Wednesday, March 30, 2016
where is judas when we need him?
"This doesn't look like Mexico."
Nearly every one of my house guests for the past eight years has declared something similar after taking a first look at my little village. And, in a certain way (and not an Obi-Wan Kanobi way), it is true.
The area bears no resemblance to Cancún or Cabo San Luas. Well, other than the obvious fact we also have an ocean here -- and an embarrassment of sand.
Those who know Mexico outside of the sheltered resorts are noticeably disappointed to not see a parade of mariachis or an isolated Maya temple here and there. We have none of that.
Even though the great Cortés made it over to the Pacific coast within years of his conquest of the Mexican highlands, the Spanish showed a quickly-passing interest in our area of the coast. After building a few ships here, they showed the same wisdom of most of the local Indians who left the summer heat and diseases to the mosquitoes.
So, we have no great churches to awe tourist photographers or tombs of Aztec emperors or gargantuan murals painted by even more giant Mexican artists. Nor do we have what many highland Mexicans consider time-honored traditions. Such as "the Judas burning" (la quema de Judas) on Holy Saturday.
Burning, exploding, or flogging an effigy of Judas, the disciple who betrayed the messiah, has long been a tradition in the Christian church. My first exposure to the ritual was in Greece.
Like almost everything related to the Christian tradition, the Spanish brought it to Mexico in their leaky galleons. This particular activity has been carried out for almost five centuries now.
Over time, the cast of giant (some over 15 feet tall) effigies has grown. There is Judas, of course. But now various demons and devils are styled out of papier-mâché -- along with corrupt or unpopular politicians.
Mexicans love explosions on these occasions. The various figures are stuffed with fireworks, and are then lit of in sequence. The theory is the figure is not only being punished, but the evil they represent is somehow being exorcised from society.
My utilitarian side says it does not work. Otherwise, why the need for an annual exorcism? Poor President Peña Nieto has been blown and torched since his inauguration. And he is still in office.
To no one's surprise, Donald Trump joined the list of firework displays this year. I say "to no one's surprise" because he did not endear himself to Mexicans with his boneheaded comment "the Mexican government is sending rapists, drug dealers, and criminals across the border.” If you make a comment like that about your neighbors, you should expect a whiff of gunpowder now and then.
Leonardo Linares, the artist who designed one of the Trump effigies, put it succinctly: "For Latinos here and in the U.S., he's a danger, a real threat. He's a good man to burn as Judas."
I shrugged when I read that. I will bet dollars to tortillas I can peg Linares somewhere over on what Margaret Thatcher called "the loony Left." Not that you need to reside in those nether regions to have similar feelings about The Donald. He has taken his lumps from Mexpatriate.
Of course, for every statement like that made by Linares and for each effigy blasted into oblivion, Trump gains a few thousand more American votes. It is the perversity of negative politics.
The newspaper article that brought me this tale had an almost sulpheric taste in lambasting Trump. The journalist then went on to fill out his story by listing the other effigies: "diminutive devils and wee minions and moving to the big dogs: President Barack Obama with a cigar in his mouth and a Cuban flag, a black-clad ISIS fighter with a Kalashnikov, and the great Trump finale."
Hold on one minute. "President Barack Obama with a cigar in his mouth and a Cuban flag?" Hasn't Linares heard that Occupy Democrat has been lobbying for the death penalty (for treason) for anyone who criticizes the president -- as if the United States had been transferred into a cross between Thailand and Iran? And what is the story for blowing up Obama along with Cuban paraphernalia?
Now that would have been an interesting news story. All of this Trumpery is getting a bit boring. But neighbors who dislike Obama? There is a hook. Unfortunately, the journalist who wrote the piece just let it slide.
Maybe Linares shares the same politics as a Mexican friend of mine here in Melaque. A local disco has installed one of those search lights that once graced the Lincoln dealership in Gladstone on the first night of the new year's models.
I was wondering why the light was there. My friend suggested it was to thwart "the terrorist Obama just in case he sent a predator drone to Melaque."
Maybe that is why Obama was in the Madame Tussaud fireworks display. I don't know. But it is a theory.
I think it was Garry Wills who suggested that the first person the resurrected Jesus (the Jesus of redemption and grace) looked for was Judas -- in the hope that Judas had sought forgiveness as the other disciples had. But he wasn't there. He had already taken the self-help option of suicide.
And that is what is so odd about the burning Judas tradition. There is no one to flog or to burn or to blow to smithereens. He already took matters into his wn hands; he is gone.
That is, unless we are punishing the Judas who lives in our own souls. That part of our personalty that is always willing -- almost yearning -- to deny the core values of our own being.
That is why it is so easy to blow up Judas or Trump or Obama. Too often we see evil as external to ourselves when our greatest failings are our own.
If you come to Melaque, there will be no effigies to blow up. But we can offer you the beach and the ocean and, of course, the heat and the mosquitoes that kept the Spanish from building one of their quaint colonial towns here on the Pacific.
It is certainly not a paradise, but it is close enough for me.