Sunday, February 22, 2015

Weekend in Veracruz, part 2: Mamá Juanita's 80th birthday in Maltrata

After two days in Veracruz, Edson and I headed to Maltrata to celebrate Mamá Juanita's 80th birthday!

Mamá Juanita is the matriarch of the family I always stay with in Maltrata, with 10 children (8 in town) and even more grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. I was practically adopted as one of the family during my first visit in 2011, and since then my trips to Maltrata have transitioned from thesis research to personal visits.

This was the third year I've been able to join in for her birthday celebration (check out the blog entries from 2013 and 2014). Since she likes to celebrate on her actual birthday, the festivities took place on a Sunday (thank goodness her birthday didn't fall on a weekday this year!). The morning was busy, preparing for the festivities. Then we quickly got ready to accompany Mamá Juanita at church, where she was mentioned during the service.

Mamá Juanita with 5 of her children after mass 

Me and Edson with Mamá Juanita after mass

Back at the house after church, a mariachi band arrived to serenade her (starting with "Las Mañanitas" of course, the Mexican birthday song) and escort her to the party.

heading up to the party while being serenade by the mariachi band

They went all out for the party! There was a huge tent set up and the tables were beautifully decorated, including gorgeous flower arrangements designed and assembled by Mamá Juanita's son, Ricardo. Mamá Juanita sat at the head table, in a comfy chair reminiscent of a thrown, appropriate for the queen of the day.

The decorations were red and heart-themed. In Mexico, February 14th is known as "El día de amor y amistad," or "the day of love and friendship," expanding the focus a bit from just romantic love. Since her birthday is in February, they tied in to the theme, acknowledging all the people she has loved and that have loved her over these eighty years.

flowers, heart-shaped balloons, and papel picado

Mamá Juanita's birthday celebration


There was a four-tier cake and a gift table eventually overflowing with presents.

cake and gift table

The mariachi band played for a while, followed by a man who sang and played keyboard, followed by a well-known local band. The party started in the afternoon for lunch (around 2 or 3pm, a normal time for lunch in Mexico) and turned into a dance that went on into the night.

mariachi band

me and Edson at the party

We enjoyed soup, chicken with mole (that Mamá Juanita made!), rice, and tamales. I was told that they were expecting 300-350 people, though the waiters estimated that 400 people were there over the course of the afternoon and evening. Apparently they ran out of plates and silverware and had to start washing to accommodate everyone!

chicken with mole and rice

As per tradition in Maltrata, they did the "baile del guajolote" or "turkey dance." 

For this tradition, a basket (or multiple baskets) is prepared, including one or two turkeys, whose heads stick up out of the basket and are secured between dowel rods decorated with tissue paper. Food (such as tortillas and mole) and even drink (like tequila) are place inside the basked and it is wrapped up, usually in a sheet or plastic tablecloth. For Mamá Juanita's birthday celebration, there was one basket with two turkeys: one decorated as the woman, with earrings and a hair accessory (or shower cap?), and the other as a man with a hat and a cigarette. 

the guajolotes prepared for Mamá Juanita's birthday celebration

When it's time for the turkey dance, there is a specific song (though I'm not sure what it's called, maybe just "Guajolote"?). Men, and sometimes women, take turns dancing with the (heavy!) basket, rocking it back and forth, spinning around, and sometimes tossing it into the air. The women, and sometimes the men, dance with flowers, candles, and incense. 

I'm ready with flowers for the baile del guajolote

ready for the baile del guajolote

Rosa María, ready with a candle for the baile del guajolote (and note the incense in the air) 

el baile del guajolote

el baile del guajolote

After the dance, the basket (or baskets) is given to the padrino ("godparent" or "sponsor," depending on the occasion) as a thank you. 

I didn't record a video this time, but you can check out two of my videos from previous "turkey dances" in Maltrata here or here. According to a quick Youtube search, it looks like the "turkey dance" is common in Oaxaca -- but there they dance with live turkeys!!

A few more photos before my camera battery died: 

with Paty, Arturo, and Alex... Axel was hiding behind them and refused to
take a photo with me the entire day! 
Mamá Juanita with 8 of her 10 children

Mamá Juanita with some of her children, daughters-in-law, grandchildren,
great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren

It was a fantastic celebration for a wonderful woman! I'm so glad to have met this family, been welcomed with open arms, and been able to celebrate Mamá Juanita's 80th birthday! 

with Mamá Juanita

I spent the night, then stayed long enough on Monday for a bit of downtime with the family and (delicious) leftovers for lunch before heading back to the DF. 

They sent me home with mole, and I was pretty proud of myself for making chicken and mole enchiladas and chicken vegetable soup (mostly to be able to use the chicken for the enchiladas and broth to prepare the mole paste). Yum! 

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