folkloric dancers, lucha libre masks, the Virgen de la
Soledad (the city’s patron saint), angular skeletons and the
lively array of life in the zócalo itself.
Add to that dozens of similar scenes woven out in the
two other materials allowed in the exhibition —
totomoxtle (corn husks) and flor inmortal (dried flowers), and
you have nearly 100 artists in all competing for cash
prizes (about $1,200 to the top winner), family pride and
village bragging rights.
The square is packed with 20,000 festival-goers —
local politicos who come to be seen and photographed,
a swarm of local news media and more than the usual
crush of teenagers, families and oldsters for whom the
plaza is a year-around magnet for strolling, flirting and
drinking coffee or mescal in a sidewalk cafe. The zócalo is
Oaxaca’s original social network.
But this night — with the plaza glowing (quite literally) like 100 Christmas trees, and the massive old city
hall that fills one whole block bathed in garish floodlights, and the sprawling nativity scene built from wood,
papier-mâché and chicken wire surrounded by hundreds of gawking-eyed children, and the large marimba
bands and the solitary horn players competing for pesos
— the zócalo is elevated from quotidian attraction into
a cacophonous carnival of pleasant humanity and civic
endeavor, a celebration that, despite the omnipresence
of smartphones wielded as cameras, is overwhelming
and all-encompassing enough to transport a visitor back
to another Mexico, the one where family and food and
folklore shaped daily life more than the political nastiness, economic maneuvering and dark narco-violence
that dominate headlines today.