Americans in the U.S. and Americans in Mexico (we are all Americans in the Americas) say Gracias a Dios. We say “thank God” we live in lands with freedom of speech. 

That includes freedom to laugh and make fun, especially of political figures and parties. Our senses of humor help sustain us, help each country get through difficult times, time of the Coronavirus, time of Trump and time of AMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador, President of Mexico). 

Each of those presidents has down-played the virus. Trump, upon learning of his own contagion: “It’s a blessing.” Before, he had said “it will disappear.” AMLO, boasting of his magical amulet (a “détente,” to prevent harm), “you have to hug; nothing happens.” (Ioan Grillo, New York Times, 23 Mar 20). Each man’s actions and words merit—and receive—vicious, appropriate spoofing.

In Mexico, as in the U.S., most of the media—even the government—advise the opposite of what those Heads of State are modeling. Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum of Mexico City has shut down cinemas, museums, gyms and bars. The federal government has a social distancing campaign, “Susana Distancia,” the super-hero’s name a play on “sana distancia,” or “healthy distance” (Grillo). Everything helps—distancing, masks—but more is needed.

Needed help comes though humor and satire, to help aguantar (“endure”) the pandemic. In Mexico, some who provide this help include the program Latinus, with Carlos Loret de Mola. In addition, Chumel Torres, on El Pulso de la Republica raises contemporary issues, with humor.For those with enough Spanish, solace can be found, via YouTube, from the program El Duende, Preguntón (the “Inquisitive Elf”). 

Riffs on that program are very much like SNL. Comedians perform parodies of AMLO, in a squeaky voice, with bad grammar (“eh que, eh que,” instead of es que, for “that is. . . “). In contrast, he presumably is speaking with macho, deep throated Marcelo Ebrard, former Mayor of Mexico City (slovenly called “Máje by AMLO). Of course, in many cases, humor does not translate well from culture to culture. Some even suggest parodies actually work to “humanize” the characters they are making fun of. But the laughter of many listeners, as they hear their favorite comic “burlando” (joking), often seems the only way to desahogarse (literally “to undrown”). A wonderful word, that, since life, with its troubles, is often about “drowning;” escaping from that fate is the opposite to undrown!

Mexican humor is often based on doble sentido or double meanings. (Or triple, as perfected by Cantínflas, famous stage and film comedian of yore.) Thus, providing some protection from authorities, very profound political satire can be buried amid bar-talk, street banter, even sexual innuendo. In print, one master, deceased, a friend and confidant of mine, was the famous “rius,” (Eduardo del Rio), whose “Supermachos” comics featured the poor, but inquisitive “Everyman,” Calzoncín. Later, he was transported into a famous film by Arau. 

In our day, television and social media dominate, both in the U.S. and Mexico. Yet, it is worth remembering the clever written humor on taxis or trucks in the old days. One special memory from my time teaching in Mexico, spied on one end of a truck bumper: “En Cada Esquina Una Amor…; then, on the other end, was added: “dida.” (Translation: On Every Corner a Love….? No, a mordida, a “bite” or bribe.) Or, my favorite political admonition, in giant letters on a wall: “Exigimos Soluciones!”—We Demand Solutions! (to what, exactly, the writer didn’t specify). The anger and frustration were palpable. Not meant as a joke, surely, but the outcome was humorous to me. 

Our sister Republic and its Americans are creative. They love to laugh. Some of the humor is very dark. Scarcely a day had gone by after a tragedy — the famous 1985 terremoto (earthquake)–until “jokes” abound of a macabre nature. Sociologists maintain it is a special Mexican way of dealing with loss and sorrow—laughing at death! 

As we approach the now world-famous Dia de los Muertos—Day of the Dead — we are reminded of that lovely Aztec/Mexican holiday. Only reflect, review the delightful animated films, “Book of Life” or “Coco.” Build your own altar. I will have my altar to my parents, inside my home, but I lament—due to CV—the inability for schools and museums to present their altars and host their homages.

No one in Mexico or the U.S. can keep us from respecting our ancestors, nor protecting our living parents, grandparents and family. Donald Trump still makes fun of those who wear masks; he insists “no one is affected by the virus,” although he has now infected his own son. AMLO is equally erratic. Amid 85,000 deaths, he vowed (after promising to step down) “even if millions demand it, I won’t leave.” Both possess authoritarian tendencies. Both lack leadership qualities that might inspire the citizens of each country to have hope, to progress.  

At least Americans in the U.S. have an election soon, through which they might make substantial changes for the better. Mexico, alas, is only in the middle of a presidential “sexenio,” third year out of a term of six years. A long wait! Which brings me to another joke I heard while teaching at the Universidad de las Américas, in Cholula, Puebla. A professor announces to her students: “there are two ways Mexico can survive its problems—the technical and the miraculous.” 

Her students beg to know: “The technical? La Virgen de Guadalupe arrives, waves her hands, makes Mexico safe and on the road to prosperity.” Astonished students exclaim: “That’s the technical solution? Then, what’s the miraculous?” “Oh, for Mexicans to forget divisions, unite, and work together for the benefit of all!” Ojalá!

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Dr. Gary Joe Mounce. It appears in The Grande Guardian with the author’s permission. Mounce can be reached at: [email protected].

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows a celebration of Dia de los Muertos on la Isla de Janitzio.

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