I was going to write about the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo and how much I disliked the marketing of a cultural holiday that symbolizes the hope and pride of a people. About how much I hate to see “Drinko De Mayo,” and “Nacho Ordinary Cinco,” slogans. The distaste for ads featuring tacos and sombreros.
The post for this week was preempted by memories that had me travel many years back. So I changed my mind. But, if you’d like to read about what Cinco de Mayo really means and the French invasion of Mexico, I have an old post here. There are several posts about Cinco de Mayo. I like the one given by the History Channel.
The idea of a Cinco de Mayo post came to an end when I cleaned out my desk drawer hunting for an emery board. Underneath ink pens, rubber bands, post-its and an old address book, I found some foreign money. Coins representing four countries and two Chuck E. Cheese tokens. So make that five countries. Thus began my time travel.
The faded image on the fake bronze coin showed a big nosed rat in bowtie and bowler hat, circa 1993. Why the weird phrase “Smile America Say,” is engraved on it is a mystery to me. The other token had a different saying, but I lost that one between last night and this morning.
The rat took me back to the colorful sights and chaotic sounds of our local Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, “Where a Kid Can Be A Kid.”
All three of my children celebrated birthdays at the place among shrieking delighted kids and parents who moaned at the noise level and overpriced bland cheese pizzas.
Chuck E. Cheese parties for the kids in our extended family was a rite of passage, for the children, moms, and dads. We entered the fun zone as proud parents holding onto the small hands of excited birthday boys or girls and left as frazzled shell-shocked adults, sometimes forgetting one of the kids until halfway down the freeway, (she knows who she is).
Kids ran to dive into the orange, yellow and green balls, disappear into fluorescent plastic tunnels, while parents covered their eyes and ears from the blinking lights, electronic noises, and shrieks. Some of which probably came from the parents who’d been in the place for half an hour.
Try keeping track of your kid in the crowd of pint-sized children all waving arms, jumping, twirling, or cowering in a corner. (Wait, the cowering would be at the parent table).
All that excitement doubled when the red curtain rose and the mechanical singing chicken, mustachioed chef, and the blue guy who appeared. The smarmy dancing and squawking of the robotic characters, behind the arm-waving teenage CEC workers, delighted the under six-year-old set whose parents tried to look semi-excited but came off as confused, scared or both.
When the bottom heavy rat strode into the melee of children I thought he looked like a thug rat in a knockoff Mickey Mouse film. But the kids, especially my toddler daughter hugged the seven-foot gangster rat like he was her cuddly stuffed lamb. Her eyes and body danced to the songs of the chickens, while one son veered away from Mr. Chuck E. Cheese and the noise, concentrating on a birthday cake and waving balloons. The older son ran circles around the rat and scampered back to the game zone, clutching trailing strips of orange tickets.
Ah yes, the memories. Happy and frightening at the same time. All those germ infested rainbow balls, tickets and tokens, bland pizzas and a giant rat returned to me via a grubby Chuck E. Cheese token.
Maybe I should have stuck with a Cinco de Mayo post.
Dia is trendy now but that’s okay. To me, this means DLM is not only culturally relevant to Mexicans, Mexican American, Chicano’s, but the concept also resonates with other people who agree that those who have passed should be honored, remembered, and celebrated.
Hey, even Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon. I’m so glad that the person who pitched this story idea was Jorge Gutierrez and that award winning director, Guillermo Del Toro signed onto the project.
If you’d like to become better informed or give your kids a wider multicultural view, here are some beautifully illustrated and written children’s books on the Day of the Dead.
This is a story about a young girl who helps her family prepare to honor her grandfather.
I like to use the remembrance cards that are given out at church funerals. I place these all over my dresser, light a candle, and re-read the cards and think about the good times I’ve shared with the person.
And now that you know a little more about Dia de los Muertos you can chose to honor your loved ones too by setting up a space on your counter or chest of drawers, with or without a candle, and place photos of the person (s) you’d like to honor.
Christmas just isn’t Christmas without making tamales. Tamale making or the tamalada (tamale making session which turns into a gossip fest and/or party) took place at my mom’s house for at least 40 years. Ten years ago the location moved to my house. This year it’s back to my mom’s home.
Holiday traditions rarely follow a straight line. From our past to our present the traditions branch out as we add children, relatives, and present life to the mix. Whether your celebrations of the holidays are uniquely your own, or passed down from great grandmothers to you, they are worth sharing.
This year our family traditions will branch a little more. Just like on Thanksgiving, I’ll be away from my mother and siblings, and with my adult kids in Colorado on Christmas Eve. They are making their own life while we (the vast majority of the extended family) are here in Southern California. And that’s okay, more than okay, it’s good.
In our family, Mexican American/Chicano, we make Mexican style tamales and champurradoas well as sugar cookies, fudge, and ham. We celebrate the Mexican and the American because that is who we are.
I’m eager to share Christmas with my kids because the activities of the day will provide touchstones to remember our past holidays. The tamalada gives us an opportunity to share stories of the past:
“When I (nana) was a child, we got oranges and candies as presents…the firemen distributed gifts to the poor- us…’member when tia put the sevo (fat) into the tamales accidentally instead of the meat, I didn’t eat tamales for five years… when I was a kid we had to attend midnight mass or else…’member when your tio tied the Christmas tree with a rope to keep it straight…”
We’ve shared hundreds of stories at the tamale table while spreading masa, sprinkling cheese, and spooning chile into corn husks.
In my kids case, we’ll make our tamales and champurradovegan style. This is not what nana envisioned would occur with her recipe but continuing with the traditional foods will pass on my mother’s culinary knowledge, and her mothers knowledge, to my son and daughter. And we’ll share all of the above stories and then some.
Holiday traditions may branch out, but they pass on our heritage, and in doing so create a canopy for our children and grandchildren to pass on to subsequent generations. Happy Holidays!