in rural Paris, Iowa, and Wordpress

Navidad en Colonia Adolfo López Mateos

We are going to do something a little different today in this blog and try to get everyone in the Christmas spirit.

This is my friend Fortino’s house in Colonia Adolfo López Mateos, the poorest, roughest neighborhood in San Miguel de Allende out on the edge of town. The Mexican people use the word colonia for neighborhood, not barrio. A pirate line brings electricity to the house. There is no indoor plumbing. If you must use a restroom you go up that path on the right and over the hill instead. The house is constructed atop a former landfill, the contents of which have not remained completely buried in places.

Alans Birthday Party 073

Alans Birthday Party 084

Colonia Adolfo López Mateos

I spent all of Christmas Eve, the day and evening, with Fortino and his family last year. During the day those present were only Fortino and Señora Maria, their children and grandchildren. In the evening we were joined by the extended, extended family for the traditional Christmas Eve festivities.

I have previously introduced you to Fortino’s granddaughter, Yvón, who was ten years old at the time. The photos in that entry were taken on this same Christmas Eve. I also showed her the video function on the camera. She had never shot a video before. It is a little rough. It will give you some idea, however, of what goes on at Christmas among the people with very little in Mexico. What you will not see is any exchange of gifts.

We slaughtered a pig during the day that had been raised on the premises for the occasion and fed out with leavings. The board structure behind me was his pen. The first two and half minutes of the video were shot in the aftermath of all that when the pig was in the pot. If you wish to skip that and see the festivities of Christmas Eve, you should advance the video to 2:30 and play it from there. First, there are the chanted prayers of the older women. Second, dolls representing the Child are rocked. Then everyone ceremoniously kisses the dolls as refreshments are served.

The entire video is 6:13 in length. When I am with these people, I am called Esteban.

You are free to believe this or not of course, but years ago when I was a somewhat pretty man generally speaking, I looked downright delicious in candle light. Those days are obviously long gone.

Below I am with Fortino earlier in the year at a grandson’s birthday party.

Alans Birthday Party 062

19 Responses to “Navidad en Colonia Adolfo López Mateos”

  1. StephenBrassawe

    I feel constrained to add that Fortino is well aware that I take photographs at his home with the intention to publish them. I have explained that I want to show others, particularly friends in the north, what his family’s life is like. Fortino simply does not care. He is a little puzzled why anyone else would care.

  2. Eddie Two Hawks

    I traveled throughout Mexico a while back (about 40yrs now). Not shocked or surprised at what I saw. It just took a little getting used to…especially when it seemed to be everywhere even in nice cities like San Miguel de Allende.
    Thanks for bringing me up to date and I appreciate your perspective.

    • StephenBrassawe

      You’re welcome, Eddie. It was wonderful to find your comment here and the others, too.

  3. Angeline M

    Thanks Stephen, for posting this. I lived in Guadalajara off and on in my younger years with a tia and cousins. My tia, Angeline, was in my mind, the Mexican Mother Teresa. I would go out with her to take clothes and building materials, whatever was needed by families she had happened to meet or hear of. It was wonderful to become a part of those families, help them in small ways, but most of all to share in their celebrations.

    • StephenBrassawe

      Then you know, Angeline. The poor are not more noble than anyone else simply by virtue of being poor. There is the distressing problem in that neighborhood, for example, of the poor preying on each other through thievery and worse. Law enforcement is a tenuous thing there.

      Then there is the business of trying to help. That endeavor, one soon finds, is a bottomless pit. Still, one does what one can. The floors of the house were dirt when I first visited. I purchased the cement to put floors in. Fortino is quite skillful with cement when he can get the cement.

      The payback for helping in little ways is enormous though. I would far rather spend Christmas Eve with these people down below than sit at the richest table with those gringos who have built garish homes up on the side of the mountain. In that sense it is all quite a selfish thing on my part.

    • StephenBrassawe

      Oh my, kalabalu! Again, how kind of you. I must attend to packing for a trip now. When I reach my destination, I will accept all of these awards from you graciously. Please be patient with me for a time while I travel. Thank you very much.

  4. Rubye Jack

    What a nice family! I work in a food pantry up here in Oklahoma and this last week we’ve had a lot of Mexican mothers come in to sign up for our Christmas program and they are so much more wholesome and kind and grateful than our regular folks, many of whom are greedy and totally ungrateful. We also have a lot of places like this here in the U.S. — just most people don’t know about them is all.

    • StephenBrassawe

      They live at the basic level. The stress of that is immense, but they seem to find the strength to endure it, Ruby. Thank you for stopping by to visit.

  5. Jamie Dedes

    So admirably cheerful and yet a good illustration for those whose lives are so narrow that they have no idea of what real poverty looks like and the many who don’t understand that poverty it is not a reflection on the worthiness of its victims. A charming family. Well done, Senor Esteban.

    • StephenBrassawe

      Nor are they at all curious to find out what it looks like, Jamie. (I am not normally prone to understatement.)

      I must be so careful when I speak or write about this. Perhaps I was not careful enough in writing the piece or my comments. I do not wish to sound morally superior to anyone because I most assuredly am not. This is not charity work on my part. I liked the guy. He needed cement. I had the money for the cement. I bought the cement because I liked him. There followed an entrée into his and his family’s world about which I was curious. Period. It turned out to be a great deal for me because I am content in their world. I do not, however, expect anyone else to feel the same way.

      I will say this though. They do not know what they are missing.

      • Jamie Dedes

        The post’s strength is its understatement and my comment reflects my own positions and concerns and not any weakness here.

  6. April

    This is excellent. You told a story, presented this family how they are without judgement and gave your readers something new to learn and think about, all without falling into the pontificating trap that so many other western bloggers in developing countries are inclined to do. One thing I hear a lot here in Ecuador from other expats and visitors is “Oh, look at all the poor poor people. This is so sad. Lets all feel sorry for them.” I can’t express how much that bothers me and the Ecuadorians here that I’ve asked about it hate it too. Yes they are “poor” relative to people in the States, but that doesn’t say anything about their quality of life or the strength of their communities and families.
    Obviously one shouldn’t ignore the struggles of other people. One should educate themselves so that they can put their own lives in perspective and maybe make a decision to try and help in someway, but pouring on the pity in a super saccharine way, is just offensive. Thank you for not going down that road, and I suppose that’s one of the reasons I love reading your blog.
    (I’m actually getting so worked up writing this, I’m gonna go write a post about it. Thanks for the inspiration!)

  7. StephenBrassawe

    April, you refer to what I meant in part in my response to Jamie about having to be so careful when I write on this subject. The thing you describe in your blog is what occurs around those rich tables in those garish homes up on the side of the mountain. I want no part of that or them. I prefer to be with these people because I enjoy their company.

    Thank God I did not screw this up. I would have hated to face you if I had!


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