Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Kitchenspace, Fiestas, and Cultural Reproduction in Mexican House-Lot Gardens*

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Kitchenspace, Fiestas, and Cultural Reproduction in Mexican House-Lot Gardens*

Article excerpt

The house blessing and communal meal launches the final stages of preparation for the big celebration two weeks from now. Twenty years ago, Dona Silvia of Xochimilco and her husband, Don Miguel, a migrant from an indigenous community in the nearby state of Mexico, signed up to be hosts this year of the most beloved baby Jesus figure of Xochimilco, the Ninopa. (1) Throughout an entire year beginning on 2 February, the day celebrating the first formal presentation of the baby Jesus in the temple and the purification of the Blessed Virgin, the hosts are responsible for providing a home for the "Nino" and offering prayers every night (Orta Hernandez 1991). With a name meaning "child of the place" in Nahuatl, this small, hand-carved wooden statue is said to represent the baby Jesus syncretized with the child version of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli 500 years ago (Cordero Lopez 2001). Harking back to pre-Hispanic religious beliefs, he is treated much like a live child. With a large inventory of clothing and toys, the Ninopa is known for his mischief, his miracles, and his love of the local canals and chinampas, or raised agricultural beds unique to Xochimilco, now a suburb of Mexico City. The Ninopa draws crowds every day of the year, but especially on the day on which new hosts receive him into their home for the year. Thousands flock to pay him homage, mostly from Xochimilco but including pilgrims from as far south as Oaxaca.

The crowds are so large today, 2 February 2001, that--after Mass in the church courtyard, where people bring their children, baby Jesus figures, and corn kernels selected as seed for the coming planting for blessing--the hosts decide to serve the food in the street several blocks away rather than in the cramped house-lot garden between the three houses in the family plot, where only a few dozen especially honored guests are offered a table. This departure from tradition causes more than a bit of anger, frustration, and logistical difficulties, among them the transfer of a dozen huge clay pots full of rice to the impromptu location at the end of the narrow, winding alley [Figure 1]. After the meal people are allowed to file into the house-lot garden and newly built house to visit the Ninopa. Many are moved to tears as they bow to kiss the hem of his gown.

In preparation for 2 February, men clean and decorate the streets while women work in the house-lot garden to prepare chilies, rice, tamarind, and other ingredients for the big day. In addition to making bulk purchases at Mexico City's principal wholesale market, Dona Silvia has raised a sow and fourteen piglets in the house-lot garden, while Don Miguel raised a few cattle and a special crop of corn on the chinampas. (2) The women, several dozen in all, also prepare today's meal--except the meat, which is traditionally men's work--for the hundred or so who will come for the house blessing. As the meal is served, a group of men gather in the back of the house-lot garden near the pig pens [Figure 2]. One of the "uncles" from the extended family, who had worked with his nephew until 3:00 A.M. slaughtering the sow, had come in the morning to prepare the meat, soaking it in tequila, oranges, pineapple, milk, and herbs. The smell of pork frying in the large metal pot over the wood fire is tantalizing.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Giving my fingers a break from deseeding chilies in the women's work circle, I join the men for conversation in the back--acceptable only because of my special status as a visitor and student of food traditions. Other women enter this male space only briefly, to collect heaping platters of cooked pork. The older men, Don Miguel and his friends--many of them also indigenous migrants and agricultural laborers--speak Otomi and drink pulque. (3) Most of the younger men drink rum and Coca-Cola. As we toast with plastic cups, Don Miguel asks proudly, "And you, fair-skinned one, what do you think of our traditions? …

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