The Roscón de Reyes and The Epiphany

Around this time of year it is great to celebrate the traditions that we hold dear to our hearts but it can also be fun to learn a little about how other countries celebrate the holidays.  Some of us Latinos celebrate what is known as Die de Reyes or King’s Day.

You may have more of a clue as to what this holiday means when I tell you that it is also known as Three Kings Day.  This is the day in which the Three Kings from the East also known as the three wise men also known as the Magi traveled to see baby Jesus and present them with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  This is known as The Epiphany; the day that the son of god was incarnated into human form as Jesus Christ.

So how does one celebrate Three Kings Day?  While there are many traditions that go hand in hand with Día de Reyes this article is to be about the roscón de reyes.

Roscón de reyes is a traditional dessert that is eaten on King’s Day which falls on January 6th.  It is usually round or oval in shape and it has a special meaning that pertains to the holiday which is celebrated in many Latin countries and even in France.

The Cake

At a glance, roscón de reyes looks a lot like a Bundt cake or a fruit cake and it does share some similarities to both. It is baked in a roundish shape like a Bundt cake and includes fruit like a fruit cake. However, unlike both of those cakes, roscón de reyes is filled with cream at the center and there is another surprise hidden inside the cream. It is traditional to include a small figurine inside the cake for children. The cake is sliced up and served and all the children hope to have been given the slice with the gift inside.

The Roscon de Reyes and the Epiphany

The Roscon de Reyes and the Epiphany

The Roscón de Reyes and The Epiphany

The main point of the roscón de reyes and the Epiphany is that the cake and the gift inside reflect the gift that the Three Kings from the East gave to Jesus.  The figurine is sometimes of the baby Jesus himself and that variation hearkens to the story of Mary and Joseph who had to flee their home from King Herod who aimed to slay the baby messiah. Thus, the roscón de reyes and the Epiphany go hand in hand.

A Simple Recipe of Roscón de Reyes

If you want to try your hand at making Roscón de reyes here is a simple recipe.

  1. Blend sugar and citrus zest.
  2. Dissolve yeast with warm milk in a large bowl.
  3. Add the sugar and citrus zest plus 2 eggs, orange, flower, water and salt to the large bowl and stir.
  4. Add flower to the warm milk.
  5. Knead dough until it is smooth.
  6. Cover the bowl and let sit for an hour.
  7. Work the dough into a log about 30 inches long and two and a half inches thick then join the ends to form a circle.
  8. Place the circular dough on a baking sheet and put it in the oven at low heat for about an hour.
  9. Remove the pan, break an egg over the dough and place your dried fruits and candy on top
  10. And return the dough to the oven at 400 degrees for about another half hour.

If you venture to make the roscón de reyes send me some pictures, I would love to publish them here!

Christmas Foods in Argentina

When most people think about Christmas they think about cold climates and warm food but should you find yourself in Argentina during the holiday season you will experience a much different atmosphere.

As you probably already know when it is winter for us here in the Northern Hemisphere it is summer for those in South America and their winter cuisine reflects that fact.  The Argentines have a very unique tradition when it comes to Christmas meals.  They do not eat roasted turkey and ham like we do in the states.

Vitel Thone

Sitting around the dinner table for an Argentine Christmas meal, you are sure to see slices of meat topped with a whitish cream being consumed.  Vitel Thone is one of the most popular and traditional dishes for Christmas Eve in Argentina and it is a dish that is very unique.

First of all it has its roots in Italy.  As you also probably already know Argentina has a very strong German and Italian influence and Vitel Thone definitely comes from the old country.  Essentially it is a dish composed of sliced veal and topped with a sauce made of mayonnaise, anchovies and tuna.

The veal is roasted in a large ceramic pot and thrown in with quarters of onions and large slices of carrots.  Water is also added for steaming.  You cook this mixture for about three hours and then the veal is ready to be sliced.

The sauce is a mixture of onion, anchovies, milk cream and lots of mayonnaise. Tuna is traditionally added to the sauce but some leave it out depending on individual tastes.  Once you have the veal cooked and sliced and the sauce whisked, preparation is relatively simple.  Just arrange the slices on a plate and evenly spread the sauce over the flanks of meat and enjoy.

