A brief discussion of some of our experiences while living and traveling in Michoacán, Mexico.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
I have talked about children a lot in these post but I return to it again for a more focused look. We often here the expression that “it takes a village to raise a child”. This expression seems to have multiple meanings depending on the speaker or the audience. It might mean better education, more program support for parents, fewer punitive responses from the community or more acceptance of children in housing and on the streets. Let’s look again at a few events which I believe show how the community here participates in raising children. I describe again the feature of the day of the revolution parade that impress me. The celebration takes place on November 20, but the week before the preschool children dress in their revolutionary costumes and take to the streets in a parade. There are quite a number of children in rural Mexico but the community waits patiently while the parade blocks streets and parents and friends throw confetti on the children. This year they were accompanied by an adult marching band. Then on November 20 the older children, as well as a few adults like the mayor, the queen for the day, and men on horses form a parade that takes about 90 minutes to pass. The majority of the towns traffic is brought to a standstill. The young people have their own school bands and it is clear that everyone is taken seriously; they are centre stage for the day and much of the community participates with cheering and confetti. Young people learn their history (some being dressed as revolutionary heros and other carrying images), a great deal of time is spent in preparing (learning how to march around corners) and they are seen as important in the eyes of the community. Surprisingly this whole thing is repeated for the first day of spring when the preschool children hold a parade through the centre of town in their birds and bees costumes. But in a very general sense we find that children are not excluded from events. They spend the night in the cemeteries with their parents and grandparents, they are taken to restaurants, they walk on the streets (there being very few strollers), they help their parents in stores and stalls from a very early age and they appear to be part of the community in ways seldom seen in other parts of North America (except perhaps among immigrant families). During the biggest religious festival of the year I was struck by the clarity of this belongingness and the inclusion of children. Two images: first, in the Basilica many families chose to crawl on their knees up the aisle to the alter (thus fulfilling a promise). Parents and children did this together. At times the children would turn the crawl into a competition but they were never scolded or restrained. One parent chose this occasion to provide her daughter with another lesson in crossing herself properly. All of this in a standing crowd of 600-700 people. Second, during a religious procession (the entire event had gone on 16 hours) one of the mothers playing an important role throughout the day, was carrying a young child who was sound asleep. This while following the most important image of the community and also the bishop who had come to town to assist in the celebrations.
In this community I have seldom heard children crying, being shouted at, being treated roughly or throwing a tantrum. If you do see any of these behaviours it is invariably a family from the big city. Children appear happy, alive, confident of who they are and fully participating in the life of the community. One can not help but be struck by the absence of a strong youth culture in this semi-rural community. Everyone listens to the same music, the only difference being individual preference not age. By the age of 2 years, children know exactly how to move their body and feet to the music. We attended a concert of a local, and somewhat famous, group a few nights ago and the theatre appeared half full of children, none of whom were quiet. I heard no one complain nor did I hear children being scolded. (Although we did move seats because the kids behind us were talking and hitting the seat.) I decided at that moment that here was the answer to why the volume is always very loud at Mexican events. Some of these same children of course put graffiti on our walls on the way home from school. I am also not naive enough to believe that all is sweetness. Many children are abandoned by families too poor to care from them or have limited parenting skills or no extended family. One little boy we have watched for a few years is not allowed to get back into the house without a specified sum of money. He literally sings for his supper. There are probably the same numbers of abused children and mothers, the same numbers of family breakdowns and so on as you would find in other parts of North America. But something is clearly different as well.