There are certain signs that something special is happening in our little villages.
Buses of tourists. Lines of SUVs at the Pemex. Full beaches. No parking.
They all usually add up to some special event in the works. And all of the elements are on the streets this weekend. But what is the event?
The Feast of San Patricio was last week. Semana Santa will not be here until next month.
Then it hit me. Today is a federal holiday -- Benito Juarez's birthday.Well, not really. He was born on 21 March. In 1806.
But, Mexico, like The States, has decided that voters like having their holidays on Mondays. All the better to lump them together with the weekend. The result, of course, is that citizens are far more interested in the time off instead of the man they are supposedly honoring.
In the case of Juarez, at least, that is a pity.
Far too many people mistakenly think that Juarez is the father of his country; its George Washington. He isn't. That honor probably belongs to that scalawag Agustin de Iturbide. And the less said about him in this context, the better. (Though, I do confess, I have a soft spot in my head for him.)
Juarez's name and image are ubiquitous in Mexico. On the 20-peso and 500-peso notes. Street names. Schools. Cities. Parks filled with his diminutive form.
For good reason. Even though he was not Mexico's first president, he is its most memorable from Independence up until the rise of the dictator Porfirio Diaz. Maybe that scoundrel Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, one of Juarez's many enemies, is almost as memorable.
But people remember Juarez for the good he did. He helped to put Mexico on the road to its national identity. He is probably better known as the Lincoln of Mexico. Liberator of the slaves. And, in that sense, he is the father of his country. The very symbol of Mexican nationalism and the protector against foreign invaders.
He came to power during one of Mexico's interminable civil wars. This one the War of Reform, and then resisted and survived the French invasion that put the Austrian Archduke Maximilian on the Mexican imperial throne.
Even though many of his reforms were revolutionary, he was not a revolutionary. He was a wily politician with Liberal (in the Mexican sense of the word) instincts.
Those instincts allowed him to strip the Catholic Church of both its revenue-producing property, as well as its churches and convents. He then used that land as a resource for Mexico's first land reform program. A program that eventually left the poor in a worse state. (But that is another story.)
He is the only full-blooded Indian (a Zapotec) who has served in the presidency. But he did not define himself by his blood.
In that sense, he was a classical liberal. He believed that if he had made his way up the slippery pole, other poor Mexicans could do that same. All they needed was a fair opportunity to advance. That was the intellectual basis of stripping the church of its financial and political power and for his land reforms.
He was also a ruthless politician. He had to be to survive in the political and social environment in which he operated. A lawyer, he played games with the Mexican Constitution. Ruling by decree for a period as an effective dictator and then running for re-election in violation of constitution term limits. Lincoln was accused of the first, as well.
He had the honor of dying in bed -- even though it was a close call. An insurgency had risen against him led by a man whose name would be as familiar in Mexican history as his own -- Porfirio Diaz.
But it is not Porfirio Diaz who we honor. It is Juarez. He is the only Mexican whose birthday is honored by a Mexican federal holiday.
Flawed? Certainly. He was a human. There is a tendency these days to push historical figures from their pedestals for holding opinions that we now find reprehensible. In the process, we make ourselves feel better with our moral dudgeon. But we also lose our sense of what it means to be human.
So, I am taking off my hat (if I ever wore one) to Benito Juarez today. It may not truly be his birthday, but it does us well to honor those who actually live their lives as we wished we lived ours.