Charro Days

It’s “Charro Days” this week in Brownsville, Texas. The men have grown beards, and the women have been preparing the Mexican revolutionary-period dresses they will wear. There will be a number of parades at the end of the week, and so the children’s costumes have been readied (the boys as Mexican cowboys (the “charro”); the girls as Mexican Indians).

On Sunday, the fiesta began with the “grito”—the Mexican shout, an undulating cry that lasts for a very long while, and raises the hair on my neck. To me, the most interesting part of the grito is the preparation—a long moment of concentration, a deep drawing in of breath, and then an explosive exaltation. Fitting, for to me the grito is, amongst many things, a joyful celebration of one’s God-given dignity. It is a grand way to start the week.
On Monday, the school district presented a folkloric dance festival. Tuesday was a day of clearing the desk and getting things done so as to have the rest of the week free.

On Wednesday, the weekly Bargain Book arrived, filled with good deals from around the area. Amongst the ads for used cars and furniture for sale were a number of solicitations for maids. “Looking for a woman to do housework, Monday through Friday. Must stay overnight. $ 120 pay for the week.” The ads are in Spanish; perhaps no one who has English would do this sort of work.

On Thursday, the celebration will begin in earnest. The weather will be fine. The children will be cute, and the food, as always, will be great. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, all of Brownsville will turn out for the fiesta.

Except, of course, for the maids. They will be working in our homes, putting things in order, preparing an after-the-fiesta snack for the revelers. As the maids are Mexican, things will be in Mexican order. The house will be neat as a pin and meticulously cleaned; the snacks will have the ping! of chile or the romance of chocolate.
The maids that I know do not think to celebrate Charro Days by dressing up in period costumes, or combing their hair into braids. As with all workdays, they will put on sensible shoes and clothing. As they go about their work, they wear pleasant, quiet expressions. Disturbingly quiet expressions.

Now and again, however, something crosses their faces, and it is not pleasant, nor quiet. I have witnessed this moment many times, and it is a serious, if not chilling thing to behold.

It could be that they are in that “pre-grito” moment, focusing on that unborn, yet to be felt moment of freedom, drawing a breath deep down inside, getting ready for that grand release of joy.

But there is no grito cry. It is not the time or the place, not yet. These women are working as maids, after all, making only about three dollars an hour. No joy and not much dignity in that, except that they are doing this for their children and their parents, in which case there is incalculable joy and dignity.

That idea brings a smile to my face. It also inspires me to a more careful respect for them. Hope, that catalyst for change, is a dangerous, unstable commodity.

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