Christmas Foods In Argentina

Christmas Foods In Argentina

Christmas Foods in Argentina  –  Cool Foods for a Hot Climate

This is where Christmas foods in Argentina really start to differ from what we perceive to be typical of holiday foods.  Since it is so hot during Christmas in Argentina, Argentine Christmas foods include plenty of cold served dishes for the sake of refreshment.

Waldorf salad which is essentially a mixture of walnuts, apples, celery and peanuts in mayonnaise and served atop lettuce leaves is a common site for Argentine Christmas meals.  It is also common to see cold sandwiches served as part of the complete Argentine Christmas meal.

Drinks

What holiday gathering would be complete without a drink?  In Argentina the libation of choice for Christmas is Anana Fizz which is a sparkling mixture of cider and pineapple juice.  Of course Argentina makes some of the finest wines in the world so expect to see the vino flowing around the dinner table as well.

Sweets

The Argentine Christmas meal is topped off with a variety of sweets that include pan dulce or sweet bread that is baked with dried fruit.  Nougat is also popular in the hot Argentine climate and is shared during the holiday season.  Perhaps the most popular brand of nougat candy in Argentina is Mantecol so you can find it in any Argentine grocery store.

It seems that grilling is an year-round thing in Argentina so don’t be surprised if you see the parrillada, or grill all fired up and topped with meats like pig and chicken.  You can read a whole lot more about South American Christmas foods here.  Eat, read and enjoy!

Medellin Christmas Lights

We have talked about traveling to Medellin and things to do there.  Hopefully I have mentioned the best times to visit Medellín but if I have somehow up to now neglected such information, let me take this time to offer up a glimpse of what Medellín Christmas lights experience is.

As winter is now in full swing and I am filled with the Christmas spirit, it brings to mind the stunning Christmas lights of Medellín.  You can probably see where I am going with this now but let me spell it out in plain English just in case: one of the best times you can visit Medellín, Colombia is during the month of December if only to experience the Medellín Christmas lights

That’s right I said experience, not see.  Medellín Christmas lights are an experience as the whole city is adorned in brilliant light and breathtaking designs.  If you are in Medellín during the holiday you must visit the Medellin River.  Millions of dollars are spent each year for Medellin Alumbrados (Medellin Christmas lighting) and the river decorations are the focal point of the effort.

The designs are amazing.  There are the traditional images you think of when you think of Christmas like candy canes and Santa Claus and then there are unique and artistic lighting designs.  For example you will probably see huge fish composed of light and wire framing along the river as well as lily pads lit up in green hovering above the water.

Medellín goes big too.  The sizes of the lighting installments are enormous.  Entire buildings are blanketed in light.  Major thoroughfares are lined top to bottom, end to end with stellar points of illumination.  You will likely see giant flowers, birds, Christmas presents and even elves represented in glorious light.

Medellin Christmas Lights

Medellin Christmas Lights

Medellín Christmas Lights Are a Serious Tradition

You may have thought that Christmas lights were a big deal here in the States but Colombians take their X-mas lights very seriously.  The tradition was born in 1851 when the Plaza Mayor was the locale for the very first public Alumbrados in Medellin.  It was revamped in 1955 when the Empresas Publicas de Medellin was formed.  The EPM is essentially a utility company and they took it upon themselves to revive the tradition and are now major players of the Alumbrados every year.

The Medellin Alumbrados exemplify the Christmas themes of unity and peace quite well because the whole ordeal is very much a community effort.

The EPM organizes most of the lighting but the community is called upon for help and ideas for concepts.  The whole thing really is an experience.  For example in 2014 there was not only a theme to the lighting but a story to go along with the installments as well.  The story was about a girl named Paloma who traveled down the Medellin River to learn about important human values.

Each year has a different theme that reflects the traditions of Colombia and the Christmas spirit as well.  The EPM and volunteers spend the whole month of November preparing for the Alumbrado and the lights are usually switched on and presented on December 7th the day before celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Conception or el día de las velitas.  Thousands of tourists descend on Medellin every holiday season just to see these world famous lights.

