BIT Blog

Iguanas on Independence Day

Walking out of my friend Carrie’s house, just on the outskirts of downtown, tequila (illegally) in hand, I smelled the aroma of fresh tortillas and roasting meat floating through the air. We were heading downtown to immerse ourselves in the festivities, including the swarm of half-dressed, underage kids from Mexico City (it is the biggest city in the world, you know.)

Turning the corner out of Colonia Guadalupe onto Calzada de La Luz, we were greeted by a group of mounted horses, people dressed in all white with red sashes and enormous torches. Yes torches, though at this point, they were unlit. It was the start of the parade. Tequila had done us right, leading us to just the right moment - the re-enactment of Miguel Hidalgo’s revolution march, otherwise known as El Grito (The Liberty Yell.)

They lit the ceremonial cloth wrapped sticks and chanted, led by a man posing as Miguel Hidalgo, “Viva Mexico!”  Many streets were closed and we followed their flickering lights all the way down to the Jardin, our town square, where enormous sculptures made of fireworks towered above us looking like carnival pinwheels. The Parrochia, the massive cathedral and un-missable icon of San Miguel, was lit up like a Christmas tree. Just before crossing into what is officially centro, the police kindly asked me if I could finish my plastic cup of tequila before entering (significantly nicer than TSA agent in the airport, I might add.)

So I did. Encircling the town square, festive items like flags, tri-colored sombreros, horns and tee-shirts sat alongside the regular vending stalls’ gum and soda. Nearly everyone had on red, white and green, and many more had flags painted on their faces. Fireworks ensued, and we stood shoulder to shoulder with our paisanos (countrymen), as the brilliant light exploded above us, banners of Miguel Hidalgo sparkling in its reflection.

In honor of revolution, I raise my caballito to liberty, to Mexico and to tequila. 

A Broken Heart: the Mythical Birth of the Agave

Tequila is one of the most popular alcohols in North America and is the first known distilled beverage, dating back to the early 16th century. It has been known as mescal wine, mescal brandy and agave wine. The original drink of the maguey before distillation is called pulque and dates back to 1000 B.C. or possibly earlier. The name tequila is adapted from a Nahuatl or Aztec word, teuitl, meaning “work, duty, job or task” and is associated with the terms “place of work”, “place of harvesting plants” and also “the rock that cuts” referring to the obsidian that is plentiful in the Tequila, Jalisco area. Formed by the volcano that erupted over 200,000 years ago, the obsidian created the legend to the dragon that resides in the Volcan de Tequila.

There are often creation legends born from ancient cultures. The legend of the nectar of agave is about a love affair of the gods. Tzinzimiti, the goddess of darkness, swallowed up the light and left the land in darkness. The Aztecs made human sacrifices to her in an attempt to keep the sunshine. Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent god, went to the heavens to fight the goddess and return the sunlight to the land. In his ascension, he met the granddaughter of the goddess, Mayahuel, the goddess of fertility and they fell in love and returned to Earth to live as trees so they would not be found. Tzinzimiti was very jealous of her granddaughter and came to Earth to find and kill her. Mayahuel died in the arms of her lover and he went in search of Tzinzimiti again for his revenge. An Agave grew from her burial mound with pointed leaves to protect her from falling objects and with 400 thorns to represent her 400 breasts - remember she was the goddess of fertility! The other gods saw how Quetzalcoatl cried at her grave and struck the Agave with lightning creating a sweet tasting and smelling sap that oozed from the Agave. If ingested could comfort him and erase the painful memories of his lost lover. The pure nectar was used as a sweetener and as it fermented into a strong visionary drink, known as pulque, and drank by the priests and nobility of the Nahuatl.

Later, after the Mexican revolution, pulque became looked down upon as a drink of the poor and indigenous and the “new” Mexico wanted a more refined drink - tequila. The golden age of cinema in Mexico during the 1940’s brought the ever growing in popularity tequila into the limelight and the general public were taught through films that tequila was a drink for all occasions and even some women were drinking it. Today tequila is one of the most popular drinks of Mexico and North America and still has the reputation to heal whatever ails you, especially if you need comfort or courage …and even more especially to heal a broken heart.