Lent is an odd season in my little corner of Mexico. We are not smack dab in the middle of it.
The 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter that constitute Lent are very important to Mexican Catholics. Theologically,
the real aim of Lent is, above all else, to prepare men for the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ. The better the preparation the more effective the celebration will be. One can effectively relive the mystery only with purified mind and heart. The purpose of Lent is to provide that purification by weaning men from sin and selfishness through self-denial and prayer, by creating in them the desire to do God’s will and to make His kingdom come by making it come first of all in their hearts.If the goal is to wean "men from sin and selfishness," Lent in our little village has a lot of competition.
Yesterday, I stopped by our local Kiosko to pay my electricity bill ($116 (US); not bad for two months of a house filled with family wielding electronic artillery). The first thing I noticed was about twenty people standing in a loose interpretation of a queue where there are usually only one or two waiting customers.
The second thing that caught my eye were the castles of Corona stacked against each of the walls. Just Corona. But lots of it.
I thought it strange. After all, the feast of San Patricio was the previous night capping off nearly two weeks of holy debauchery. Our streets and highways were clogged with buses and cars that should have been taking people home, rather than dropping them off post-festivities. And it was a week too early for semana santa -- Easter week.
Then it hit me. Monday was going to be a federal holiday -- Benito Juarez's birthday. Tourists were stacking their time at the beach. San Patricio plus Juarez's birthday plus Easter week. It is almost as if all eight planets had aligned in their paths around the sun.
Today is not really Juarez's birthday. He was born on 21 March. In 1806. As Omar reminds me.
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.
And, 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 note. Street names. Schools. Cities. Parks filled with his diminutive form.
And 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. OK. Maybe that scoundrel Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna is almost as memorable.
But people remember Juarez for the good he did. He helped to put Mexico on a road of national identity. He is probably better known as the Lincoln of Mexico. 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 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 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 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 masturbation. But we also lose a lot of the realization of what it is to be human.
So, I am taking off my hat to Benito Juarez today. After all, I used several of his portraits to pay for my electricity.
As for all of that beer? It is still on the wall. Others are welcome to it.