A Site that Words Fail

To put it simply, words cannot convey the beauty of the Alumbrado Navideño.  The installments are wondrous, enchanting, inspiring and oddly humbling.  The behemoths of light make you feel small somehow and their beauty make one appreciate the grander aesthetics of the world.

The Medellín Christmas lights can take you to another world and make you see our world in a new way.  You can spend hours wandering around the city and taking in the lights which would be worth the trip alone.

So, if you were to ask me about the best times to visit Medellin, December would definitely be one of them. For more about Colombian culture, read visiting Medellín during Feria de Las Flores.

Main Ingredients in Mexican Food

I have very fond memories from childhood of my mother cooking in the kitchen traditional Spanish and Mexican dishes. Associated with those memories are a host of sensory impressions, most prominent being smell.  Her cooking would fill the whole house with delicious scents emanating from the main ingredients in Mexican food that were always present in our home.

Main Ingredients in Mexican Food

For anyone who doesn’t already know I am pleased to bring you the most important ingredients (at least in my opinion) in traditional Mexican food.

Avocados

If you do not have avocados stocked in your pantry you are missing out on a host of delicious Mexican dishes.  Avocados most prominently are used to make guacamole.  I remember my mother’s homemade guacamole.  She used 5-8 avocados, added diced onions a little sugar and lime juice.  Of course, guacamole can also be used as a topping for many traditional Mexican foods such as tortas.

Tomatoes

While tomatoes may be an important staple the world over, the Mexican use of tomatoes reaches into almost every dish which is why it is on this list.  Personally, my mother used tomatoes to make her Spanish rice.  She also included it in tortilla soup, steak picado and even her guacamole.

Poblanos

The thing I like most about Mexican food is that it is spicy but not esophageal erosion spicy.  One of the secrets to attaining this perfect balance of spice, mildness and flavor is the use of poblano chilies. They can be used in a variety of ways but I remember them being used mainly in homemade salsas and chili rellenos.

Main Ingredients In Mexican Food

Main Ingredients In Mexican Food

Limes

I may be overstating a concept that is fundamentally simple but in my opinion, limes make all Mexican foods better.  In my house, limes were usually chopped into quarters and served on a small dish on the dinner table for everyone to grab and squeeze onto their food as they wished.

One of the best uses for limes from my childhood home was to squeeze a whole quarter slice’s worth of lime juice into my mother’s Albondigas (meatball soup).

Mexican Cheese

If you have ever eaten a Mexican dish in your life you probably know how important queso is to Mexican cuisine.  Take for example the Enchilada.  An enchilada is like Mexican lasagna and it relies heavily on cheese.

My sister makes some killer enchiladas and her cheese of choice is queso fresco.  It gives the dish a bit of natural saltiness and melts to perfection. Pepperjack cheese was also a pretty common cheese in my home growing up for making quesadillas.  It added a good level of spiciness…before tapatío was inevitably added of course.  Last but not in any way least…

Tortillas

I couldn’t think of any food more essential to Mexican cuisine or any better way to round off this list than the all-important tortilla.  My mother use to tell me stories about growing up poor in Los Angeles and how her mother, no matter how bad things were would always have tortillas in the house.  She would give my mom and my aunts and uncle flour tortillas adorned with nothing more than melted butter when things were especially tight.

Tortillas are more than a staple food for the poor of course.  My mom never made her own but she always went to tortillerías to buy freshly made corn and flour tortillas.  I remember using flour tortillas to sop up the juices from steak picado, scooping up Spanish rice with sour cream into a tortilla, and dousing a corn tortilla with the broth from my mother’s albondigas.

Tortillas are indispensible ingredients in enchiladas and of course tacos and burritos as well as other traditional Mexican dishes that I am sure I am forgetting.

Well there you have it; my list of the most important ingredients in Mexican cuisine.  For more information on other main ingredients in Mexican food, check out this article about Mexican Chocolate.

