Out of his feverish dreams, so the legend goes, Pedro Linares López created bizarre alebrijes. An artist of Colonia La Merced, Mexico City, Pedro, in the 1930s, was already producing the popular Red Judas, burned during Easter celebrations.
The alebrijes–miniature paper Mache and copal wood monsters, hung over doors for protection–were favorites of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Alebrijes today are especially renowned in the State of Oaxaca. They are promoted in yearly festivals by the Museo de Arte Popular. In late October of 2016, in time for Dia de los Muertos, a vast array of giant alebrijes lined the elegant Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s Champs Elysées.
The word, alebrijes, itself, like the fantastic creatures, is not of Spanish or Indigenous origin, but comes from Pedro’s imagination. In Mexico City I recently witnessed not only this parade of famous folk art but enjoyed a taste of acerbic Mexican humor. These Mexican zoomorphic nightmares, not evil but, like gargoyles, designed to ward away evil, were, in one way, but multi-colored jests, bursts of the imagination of multiple Mexican artists, famous and students of art.
However, ominously, some clutched enormous heads of Donald Trump in their claws, keeping him pinned down, protecting the people. In one case, a gigantic figure oozed him out of his/her lower extremities, as if in childbirth . . . or . . . ? Mexico is now reeling from the Trump election. They can hardly believe it. They will recover, as will we, but, possibly, at a lesser level of well-being.
Meanwhile, helping them aguantar—endure–are hundreds of dark humored jokes—and, of course, the alebrijes. Will it be enough? Will Trump, Mexicans wonder, instigate a “wall” of trade war? Will he eliminate the new Ford plant in San Luis Potosí? If so, they’ll lose jobs; on the other hand, we, in the U.S., will be waiting—in vain–for all those restored auto-related jobs in Michigan and coal-related jobs in West Virginia and Kentucky.
Will his puppeteers allow their President Trump to punish U.S. and Mexican companies, through tariffs and fines? He has already threatened those who dare to continue to do business in Mexico, our partner in trade since well before NAFTA in the 1990s. More telling still, will he withdraw his own brand—suits, shirts, ties—the hypocrite manufactures in Mexico? Don’t hold your breath. And the angry, anti-Mexican campaign didn’t stop the continued fusion of monster companies.
Halliburton buys Baker Hughes as Mexico readies for the entry of U.S. private oil companies to compete with PEMEX. AT&T acquires Time Warner. The latter affects CNN International in many ways in Mexico. (“Mercados,” Milenio, 7 Nov. 16). Can, will Trump dare meddle in the march toward globalization among the countries of the Americas? That march started long ago.
Readers who know Mexico from the “old days” remember the lone presence of Sears in the 60s. Those keeping up with business trends in the 80s saw Kleenex force “Popoff” out of business, as the peso fell. We recall sadly the demise of the delicious soda pop, “Soldado Chocolate,” as it succumbed to the “Coca-colonization” of Mexico. Then came the increasingly rapid “MacDonaldization” of Mexico and the invasion by Costco, Walmart, et. al.
The Mexican penchant for “Malinchismo,” preferring foreign-made things, played a part. For better or worse, we are tightly wound together; we are “married,” to an extent, without divorce as a possibility. But it is not all bad or simply a matter of gringo domination. Both cultures continue to share with each other. Right now, in spite of set-backs, Mexico seems on a roll.
Most Mexicans welcome the return of the NFL to Mexico (La Jornada, 4 Nov 16). They exult in the return of international auto racing in the incredibly massive (and incredibly expensive) Autódromo of Mexico City (Mexico Grand Prix: Red Bull vs Ferrari,” AP, 31 Oct 16). The international attention from their commitment is astounding.
We even feel the internationalism down here on the U.S.-Mexican border, in South Texas. For example, we gladly acknowledge the presence of both Aéroméxico and Aérobus. They touch down in the fashionably remodeled airport of Reynosa. It’s not your father’s airport. Yes, gallos de pelea (fighting cocks) are still shipped out, but not as before, right through the main lobby, crowing as they were loaded on the conveyer belt.
The low and the high take advantage of this great local travel /tourism opportunity, connecting us with the world. (And Mexican airlines still serve food). Those who resist the lure of travel to Mexico City or other ports south (or those who share Donald Trump’s xenophobia) have no idea what they are missing. But, yes, it is true; there are other factors, other real monsters with which Mexico must deal.
This parade of horribles includes drug cartels as they continue to elude government scrutiny. But government itself is all too often the culprit. Among four thousand others who suffered between 2006 and 2014, Juan Carlos Soni Bulos, a human rights activist, was beaten by Mexican Marines and subjected to electric shocks, asphyxiation and sexual abuse (C. Sherman, Eduardo Castro, “Torture Haunts Mexico,” Associated Press, 20 Nov 16).
The shame of official abuse added to the nihilism of criminal cartel violence, which has been fueled by the U.S. insatiable desire for drugs and our “fast and loose” lack of sane gun policies.
These policies make for a volatile, anti-human mix. But can we say “Only in Mexico?” No. Many concerned Americans recoil, remembering candidate Donald Trump’s promises to torture, to water-board (Trump, at Plymouth State University, 7 Feb 16; recently reiterated by Pence on “Face the Nation,” 20 Nov 16). Trump also threatened to “kill family members” of suspected terrorists (Trump, on Fox News, 15 Dec 15).
However, in a New York Times interview, 22 Nov 16, Trump “took back” his pledge to water-board. We might well ask, after January 20th 2017, how many other pledges will he “take back,” yet again? Even his demagoguery can’t be trusted? We no longer present to Mexico and to the world the moral high ground of our vaunted Democracy. Indeed, we do need to “make America great again” but, in a new way, by returning as soon as possible to the greatness of a belief in education and science, of sanity and civil discourse. The goal and the method should be a more complete, more genuine Democracy. It will be an uphill battle.
It seems so long ago when most major leaders believed in the entire Bill of Rights (the First—and the rest–as well as the Second Amendment). Now, the shameful list of those who flock to a man they only recently reviled for his fraudulent business activities and his personal insults against women and minorities—and against them (Cruz, Romney, et. al.) is long and growing.
Just think of the multiple new alebrijes—grotesque and multi-hued—artists here could create, useful as parodies of leaders—and as warnings to our people. We must be on guard against all monsters, both foreign and domestic. There may come a day when only our artists, including comedians, much like the Court Jesters who parodied the King, will remain active to console our consciences and sustain our souls.
Editor’s Note: The photos contained in the slideshow accompanying this guest column were taken by Gary Joe Mounce on a recent trip to Mexico City.