Friday, December 17, 2010

Have Yourself a Mammy Little Christmas

[From the Burro Hall Way-Back Machine: Walking through the Centro this morning and seeing preparations underway for the posada brought to mind this post from three Christmases ago, which poses a question we still have not had answered, so we thought we'd post it again. What, you never re-gifted anything?]

One of the most popular Mexican Christmas traditions is the posada, a nightly procession reenacting the night before Christmas, in which the processioners go from house asking for shelter and are turned away, usually in song. To our way of thinking, this is quintessentially Mexican. While the rest of the world takes this time of the year to "accentuate the positive" - celebrating the birth of the Messiah, the Redeemer of Mankind, etc - Mexicans repeatedly and obsessively dwell on the night Mary and Joseph - nice couple, a bit down on their luck, but still favored by God - asked for one little favor, nothing lavish (and, by the way, something they'd totally do for you if the positions were reversed) and were told to fuck off. These people know how to nurse a grudge - and this happened 2000 years ago, to someone else, half a world away. (This is something Americans may want to keep in mind during the current orgy of anti-Mexican sentiment; it'll be the year 5000 and these guys will be acting like it happened only yesterday.)

So in addition to the regular processions comprised of the miscellaneous faithful, there's an official town Posada Float, pulled by a tractor, rigged with a sound system, that travels around the streets of the Centro Historico every night, stopping every few hundred yards for a song. There's a chorus of little angels, a white-bearded Joseph, and Mary sitting sidesaddle on a burro. The angels sing a beautiful little song on behalf of the couple, asking for shelter for the night, and are angrily turned away by Hattie McDaniel.

If we may pose a question here in the spirit of honest holiday inquiry, what the fuckin' fuck? We expected attorneys for the Aunt Jemima Corporation to step in with a cease and desist order. We know Mexico has a somewhat less-uptight attitude towards blackface minstrelsy than we do up north, but putting aside the offensiveness of it for a minute, it just doesn't make sense. The angels, the donkey, the Holy Parents, all more or less period-correct for an event that happened 1-Day B.C....and then - sho 'nuff! - out pops this antebellum galley slave! Can someone with a better understanding of all this explain it to us?


Anonymous said...

Ours is not to reason why.

Anonymous said...

Cri Cri, y la Negrita Cucurumbé. All Mexicans black and white love this singer and don't even insult him.

Anonymous said...

Negrito Sandia

Another beloved character, Negrito Sandia.

Anonymous said...

Negrito Bailarín


You might be trying to transplant the slavery past of the U.S. to Mexico, that's why you are so surprised. They didn't have slavery in Independent Mexico. So I think that's why they don't feel guilty. I don't know if you get it. In Mexico, black people don't share the same strong feelings African Americans have because of their particular historical past. The slavery past of the US does not apply to other countries. Mexicans did not have a president Washington who had slave, or even a president Lincoln who had slaves as well (and smoked weed).

Maybe these songs are not politically correct for today's days, but older Mexicans black and white love them.

Burro Hall said...

Thanks for the tour of Mexican minstrelsy, Anonymous - though I'd be curious where you got the idea that Lincoln owned slaves.

Anyway, back to my question, which is why, in the middle of this posada - which is supposed to take place 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, with angels and donkeys and Mary and Joseph, etc - why, in the middle of this, does a black woman dressed in modern clothing suddenly show up and start yelling and singing?

It's not about the ethnic stereotype (well, okay, maybe a little - Jesus, why not just have her slurping on a watermelon, too?), but rather, what is this character doing in this story? If the woman were replaced by a Latino man dressed as a cowboy, I'd have the same (apparently unanswerable) question.