 

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The feast of the Immaculate Conception is a holy day in the Catholic Church that is celebrated every year on December 8th.  It is a day that shows just how important a figure the Virgin Mary is to Latinos and Catholics all over the world.  You may be thinking right off the bat that the feast of the Immaculate Conception is the day that Mary was impregnated with Christ but that is a popular mistake that people make.  In fact the feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates Mary’s own birth.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception – Reasoning

It seemed incumbent for the Catholic Church to stress the special way not only that Christ was born, but also the unique and holy way that his mother was born as well.  In 1854 Pope Pius IX made it dogma the concept of Mary’s birth: she was not born of a virgin birth but at her conception, she was absolved of the original sin that tarnished every human being upon conception.

This was necessary if she was to ultimately become the virgin mother of the messiah.  This exception not only made her conception holy, but her entire life as well because it was also accepted as Dogma that Mary never sinned a day in her life and was kept consecrated so that she could give the purest of births to Christ.

This is another reason why Mary is prayed to and seen as such an important figure in the Catholic Church. She is the only human being to have never committed one transgression against God.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception Day

Now that we have a bit of background on the feast of the Immaculate Conception let’s talk about how it is celebrated and why it is important in the Latin community.  Immaculate Conception day has actually been made a public holiday in many Latin countries. However, no matter what country you are in, if you are of the Catholic faith the feast of the Immaculate Conception is a day of obligation.  This means that mass must be attended.  The mass is the focal point of the celebration.

It is celebrated in different ways all over the world.  For example, one tradition of the holiday is The Dance of the Six which is essentially a procession of children dressed in especially bejeweled garments carry a likeness of Mary over their heads through the streets.

In Nicaragua, the day resembles what we Americans would see as a combination of 2 big holidays in our country.  They set up alters in front of their homes and neighbors come by and sing songs and to exchange gifts.  Kind of sounds like carolers on Christmas right?  When the evening falls, firecrackers are lit in the streets.  Sort of sounds like Independence Day doesn’t it?

At any rate, no matter where you are or how you celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, there is a very strong, spiritual unifying theme that is present.  At its heart the feast of the Immaculate Conception is a day to focus on one’s own spirituality and relationship with god.  This is why it is so important in Latino culture.

We are meant to draw closer to god by drawing closer to our family and focusing on being more like Mary and Christ.  For more information about the traditions of this holiday check out Little Candles Day in Colombia.

Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay

I dream of enjoying tereré in Paraguay… In many parts of South America, drinking tea is a much more social and culturally relevant practice than it is here in the United States.

For example, how often do you meet a friend or colleague at Starbucks for a drink? Probably pretty often.  But how often do you sit in a circle at Starbucks, prepare the coffee yourself and share the same customized cup?  Probably never.  But this is how the people of Paraguay enjoy their tea.

Drinking tereré in Paraguay is a lot like drinking Yerba Mate in Uruguay and Brazil. In fact tereré is also a tea that uses mate leaves but there is one crucial difference in the preparation that goes down in Paraguay; instead of being served hot, tereré is drank with cold water and some people even add ice cubes.

This is not a difference just for the sake of being different.  There is a very practical reason why Paraguayans drink the mate tea cold: it is hot all year round in Paraguay.

Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay – The Social Drink

So what is tereré?  In essence there is very little difference between tereré and yerba mate.  One important similarity is that that drinking of both yerba mate  and tereré is a very social event.

Groups of friends, coworkers and students can be seen all over Paraguay gathering in a circle and preparing their tereré gear which consist of the guampa (the vessel from which the tereré is drank, similar to the hollowed out gourd used in the mate ceremony) the bombilla (the filtered straw used to drink the tereré) and the termo (basically a thermos).

Once the tereré is prepared, all participants remain in a circle and pass the guampa around and drink from the straw.  However, unlike the Uruguayan mate ceremony, in Paraguay, they replace the water after each person has their share.  In other words, no one actually drinks the same tereré.

Enjoying Terere in Paraguay

Enjoying Terere in Paraguay

Another difference between the two drinks is that it is pretty common for Paraguayans to add additional herbs or even fruit juices to the cold drink although, purists look down on the whole fruit juice thing.  Termos and Guampas are often customized by their owner to express their personal style, support for a sports team or simply emblazoned with the owner’s name.

