Saturday, November 4, 2017

Original Villages | Culhuacán's Fiesta Dancers on Parade

Early in September, our primary source of information about fiestas in Mexico City, the Facebook page Fiestas Mágicas de los Pueblos y Barrios Originarios del Valle de México (Magical Fiestas of the Original Villages and Neighborhoods of the Valley of Mexico), gave us another unanticipated gift. It posted an announcement, not of a typical patron saint fiesta but of a Desfile, a Parade of Comparsas (dance troupes that participate in fiestas), representing the various barrios of Culhuacán, that original pueblo that now lies divided between the western end of the Delegacion (Borough) Iztapalapa and the eastern end of Delegación Coyoacán (see maps below).

"Second Grand Parade of Comparsas (Dance Troupes) of Chulhuacán
Sunday, September 17, Beginning at 1:00PM"

Millenarian Pueblo

Culhuacán is possibly the oldest continuously inhabited pueblo in the Valley of Mexico, going back at least 2,500 years. We recounted its history in Hill of the Star and the Origins of Culhuacán and Iztapalapa

We have visited and written about the pueblo two other times, in Contemporary Culhuacán, Gods of Darkness and Light and Culhuacán: Celebration of Unity of Holy Trinity Embodies Community Unity. In the second post, we wrote about our experience of how the Feast of the Holy Trinity, in June of each year, serves as a celebration and renewal of the shared communal identity of the many barrios that make up Culhuacán. The Grand Parade of Comparsas, held this past September, was to prove to be another such manifestation of this communal identity and the pride that supports and maintains it. 

Preparatory Chaos

We arrive at the Esplanada Leona Vicario about a half hour before the parade is scheduled to begin at 1:00PM on a Sunday afternoon. The esplanade stands in front of the Capilla del Señor del Calvario, which we first described in Culhuacán's Gods of Darkness and Light and where the procession on Holy Trinity culminated with a Mass. This small chapel is clearly the primary spritual center of all of Culhuacán. 

The plaza is full of people in various colorful traje, traditional dress, milling about. To one side there are some men on horseback. At least two bandas are playing simultaneously, creating a cacophony common to Mexican fiestas. 

"Authentic Caporales (Cowboys and Cowgirls) of San Simon"
A comparsa, fiesta dance troupe of one of the barrios of Culhuacán

Two members of a comparsa de caporales from another barrio

Woman member of a comparsa de charros,
fancy-dressed cowboys and cowgirls
in a style originating in the western state of Jalisco
during the Spanish Colonial period.

Young member of a comparsa de charros.

We have never before seen this elaborate traje,
with its woven, embroidered shawl and feather-topped sombrero.
In the bullicio (hubbub) of the preparations,
we didn't get to ask about their attire or
which barrio they were from. 

Urban cowboy

One of the bandas moves into a side callejón (alleyway), to show off its stuff.
The drummer had such a range of riffs, he could well play in a jazz ensemble. 

The Airs Band of the Pacific, Without Limits,
from the southern state of Oaxaca.
They have traveled some distance to participate in the parade.

The Parade Gets Underway

After un ratito (a little while), the groups in the esplanade begin to move towards the street between la Capilla del Señor del Calvario and the former 16th century Franciscan convent that is now a museum and community cultural center. The parade takes form out of the initial bullicio.

One of several bandas leads the way.

Una reina (a queen) from each barrio 
leads its comparsa.

The parade exits the narrow side street and turns north on Avenida Tláuac, dominated by the elevated Line 12 of the Metro, which runs down its middle. Having read on the announcement that it will travel along Tláhuac and Taxqueña Avenues, which is just to the south, we are sure the parade will come back down the west side of Tláhuac. We confirm this with one of the men in yellow vests standing along the street. 

An employee of Delegación Iztpalapa.
Such brightly colored chalecos (vests)
are ubiquitous markers of
Mexican government employees
 and political party members at their public events.

Culhuacán on Parade

So we cross Tláhuac Avenue and find a shady spot to await the return of the parade. Several Mexicans ask us if the parade will come back this way, and we share what the official told us, "Sí". We wait perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes. Then we hear the sound of the bandas coming down the avenue.

The parade heads our way.
The gray wall is that of elevated Line 12 of the Metro
where it emerges from underground.

Caporales first

The first comparsa is that of
the Authentic Cowboys and Girls
of  Barrio San Simon



Bandas y princesas

Banda with a Veracruz Caribbean "son", sound

Barrio princess

Next, a different variation on the cowboy theme.

Comparsa de charros

Embroidered symbols
are Axtec images of the god of Death
Note the mermaid on here skirt.

Then more caporales  

Barrio Santa Ana
of the Pueblo San Francisco
on the Coyoacán side of Culhuacán

We have no idea
what "chobriskis" means.
It certainly isn't Spanish.
nor does it appear to be Nauhuatl.


Two toritos, little bulls.
They carry fireworks to be set off later.

Then, the unnamed, elaborate, feathered ones

Another princesa


Charros de Muerte, Cowboys of Death

We have met these cowboys of death before, in Barrio San Francisco of Culhuacán
during the procession for Holy Trinity.

One more princesa

Finally, "real" cowboys and cowgirls

What a Parade!

So much color! So much variety, ingenuity and artistry in the costumes! Such creative representations of one of the many traditions of Mexico! (It is curious that it is the cowboy culture that the Spanish brought but which became rooted in the "wide open spaces" of the west and north of Mexico, not in the Valley of Mexico, with its lakes and agricultural focus.) 

So many beautiful faces! Such a demonstration of the vitality and pride of a community of people who know their pueblo has a history going back more than 2,000 years. Although Culhuacán is no longer a dominate force in the Valley of Mexico, but a working class area far from the Centers of power and wealth, it is still full of animo, the energy of life, which it certainly knows how to celebrate! 

Los Pueblos Culhuacán (yellow star) lie along both sides of the border between
Iztapalapa (dark green) and Coyoacán (purple)

Delegación Iztapalapa
Pueblo and barrios of Culhuacán
are marked by green/yellow star.

Dark green area just to northeast of 
Culhuacán is Cerro de la Estrella, Hill of the Star

Pueblo Culhuacán (red area) and its four surrounding barrios
(outlined in black).

The four barrios are, from the north:
Los Tres Reyes (Three Kings) (light green)
San Antonio (light red)
San José Tula (light blue)
San Simón (purple)

Red and orange star marks location of the Chapel of the Lord of Calvary, 
where the parade began. 
The gray lines just to its west are the north-south Avenida Tláhuac and east-west Taxqueña, 
the parade route. Taxqueña crosses the National Canal (blue border line) into Coyoacán and 
the barrios of the Pueblo San Francisco Culhuacán.

Dark gray-green area to the east is Cerro de la Estrella, Hill of the Star.

Pueblo San Francisco Culhuacán,
composed of four barrios,
is on eastern edge of Delegación Coyoacán
marked by red/orange star.

Pueblo San Francisco Culhuacán
(outlined in black).

Four barrios are, from north to south:
Santa María Magdalena Atlazolpa (green)
San Juan Bautista (purple),

and south of the wide, curving Avenida Taxqueña,
along which the parade passed,
 are Santa Anita (blue)
San Francisco (red).

Curving blue line on the east side is the National Canal, aka La Viga
East of the Canal is Pueblo Culhuacán of Iztapalapa
marked by red/yellow star.

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