Sunday, January 26, 2014
moving to mexico -- a few customs
I am part of my neighborhood. After four years.
Earlier last week, Lupe, the young woman who lives across from me, invited me to attend a graduation party for her son, Alix. He was graduating from high school, and they wanted to be part of the fiesta in the street in front of my house. There would be food.
My Spanish is not very good. But I understood the basic elements. I was honored that they invited me. Alix pointed out that I was generous enough to loan a tire iron to them when I first moved in (friendly doors). I had almost forgotten. Neither he nor his family had.
I told them, of course, I would attend. It was set on Saturday at 3 PM.
On Thursday night, I attended another of our cross-cultural classes at the church. An acquaintance, Linda, was talking about some cultural opportunities in our own neighborhoods when she mentioned the institution of padrino and madrina. What we would call godparents.
But it is more than that. Mexicans love lavish parties. But they have few resources themselves to put on weddings or 15th coming-out birthday parties or graduation parties.
So, people are often asked to be the padrino of the full party -- or, more often, a portion of the party. And, of course, pay for it with their own funds. Similar to a potluck on steroids.
As I listened to Linda, I realized my spotty Spanish may have committed me to be a sponsor of the graduation celebration. If not the whole thing, at least the food. After all, Lupe had specifically mentioned the food. And, if I had, I was fine with it.
I know the word "padrino." But I could have easily missed it in Lupe's invitation.
I wanted to catch her before the party. When I left my place to look at houses in Barra de Navidad, she was not home. But her mother had started hosing water onto our street to keep the dust down.
By the time I returned, it was well after 3 -- when the party was scheduled to start. That did not bother me. It was a Mexican party. Who would be there on time?
When I headed to my gate, I noted there was a canopy spanning the street with a lot of white chairs. And in the chairs, a lot of people whose hair was as white as their skin. Apparently, they had all arrived at 3 for the party.
I found Lupe. Greeted her and her son and her mother. And started working my way around the crowd as if I were running for city councilman.
I learned that custom the hard way. A couple of years ago I was invited to the birthday party of a fellow who owns the restaurant around the corner from me. When I arrived I said hello to him and sat down. Amongst a group of people who spoke no English. We just stared at one another.
After staying what I thought was an appropriate 30 minutes, I said good-bye and left.
The Birthday Boy later told me that his family was surprised at my sudden departure -- without shaking everyone's hand and saying good-bye. I didn't know that was the custom. Having learned the lesson, I was going to put it to good use on Saturday.
In talking with Alix, I slipped him an envelope with some graduation money in it, and talked with him long enough to find out he wants to go to law school in Manzanillo -- at a private school -- to be a criminal defense attorney. That gave us a good opportunity to talk about my experience in the field.
I then moved on to meet his cousins and nephews and nieces and aunt and godfather and godmother -- along with the northern contingent. It turns out most of them stay at a local hotel where Lupe is a maid. They were an interesting and diverse group -- with a sizable number who read Mexpatriate or heard my cross-cultural talk last week. Or both.
That group stayed for about an hour and left. Just as the Mexican guests were starting to arrive.
By the time I was ready to leave, I made the full circle again shaking hands, saying how pleased I was to meet them, and trying to be a good guest. Through that process I discovered the party padrino was Alix's employer. At least, I think that was the case. Mere affability has not improved my Spanish skills.
As I sit here writing this, the music is still playing and I can hear people having a great time.
Even if I was not asked to bear the honor of being the padrino de fiesta, I am happy to get to know my neighbors a bit better. My feet have been getting a bit itchy recently to move somewhere else. This may be one more strand of a web to keep me in place.
It has been a good day.