The history of tereré stretches back to the indigenous tribe of the Guaraní who invented the drink and like in modern times drank it in a ceremony style for communion and socialization.

The Social Aspect of Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay

Drinking tereré is considered a normal part of daily life in Paraguay.  It is also an important aspect of socialization and bonding among friends and family.  At its purest, drinking tereré is supposed to symbolize trust and community.  People gather, share the tereré and talk to one another just as you would talk to your friend at Starbucks. Of course, the process of drinking tereré in Paraguay is much more ceremonial than the manner in which we have coffee with a friend here in the States.

The Essence of Tereré

Of course, on the surface people drink tereré because of the mate leave’s natural antioxidant and energizing effects but the true essence of tereré drinking is to feel a close bond with the people you care about.  Not much about the ritual has changed over the centuries which speaks to the primal function of this tradition and the basic, human need that it fills.

The Story of Pachacuti Inca

The story of Pachacuti Inca starts in Cusco where he was a ruler and the founder of what would become the great Incan Empire. Although in his early life, he was never meant to succeed the crown of Cusco from his father. Pachacuti had a brother named Urco and succession of the throne was to go to him.  However, Pachacuti earned the right to rule and showed his father that he deserved to rule over the kingdom by fending off an invasion by a rival tribe called the Chankas.

The Story of Pachacuti Inca

The Merit of Pachacuti’s Rule

The Chanka had long since been an enemy of Cusco and the story goes that they decided to invade the kingdom with a massive army.  Pachacuti’s brother and father, fearing death fled the city but Pachacuti stayed behind and saw the invasion as an opportunity to show his father that the kingdom would not only be safe, but flourish under his rule.  Pachacuti acted swiftly and gathered an army to fend off the Chanka.  Not only did they quell the would be invasion but they beat the Chanka so soundly that legends emerged from that battle.

The Earth Shaker

The people could not believe how badly the Chanka had been beaten by the military intelligence and stratagems of Pachacuti that they created a story about it.  They said that the rocks themselves rose up from the earth to assist Pachacuti in battle and that is how he earned the name “The Earth Shaker.”

Coming Into Power

Of course, Pachacuti’s father eventually died but before he did, Pachacuti earned his father’s blessing as the successive ruler of Cusco.  This was to be the birth of the Incan Empire.  At that time, Cusco was just a small hamlet but Pachacuti had a grand vision for his kingdom and saw it stretching much further than its humble borders at the time of his succession.  He went to work launching military campaigns to conquer neighboring lands and was very successful.

The Story of Pachacuti Inca

The Story of Pachacuti Inca

Organizing An Empire

With the aid of his son, Pachacuti built Cusco into a might capitol city that was the center of the Incan Empire. He was a very skilled warrior and military strategist.  He also had a mind for politics.  When Pachacuti would conquer a new land and add it to his empire, he was not overtly cruel to the defeated people.  Instead he offered them membership into the empire in exchange for their subservience.  He did not lay cultures to waste but assimilated them.

He also used nonmilitary methods of broadening his borders.  Pachacuti Inca was known to dispatch spies into other territories and kingdoms in order to find out how they might be coaxed into ceding their land to him.  These spies found out about military weaknesses, economic needs and other vital pieces of information.

Pachacuti then came to the leaders of these lands and offered them what he knew they needed and enticed them with wealth, peace and protection under the Incan Empire.  Most took him up on this offer and in exchange, Pachacuti allowed them to continue to rule in their land as sub-governors of the Incan Empire.

Legacy

The Incan Empire was born and flourished during and after the life of Pachacuti Inca.  He died in 1471 but not before he absorbed into his kingdom much of South America.  His kingdom included what we now know as Chile, the south of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and the northern half of Argentina making it one of the largest empires in South American history.

Pachacuti was considered the Napoleon of South America and there are many statues of him in Cusco that still stand today. The story of Pachacuti Inca tells that he was in incredible ruler who organized a sophisticated and massive empire that would last until the Spanish conquest.

