In both Disciples churches we attend in San Luis Potosi, there are a few bilingual English-Spanish speakers, most of whom have spent time in the U.S. At the Julien Carrrillo church, Natividad Tovar Torres spent over thirty years as a railroad employee, and a proud union member, after working in the fields of California. Nati and wife Eva Beltran Castro now live on a couple of acres of land in one of the housing developments that have mushroomed on the outskirts of the old town center.
When their pastor Rogelio Espino Lopez invited us to accompany him and his family to lunch in Nati and Eva’s home we gladly accepted. While Pastor Rogelio and Eva talked about the details for the upcoming worship service for his granddaughters’ quincenara birthday party at age 15, Nati proudly gave us a tour of his marigold fields, livestock and rooster (for cock fighting) pens. Drip irrigation keeps over an acre of marigolds flourishing before they are harvested for sale during the Day of the Dead fiesta on October 31. “Cempasuchiles”/marigolds have adorned graves before the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards and are a principal feature of the altars created to honor and remember those departed from Catholic households across Mexico.
We hope the marigold crop is profitable this year because the quincenara (literally “the female at age 15”) last Saturday was a lavish event. A large tent was set up next to the house to accommodate over one hundred fifty guests. Family and church members and friends of Heidi and Jamie participated in the opening worship where numerous gifts were presented to accompany the cousins into adulthood. The significance of each gift was mentioned by Pastor Rogelio or thefriend making the presentation. Following the gift of a Bible, three roses, a ring, a watch, an umbrella, and a pillow led up to their crowning with a tiara. The roses represented the three ages of childhood, innocence and adulthood achieved by Heidi and Jamie. The authority granted all who recognize and accept responsibility as a “child of God” is symbolized by the ring with the pillows serving both practical and symbolic functions for those who regularly go to God in prayer.
The meal began with a delicious cup of “charro” beans (a broth of pinto beans, meat, onions and cilantro), followed by barbecue beef and lamb with rice, fresh tortillas, limes, onion and cilantro and heaps of green or red salsa. The cake was served while many were huddled in groups around the tables under the two tents or defying the soft rain that fell most of the afternoon.
That both fathers did return for their daughters’ quincenaras can be seen as powerful testimony to the durability and importance of the ties of family in the Mexican culture. Transfers of earnings from the States to family members back in Mexico represent further evidence of the strength of those ties. After oil exports, those transfers are the leading source of foreign exchange for Mexico. During the long period of separation of father and mother and father and children, Church friends affirm and bless those family ties as the work of the Creator whose love is always with the family.
We close with an early nineteenth century commentary on the power of family ties within the Mexican cultures. Written by Fanny Calderon de la Barca (Scottish wife of the Spanish ambassador), we find it as true today as when she wrote the letters that make up her renowned 1843 book, Life in Mexico .
“I have seen no country where families are so knit together as in Mexico, where the affections are so concentrated, or where such devoted respect and obedience are shown by the married sons and daughters to their parents….I know many families of which the married branches continue to live in their father’s house, forming a sort of small colony, and living in the most perfect harmony. They cannot bear the idea of being separated and nothing but dire necessity ever forces them to leave their fatherland.”
Dire necessity and the work opportunities in the U.S. during the last one hundred years do not seem to have diminished the bonds of family in Mexico.
Hearty thanks to Heidi Sifuentes Lopez (wife of Pastor Rogelio) for the photos and indispensable help with this post.