I knew it was that time of year again when I started hearing my neighbor kids practicing Beethoven's “Ode to Joy” and the theme song from “Titanic” on their school issued plastic recorders. To me the recorder playing signals the eminent arrival of Independence Day, or as I refer to it, Independence Week. A few weeks ago when I heard kids hitting off key notes around town it immediately made me think back to my host sister Lidia in Alotenango. She too practiced the recorder around this same time and then it dawned on me that I have been here long enough to start noticing yearly seasonal and cultural patterns. It kinda makes Guatemala feel a little bit more like home.
This Independence Week played out much like it did last year. Parades, running of the torcha, fireworks etc. The first activity I participated in was the crowing of this year’s “Señorita Independencia.” You’ll remember from my last post that we had a few beauty pageants in town recently- none of which was used to decide on the Independence Day Queen. Nope, there is no judging when it comes to choosing the Queen it’s done democratically through public voting. But remember, we are in Guatemala so instead of casting a ballot, you cast your vote (or votes) in currency. The girl with the most “votes” or “queztales” is crowned queen. In other words, its really just a test to see who’s parents love their little girl enough (and have the means) to fork over a few hundred Q’s to win her that sash and crown. Democracy Guatemalan style.
One other new activity for me this year was the singing of the national anthem. I guess last year I missed this but no fear, I got my fill this year. I went to a total of three Independence Day activities at the local schools, each of which started with the National Anthem. First, at the crowning of the “Señorita Independencia”, kids lined up in front of the stage and sang along with a recorded version of kids singing the anthem. To me it was a bit awkward - I felt like I was watching a lip-sync contest without the enthusiasm. Second, at the “Premaria” or elementary school activity the director of the school must have been embarrassed about the previous Milli Vanilliesque anthem performance and made a BIG deal about having everyone sing the anthem a cappella. He even insisted that the vendors stop selling food while the anthem proceedings were underway. To Americans this may seem like standard procedure, but then again our national anthem isn’t ten minutes long. Yes folks, I think the Guatemalan anthem might be the longest in the world- its like a marathon- I agree vendors should stop selling but only because they should be passing out gatorade to quell exhaustion from undertaking the venture. Jokes aside, I was pleasantly surprised by the publics performance sans recording. Almost everyone knew all of the words, or did a good job of faking it.
I’m going to leave you with some wonderful sights and sounds of the Independence Day hoopla. Viva Guatemala!