The History of Bullfighting – Tradition or Enjoyment of Tragedy

The history of bullfighting has to be told with lots of facts that get misconstrued throughout the years.  One example, the bulls used for the actual fights are not starved for the fight, instead a specially bred charging bull is used for the spectacle that has a natural penchant to charge at moving objects-the fact still remains that an innocent animal is plucked, culled and ultimately executed for the amusement of a gawking rabble.

The history of bullfighting stretches back almost 2,000 years and its roots are archaic and planted in a time of un-enlightenment and barbarism. Not that we are all that much smarter nowadays but it seems almost insane to still practice a spectacle that has such primal origins.

The History of Bullfighting – A Brief Review

As far as historians can tell, the origins of bullfighting emerged from the Spanish War of Reconquest.  When the fighters grew weary from battle, they would engage in slightly less brutal practices as recreation.  They hunted game like deer and bear but even slaying a bear was not enough of a thrill for these ancient warriors.  Instead, they took to fighting the Iberian bull whose traits include aggression and a willingness to go to their death fighting.  This became a sport and soon, Spanish kings were organizing bullfights for their coronations and other important ceremonies.

The sport carried on throughout the centuries and grew to what it is today which is not very different from what it was as far back as the 1700’s.  Although when most people think of bullfighting they immediately think of Spain, the sport is legal and enjoyed by fans in other countries such as France, Peru, Ecuador, Portugal, Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.  In fact the largest venue for bullfights resides in Mexico City, Mexico.

The History of Bullfighting - Tradition or Enjoyment of Tragedy

The History of Bullfighting – Tradition or Enjoyment of Tragedy

The Reasoning Behind the Fights

Fans of bullfighting cite a number of aesthetics that make the practice enjoyable.  The contest isn’t about winning or losing, it isn’t about who gets gored and who doesn’t, it’s not even about whether the bull dies or not.  Instead proponents of bullfighting say that is an elegant dance between man and beast.  The thrill is in seeing the skill and tact of the fighter who attempts to get as close to the bull’s charging horns as possible without being demolished by them.

The whole scene is very decadent and opulent: the matadors enter the arena wearing intricately embroidered suits that cost thousands of dollars.  There is a pageantry about the whole ordeal but also a savage likeness to the gladiator fights of ancient Rome that pit human against both animal and other humans.

Bullfighting is not a sport.  It is a show.  I for one abhor it altogether and cannot comprehend those who attend bullfights knowing that they will more than likely see the slaughter of an innocent animal.  While many fans say it is not the actual killing that is the main attraction but rather the composure in the face of danger, the grace, skill and elegance of the matador, the kill move is still a very precise maneuver that is lauded if done particularly well.

There are entire fairs dedicated to bullfighting and one example is the San Fermín Festival in Spain.  The history of bullfighting – the tradition or enjoyment of tragedy?  This is a question I answer with barbarism.  For however refined and civilized we humans can claim to now be, we still take part in this practice that stems from a very dark, violent and base era of history.

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos?  That, I thought was the last thing that would ever remind me of the beautiful Mexican culture.  I was wrong!

If you are at all engaged in Mexican culture then you may have come across an image of a woman standing on a crescent moon, light beaming from her body and looking very grave yet chaste.  You may have even seen this image as a tattoo.  This is the Virgin of Guadalupe and she is essentially the Mexican incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary who gave birth to Christ.

The Story of The Virgin of Guadalupe

The legend of The Virgin Guadalupe, is one that holds a very special place in Mexican culture.  The story asserts that the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego an indigenous peasant.  She commissioned the man to build a church but had one very strange request: that he first gather some roses.  The story took place in winter so the man was confused.  He didn’t know where he would find roses growing in the frozen landscape.  Still, he took the request on faith and sure enough, he found pristine roses growing from a frozen hill.

The man was amazed and took the roses to a priest who declared it a miracle but there was a further miracle: the roses had left a holy imprint of the virgin in the man’s poncho which he used to carry the roses. bThat image would become the design for all tattoos of The Virgin of Guadalupe.

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Surprisingly there has not been much variation as far as the designs of the Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos.  Guadalupe tattoos will almost always be about the same shape; that of a standing woman.  She will almost always be depicted in the same manner; her hands held together in prayer while she casts a glance soberly downward.  She will also always have the same sacred light radiating from her body.

