Friday, January 04, 2008

The Reception

I was raised to equate fun and pleasure with evil and wrong. My maternal grandfather (that’s a curious mating of words which creates a gender confused phrase!) was a holy roller – a member of the Holiness Church. Dancing, drinking, movies and anything other than gospel music were sinful. Sex wasn’t evil because it didn’t exist. Don’t talk about it and it vanishes. Hair was twisted into a bun, jewelry was rejected and breasts were hidden.

These were strong lessons that I and my Mexican friends failed to learn.

The wedding reception wasn’t a rejection of fun and pleasure but was a real celebration.

After the wedding we walked the few blocks to the field beside the home of the groom’s parents. It was immediately obvious the crowd exceeded the preparations. The table from the family kitchen was brought out and other tables materialized. Five hundred people were there and more were coming!

Three days earlier a coarse concrete slab has been poured as a dance floor and a huge sound system was humming with anticipation. The Mariachi band was performing. Their music wasn’t the uplifting and moving music from the church. It was music that demanded enthusiastic attention.

We have wedding traditions that every one expects – the newlyweds feeding one another a piece of cake, the throwing of the bouquet and garter. I wondered if these were customs in Mexico and what other customs they may have.

The sound of voices and clapping announced Trista and Alejandro. He carried her through the gate to the table reserved for them. Before long they were up front with the Mariachi. A sombrero was placed on Alejandro and a microphone was held before him. I don’t know what he sung but it was bad. Even I could tell he was off. The Mariachi pulled the microphone back, sung several words and held the microphone for Alejandro and he did better. Before the song was over he was doing excellent!

Alejandro sings to the amusement of Trista. (Larger version)

The first dance must be a custom. Women gathered in a circle around the couple, joined hands and the music and dance began. When the dance finished the women dropped hands and clapped. Then it became a free for all. A distinguished gentleman wearing a unique straw hat moved quickly to be one of the first to dance with the bride and women took turns dancing with the groom. As the gentleman with the straw hat left the dance floor he was smiling broadly and motioned for me to join the fun and celebration by taking a turn.

In all weddings I’ve been to in the US a table is provided for gifts brought by friends. Not so at this wedding. A line of women formed before the table where the couple was seated. One by one each person gave a gift to them and wished them well.

By this time the dance floor was in continuous use. The dancing went on for hours but more about that in a minute.

The first piece of cake was different. Rather than cutting a piece and sharing it the bride leaned over and took a bite from the entire cake. Some things are universal. They are just human nature. As the groom leaned over his sister rushed passed me and shoved his face into the cake to the amusement and laughter of everyone. One thing that I enjoyed immensely was the children. They were every where but somehow knew when the cake was being cut. Lines of children formed and they were served first. There’s just something good, wholesome and right about that.

The next custom – I assume it’s a custom – was different. I don’t know if it has a name but I’ll call it the role reversal dance. I noticed the bride pick up a man’s hat, put in on and walk toward the dance floor. I wondered “what the heck?” By the time she got to the floor she had a bottle of beer, a cigarette and a belt. On the dance floor was the groom wearing an apron while holding a broom. The dance and the laughter began. As the music continued someone took the bottle of beer from the bride and gave her a bottle of rum. A young boy was given to the groom and the three of them danced to the music and the flash of cameras.

The role reversal dance. (Larger version)

The bouquet was thrown and the groom’s tie. There was no garter which was fine with me. I’ve taken part in it but never liked that custom.

The wedding was at 6:30 and by now it was about 11:00 and the crowd was as large as ever. I looked about and watched people. Children were playing in the shadows. Outside the fence was the bachelor herd – men on the fringe drinking, feeling good, talking and watching the festivities but not taking part. The American friends were fairly subdued as if out of their element. Julie was partied out. By nine each night she’s fluffing her pillows and on this night we didn’t know where we would be staying. But, the music and fun wasn’t over yet.

The bride and groom stood on chairs about ten feet apart and held a piece of cloth between them. A small group stood around each of them to protect them. A dance line of women formed and the line moved between the couple and under the cloth. With music blaring the line threaded through the crowd, between the tables and back toward the couple where the women tried to knock the groom off his chair. As they passed him they would throw a hip into the friends supporting him.

The dance line assaults the groom. (Larger version)

The music ended and a line of men formed. More friends joined the small groups protecting the bride and groom. Men are men, men are optimistic, concrete is soft. The male dance didn’t last long. To their credit they went after the groom and not the bride. Alejandro, his friends and the chair were swept off the dance floor.

This was followed almost immediately by a funeral dirge. Several men picked up the groom and carried him through the crowd as if carrying a corpse. Upon returning to the concrete dance floor they began to toss him into the air higher and higher.

One custom I has heard about is pinning of money on the groom. People would take bills and pin them to his coat as he visited with them.

Pinning money on the groom. (Larger version)

The music was loud. It had been loud and continuous all night. Most of the music was in Spanish but not all of it. “I’m Too Sexy” was in English but would have been recognizable in Spanish. About midnight a tight circle formed around the floor. In the middle of the circle was a pole. On the far side of the circle were some trees and a few boys had climbed the trees so they could see over the crowd. There was much laughter, pushing and shoving. Some of those pushed into the circle retreated quickly. Everyone waited for the bold ones. A young woman, a voluptuous young woman, a talented young woman, stepped out and danced. When she returned to the circle the music continued and another and then another person danced. They were young and old, male and female, talented and untalented but all were having a good time. Julie watched and had only one comment: “It’s just wrong to see your grandmother pole dance.”

Dancing around the pole. (Larger version)

Sometime after 1:00 AM we began preparations to leave even though a large crowd remained and the dancing continued. The music was the kind that is felt rather than heard. One song transitioned into another without a moment of silence. I watched the dancers with interest -- teenage girls dancing together, a father and his young daughter, couples who were good and couples who were excellent. One man fascinated me. He was at least my age and probably older. I could never figure out who he was dancing with but he was dancing tirelessly. Five minutes, 10 minutes, then 20. After half an hour he was still dancing without taking a break and without showing signs of fatigue. He seemed to dance effortlessly.

I enjoyed myself immensely. By the end of the night I knew one thing for certain. I’m a Mexican trapped in an American body. I want out!

(Leon, a brother-in-law, has published 455 photos of the wedding and reception.)


Blogger Buffalo said...

This is the way it should be.

1/05/2008 09:57:00 AM  

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