sal and her grandparents took in Sharon Creech’s novel, Walk Two Moons.  I even cried, just like Gram, when Old Faithful erupted.  On a trip to Gettysburg and Philadelphia, I most likely bought more souvenirs, ahem,  “for my classroom” than for him.

A couple of weeks ago, while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, an advertisement for a Lucha Libre match in Guaymas popped up on one of the news sites I follow.  I knew a little bit about Lucha Libre from a blog article written for Spanish teachers that I had read a year or so ago.  It had looked like a great way to engage students in Mexican culture- – something a little bit different than soccer or baseball.  Unfortunately, I never got around to creating the unit for my kindergarteners before we moved.  There most definitely would have been stretchy bodysuits, acrobatics, and yelling involved, so it was probably for the best anyway.  Principals tend to frown on that sort of stuff.

Lucha Libre (free fighting) originated in the early 1900’s during the days of the Mexican Revolution.  These were no holds barred, hand-to-hand battles whose sole purpose was to distract the audience from the realities of war (with fighting, go figure).  The sport evolved in in the late 1920’s when Salvador González, a Mexican businessman, traveled to the U.S.A. and was captivated by the sport of professional wrestling.  Well, the sport and the outlandish personalities of the wrestlers.  He brought the idea back to Mexico, and with his partner, Francisco Ahumada, founded Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre in Mexico City.  They were selling out their 5,000 seat arena every time, within the first year!  The rest, they say, is history.  Now called Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre, it is the longest running professional sports promotion company in the world.

Lucha Libre masks for sale at a local souvenir shop

There are two main differences between American wrestling and Lucha Libre.  The first is that luchadores (fighters) in the lighter weight class are the most popular in Mexico.  They are much more agile than American wrestlers.  Therefore, matches are centered on highflying aerobatics that boost a wrestler’s power as he catapults himself from the ropes.  The pace of a lighter weight class match is frantic, even dizzying.  The second major difference is that all Lucha Libre wrestlers wear masks (máscaras), protecting their identities from one another and the audience.  This aspect of the sport is taken very seriously.  A wrestler can be disqualified if he removes the mask of an opponent during a match.  Many luchadores even wear their masks in public.  El Santo, the most popular luchador of all time, was buried in his.

And here I was with the opportunity to see the real deal.  One night after dinner, I casually mentioned to Steve that there was a Lucha Libre match in Guaymas on October 17.  He looked at me like I had two heads.  Then he proceeded to break my heart by telling me that date was no good for him.  There was a big audit going on at work, and he had to focus on that.  He would be entertaining visitors on that night anyway.  He was not at all amused when I suggested we entertain them together at the Lucha Libre match.  Apparently, he did not think I was taking this audit seriously enough.

By the time I found a friend willing to go with me, the ad had disappeared from Facebook, replaced with one for some famous clown who would be appearing in November.  No worries.  After a little detective work, I am now following Lucha Libre Triple A en Guaymas and will be among the first to know when tickets for the next match go on sale.  Plus, I have time to choose a favorite luchador, find and buy his mask, and improve my Spanish trash talk- – which I am told is just as important as the match itself.