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

In fact the only common variation of the Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos is the bordering.  Some opt to surround the virgin with a canopy of other Mexican patron saints.  Some choose to envelop their Guadalupe tattoos in the sacred roses from the legend.  Some people even set the Virgin of Guadalupe to a depiction of the Mexican landscape.

The Cultural Symbol

Tattoos are not the only pieces of art that bear the likeness of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The symbol has become extremely important in Mexican culture both as a religious figure and a cultural one.  It can be seen emblazoned on flags, in churches and even banners calling for political action.  The Virgin of Guadalupe has donned street art and graffiti as well.

The Virgin of Guadalupe represents hope, a reminder to be virtuous and even a feminine deity figure as many Mexicans pray to her in times of need.  Virgin Guadalupe tattoos have even become a popular design for gangsters who see acceptance in the forgiving eyes of the saint.  They emblazon her likeness onto her body as a reminder that she will forgive all and act as their advocate to the Holy Father.

Whether she is represented as a tattoo, embroidered onto a t-shirt or sculpted to life by an artist, the Virgin of Guadalupe is inevitably a tie to the Mexican culture.  It spans religion, culture and art to become one of the most potent and revered symbols in existence in the modern world.

Who Was Simon Bolivar

Who was Simón Bolivar?  Is one of the most frequent questions people ask me when they know of my Hispanic background. Simón Bolivar was actually a pretty complex individual, at least from the standpoint of bygone history.  His nickname was El Libertador (the liberator) because he fought for the liberation of so many South American countries.

In many ways, as I researched the man and his accomplishments, I was reminded very much of Ché Guevara.  They were both born into wealthy families, they were both well-educated and they both became passionate fighters for independence and revolution. They were also seen at the time and now as polarizing figures.

Of course there are the contingents that celebrate both men as freedom fighters and revolutionaries, but their political beliefs were always a point of contention.

Who Was Simón Bolivar and What Did He Accomplish?                                  

After being educated in Spain, Bolivar returned to his homeland of Venezuela although at that time it was known as New Granada.  During the time that Bolivar lived, the late 1700’s and early 1800’s much of South America was still under Spanish colonial rule.

For Bolivar being under Spain’s rule  was unsatisfactory and during his time in Spain he had moved about in the European circles where he conjured up many political ideas and beliefs that he borrowed from European nations. For example, he wanted to implement in South America a parliamentary system like the one Britain had.

He also had some political views that were somewhat unpopular.  For instance, he favored a lifetime presidency for his vision of a united South America free from Spanish rule.  Still, in his heart, Bolivar was a freedom fighter.  He led many military campaigns in South America that won independence for various South American countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama and Colombia.

Who Was Simon Bolivar?

Who Was Simon Bolivar?

During his life he formed the Gran Colombia which was a united federation that included the four aforementioned countries. Although the union was unstable and Bolivar would have to flee his homeland due to civil war and unrest, he left an indelible mark on the entire South American continent.

Manuela Sáenz

A discussion no matter how brief about Simón Bolivar must include his lover and muse Manuela Sáenz.  Although Bolivar was married to a woman who would eventually die of yellow fever, many considered Saenz to be Bolivar’s proper counterpart as she was herself a fiery activist and proponent of South American liberation.

Manuelita Sáenz as many knew her, helped Bolivar during many of his campaigns and aided in his escape an assassination attempt in Bolivia where he had named himself dictator.  She was herself born in Quito, Ecuador of Spanish descent and became a figurehead of South American liberation thanks to her efforts with Bolivar himself.

Later Life

Simón Bolivar’s days would see him liberate many territories from the Spanish, be named dictator of Peru and Bolivia and finally flee for exile in Europe.   He was a polarizing figure but had a grand vision and with any grand, revolutionary vision, there are bound to be detractors.

Such was the case for Bolivar who had dreams that mimicked the state system of the U.S., the parliamentary system of Britain and ones that were his own.  His leadership roles were short-lived but he succeeded in freeing much of South America from Spanish rule.

Simón Bolivar died in Santa Marta, Colombia on December 17th, 1830.  Many experts believed that he succumbed to tuberculosis.