Independence Day, the Guatemalan way
On September 15th, 1821, the remnants of what remained of the Spanish colonies in Central America decided that they’d had enough. Spain was in the throes of fighting England and needed money for all the king’s horses and his men. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica came to the reluctant conclusion that being part of the Spanish Empire wasn’t working, the clergy agreed and the various governors decided to say adios to the Mother Country. Mexico, being Mexico and fond of manana, didn’t get around to making the decision until the next day, but they backdated their documents.
These days, Guatemala celebrates their divorce in a week-long series of parades, bands, and marimba music. In Antigua, the main tourist center of the country, Quetzalteca, that fiery low cost rum and Gallo beer fuel the festivities for the weekenders and tourists alike.
Monday and Tuesday will begin at 7:30 am, with the sound of drums and the marching bands making the streets echo. This will be a day of practice for the Big One on Wednesday, when the judges hand out the prizes for the best band, marching group, and sauciest cheerleaders. Last year the Mayor’s daughter was in one of the bands and by sheer coincidence they took a trophy.
Any kind of vehicle with flashing lights and a siren usually is pressed into service to herald a parade but this one will deserve a police truck: the start will be at the La Merced church and with lights flashing/siren wailing it will lead the parade south on 5th Avenida Norte, and under the imposing arches that now has a missing clock. Thence down the cobblestone streets, lined with spectators and to the park and the reviewing stand. Parade-watchers who get there early take up the shady side and the ice cream vendors will work the crowd. Drums will be pounded, xylophones will jingle/jangle and crying babies add to the babble.
The noise level of the percussion instruments, bouncing off the stucco and rock walls will be enough to make temporary deafness a possibility. There are no volume controls and loudness counts as much as form. Drums as big as the boys that carry them are put into play and little girls dressed as princesses are learning the royal smile and hand wave. When they get older a few will be deemed worthy of the white go-go boots and short pleated skirts, with batons and pom-poms optional. School children of elementary age will be in various themed and home-made costumes: sometimes as bags of snacks or flowers and vegetables.
At last, when the many marching bands have entered the central park and continue their review, the center of Antigua is a cacophony of drums from all sides: any and all kind of drums, kettle, snare and bass. As long as it makes noise, it’s good. The park is surrounded on three sides by tall buildings, which captures the noise. The cobblestone streets almost vibrate, as the xylophone troops try to outdo the drummers: add a few tubas, some clashing cymbals and this is Independence Day, Guatemalan style.