By Ellen Donnison
This month Ventana Latina had the pleasure of interviewing Cesar Gustavo Iriate, a student at the University of Sussex. Cesar is currently undertaking a doctorate in in economics and his research is geared towards Mexico and its economic labour. Cesar is also the vice-president of MEXAS (Mexican and Latin American Students at Sussex), a society at the University of Sussex, which celebrates Mexican and Latin American culture.
This year on 5 December a posada was organised by Cesar. The posada is an important celebration that forms part of the Christmas festivities in Mexico. The posadas are celebrated for nine days from the 16th to the 24th of December. The nine days that make up these celebrations represent the pilgrimage made by Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born. Cesar was kind enough to tell us a little about the MEXAS society and the posada.
Cesar Gustavo Iriarte: Of course! MEXAS is partly to do with the transition of Mexican students who come here as foreigners and aims to get us together, which is part of our tradition of getting together and helping one another. This year we decided to include ‘Latin America’ in the society’s title because we also have Latin American students that form part of this group. We changed the name, which is now, Mexican and Latin American Students at Sussex. The objective that we have is one: promote Mexican and Latin American culture within the university and two: help make the transition of Mexican and Latin American students from their countries to England easier. We have a lot of colleagues in Mexico and Latin American who send us emails, Facebook messages and ask us how we are getting on in England and whether the cost of living is okay. Currently there are twenty-one universities in the United Kingdom, which have their own Mexican society such as LSE, UCL, the University of Edinburgh, Glasgow etc. The aim we have at the University of Sussex is the same objective that they have. MEXAS is not only for Mexicans, of course MEXAS does a lot of things to help Mexicans but we also want to share our culture. Therefore, as an example, if you are British or from the Czech Republic and you want to learn about Mexican culture, MEXAS welcomes everyone. We have ninety-one registered members in the society and I think sixty per cent are from outside Mexico and Latin America. We therefore have a lot of people who are interested in the activities of MEXAS.
VL. 2. How important are the posada parties in Mexico?
C.G.I: Mexico is a nation which has a lot of parties and I believe that the posada in the biggest after the celebrations of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The posada is celebrated in December and is important because families get together during this time. In Mexico families can be very large and in December family members who live further away are invited in December to have a reunion. In some families there can be up to fifty people in one house celebrating the posada. It’s also very common for families to live very close together, in the next street for example or in the same house where many family members live together. I think this feeling of closeness to our families and friends is why we try and get together when we go abroad which is why we have these societies in the UK and in other countries abroad too. When we talk about the posadas we are talking about a party where we get together, so there are no sad posadas, they are just enjoyed. It’s a celebration where songs are sung and it involves a ritual where people visit another house and sing verses of a song from the perspective of Mary and Joseph. They sing so that the people inside the house will let them in. The people inside the house also sing the other verses from the innkeeper’s perspective. When the song is finished the ‘innkeeper’ let’s the people in. Then the party starts.
VL. 3. Is there food and drink typical to the posada?
C.G.I: Yes, at a typical posada in Mexico we have aguinaldos. The aguinaldos are packets of sweets that families prepare for you when you arrive. Aguinaldo is a bonus of extra money that you are given at the end of your working year. Many years ago people gave money to others, above all children and more often between families. Uncles gave money to their nephews and nieces; fathers gave money to their children. But the celebration changed over time and now the aguinaldos consist of bags of sweets and animal biscuits in large bags that cost around ten pesos, though you can’t find these types of things in the UK. Also, you can’t find ponche here either. Ponche is a hot drink, which is made of various fruits such as guava, tejocote, sugar cane and orange. It’s prepared as a tea in big pans and is served during the posada and it is really delicious. Some people add tequila, which is called ponche con piquet (spiked ponche). The typical sweets of December in Mexico are called collación and are what are used to fill the piñata.
VL. 4. How did you celebrate posada in the UK?
C.G.I: The food and drink I mentioned are really typical in Mexico but they can’t be found here. Therefore the way we adapted the posada was we had a piñata for decoration but we didn’t break it, as the place we had the posada was very small! The chef in the IDS café at the University of Sussex is Mexican and he prepared some enchiladas, which are Mexican and we had party. At the event I showed a video where people could learn about the posada celebrations in Mexico because as I said before, part of what MEXAS tries to do is share our culture with others. In a nutshell the aim of the posada was to get together, have a party, dance, learn about the posada and to have a good time.
VL. 5. Do you have a particularly happy memory from a past posada party?
C.G.I: Yes I think so, as I mentioned to you before it’s a celebration that is especially celebrated amongst families at the end of the year and that I have many fond memories of. During the posada people break a piñata but they do this while someone suspends it from the roof of their house. I remember one time in particular when we were celebrating the posada, drinking ponche, eating and it was my sister’s turn to hit the piñata. Here piñatas are made of cardboard but in Mexico they are made of mud pots, which are covered with coloured paper. When you break it with a stick, it’s easy for all of the contents to fall onto the floor. Anyway my sister was hitting the piñata and her eyes were covered with fabric, as this is part of the tradition to make it harder to hit the piñata. At one point whilst hitting the piñata it rose and when my sister tried to hit it again and missed, it suddenly fell on her head! Obviously we were worried about her at first but she was fine and now this incident has turned into joke amongst my family!
V.L. Thank you very much for talking to us.
C.G.I: Not at all, you’re very welcome.
To learn more about MEXAS visit their Facebook page: Mexican Students Society at Sussex (MEXSAS)