In the town of San Salvador Atenco in Mexico, the Acuexcomac carnivals have begun with a vibrant display of tradition and resistance. Participants, decked out in wax masks, colorful costumes, multicolored dresses, elegant hats and unique umbrellas, took to the streets to dance and celebrate. This event, which has been held for more than 140 years, is deeply rooted in religious and allegorical meanings, and symbolizes the resistance of the communities that once resided on the shores of the now-vanished Lake of Texcoco.
The Women’s Carnival marks the onset of the celebrations in these towns, which had been embroiled in a 17-year long struggle against the construction of the New Mexico International Airport.
Throughout the month of February, carnivals will be taking place in several locations including central Atenco, Santa Rosa, Santa Isabel Ixtapa, Nexquipayac, Cuanalan, San Andrés Chiautla, San Pedro Chiconcuac, San Pablito, La Magdalena Panoaya, Tocuila, San Felipe in Texcoco, Nequesquinacuac, Santa Catarina del Monte, San Miguel Tlaixpan and Purification.
From dawn, dozens of residents began preparing their outfits in anticipation of the event. Wax masks, which had taken months to craft and serve as a caricature of the old Spaniards, were brought out. The women donned loose pink and yellow dresses, styled their hair beautifully, and accessorized elegantly.
In Acuexcomac, an atmosphere of celebration and joy permeated the air as women, accompanied by band music and a large crowd of spectators, danced through the streets.
During their procession, the women and their companions would stop at houses where they were invited in, and the residents would offer them food and drink.
One unique feature of this group from Acuexcomac was the majority presence of young people between the ages of 14 and 17. These individuals had inherited their love for the carnival and dancing from their grandparents.
16-year-old Arón shared his excitement for the carnival, stating,
For me, it is a joy that I experience year after year; Without our participation this beautiful party that people like to enjoy could not be seen. I have seen the carnival since I was a child, it caught my attention and I started dancing.
18-year-old Francisco expressed his feelings about the carnival, saying
This is an inheritance from my great-grandfather; It is a taste that has been passed down to us from generation after generation. Doing it once a year means passion and love; I come with my cousin and even when we are tired or sleepless, or with leg pain, we go out to dance, because it is something that we have had since we were little; I have been dancing for five years.
Guardians of a legacy
Over time, the festival has taken on various meanings. It began as a religious event, representing the search for Jesus Christ, before morphing into a commentary on the appearance of Europeans, and eventually a carnal festival. Today, it is a family and allegorical festival that underscores the importance of preserving tradition.
Eugenio Buendía, a 63-year-old who has organized and led the Acuexcomac carnival crew for four decades, views the event as a way to preserve the practices of his ancestors and maintain a precious legacy.
I have been leading the team for 40 years, and as long as I have the strength and the ability, I will be here to continue the tradition. This carnival of the Acuexcomac group is the opening of all the carnivals in the area.
He further adds,
The arrival of other settlers here, with the construction of the airport, would have brought other customs and many would not have come in good faith; That would have had a great impact on our traditions, because they would begin to be distorted. Right now, it’s about preserving and enjoying them, and passing this legacy on to future generations.