Contrary to the popular image of a country dominated by drug lords, mariachi music and girls going wild, Mexico is more like a delicious mix of indigenous cultures and transplanted European traditions that, in sum, distinguish it from practically any other Latin American country. With all the Aztec, Mayan, Zapotecan, Mixtecan, Olmec and Hispanic (the list could go on) cultural influences and their unique variations, it’s no surprise that just about every day of the year there’s a muy buena razón to celebrate.
Yet, there’s a very real but less perceptible motivation permeating the many festive events that explode like colorful fireworks around every corner of the Caribbean and Central America. It spawns from the importance attached to family, and by extension the tribe: a deep, even personal need for members of a community to continually express their cultural heritage – to be heard over a crowded field of competing traditions in order to validate their social significance and, ultimately, individual dignity.
This isn’t surprising. Perhaps no other region of the world has been so broadly impacted by European colonization. The difference between here and other continents of conquest may be the slow digestion of Westernization into the region’s wider, corrugated geography – where despite the crowning efforts of Cortés, Pizarro, Velasquez, Penn, the West India Company and others, shards of fully functioning cultures, left relatively untouched by colonization, continued to flourish. Cultural identity isn’t so easily exterminated.
That said, the truth is we live in a shrinking global society in which exploding technology and an expanding world population make the further homogenization of these unique local identities likely, if not inevitable. When you look at the Latin American images on the Wall, consider not just the moment captured in time, but the voice of a cultural tradition calling out… and even holding the high note, if just quietly.