What We Can Learn From Mexican Parties
I am fortunate enough to live in Santa Barbara, California and right down the street from Oak Park. It has some of the most interesting Mexican parties that I've ever seen.
The parties occur every weekend. Oak park is a community park set up for family parties, with benches and fire pits and rest rooms and easy, convenient parking. It is located right off of Interstate 101 and in the uptown section of Santa Barbara. You have to sign up for the party areas and reserve the tables and the fire pits.
It is a beautiful little park with Eucalyptus and Oak trees and places where you toss horseshoes and a play area for children, a kiddie swimming pool, and an outdoor sink for people who want to wash up. You will see people doing Tai Chi, playing soccer, walking their dogs, balancing on tight ropes, swinging from the trees with silk sheets, and anything else people would think of doing in a park. There are also plenty of trash cans and recycle containers. It is a park where people take pride in and where people clean up after their dogs and after their parties.
Oak Park Map
Young Mexican females are honored on their 15th birthday with a quinceanera celebration. The party is full of ceremony and emotion as the girl's father ceremoniously exchanges her flat, childish style shoes for a demure pair of modestly high-heeled shoes to denote her passage into womanhood.
Focus of Mexican Parties
There is always a focus or a special occasion that triggers a response from the Mexican family. Let's say it a birthday party, celebrating a child's first birthday.
The female parent will initiate the process by discussing it with other female family members. They will identify the appropriate location of the party and the date. The mother will then hand the reigns over to the male parent who starts to gather and organize what is needed for the party like the chairs, tables, and the band.
This is usually an easy process because Mexican families are very close and they have had many parties over a lifetime and they are always prepared for the next one. In California, a Mexican party is simply "no worries." It will get done fluidly and without any drama or complications. All family members participate in the preparation and the carrying out of the party from the oldest members of the family down to the very youngest (excluding the babies, of course).
All the family members needs to hear is when the party is, what time it is-- and they all will be there. They will be there early with the food, the chairs, the tables, the decorations, the band--everything with be there in plenty of time. All family members are invited from the cousins to the great grandparents, from the second cousin removed to the friends of the family. It is a team effort and done in an efficient and organized fashion.
The Family Reunion
" Back in 2009, we had a family reunion at Moro Bay. One night we had a massive potluck. My uncles were cooking tri-tip on the fire pit while my mom and dad were making clam chowder. The rest of the family brought over other foods to one site like beans, rice, tortillas; and even different deserts like pies, cakes, and even cookies. One of my cousins from Montana brought with him some deer in which he shot during a hunting trip and it was good. I never had deer before that night." John Ruiz
Popular mexican party foods
- Refried beans
- Carne asada (barbecued meat)
- Fresh tortilla
- Calf or Lamb's head (cabeza)
- Mexican potate salad
- Guacamole and chips
- Mexican Sweet Bread (pan dulce)
- Mexican chocolate
- Mexican ice cream
- Candy Apples for holidays
The Drinks (Non-alcoholic)
- Agua Fresca. A refreshing fruit drink.
- Horchata. This milky looking drink is actually made from rice and flavored with lemon and cinnamon.
- Virgin Pomegranate Sangria. This Spanish Sangria recipe is made with pomegranate juice instead of wine.
- Pineapple Coconut Slush. A virgin version of a Piña Colada.
You don't have to push or encourage or remind Mexican families to bring food. Everyone will bring food. Because of their good communication skills, everyone will bring something different and it will probably be one of their specialties. One might bring the Mexican rice, the others might bring the tamales. Special preparation might be needed with the underground fire pit to make the Calf's Head (cavessa) or to set the outdoor grill to cook the meats and chicken.
Mexican families are tradional, so the food prepartion and cooking is also tradional. The women are generally in charge of the food and the children and the decorations. The men usually do the heavy lifting or help out with things at the woman's request. Typically men could be seen at the grill, sometimes wearing an apron or donning a white chef's outfit.
If you're lucky, the party will also include plenty of yummy sweets that could range from Mexican sweet bread to candy apples for the kids to commemerate the holiday season.
For the adults, there's the Corona beers, the whiskey, Tequila, Margaritas, Sangria and the sodas depending on the location of the party and the rules on alcoholic beverages. And there's also an assortment of non-alcoholic Mexican drinks as well that even the children could partake.
They Call it Cabeza
"Dad and my Uncle Pete would start a fire in a pit. They would purchase a lamb's head, full with the eyes, tongue and everything intact. They call it a "cabeza" and would season it. Then they would wrap it in burlap and bury it in the pit of coals and cook it for the whole day. By dinner, they would pull out the cabeza from the pit and carve it up. The cheeks were a delicacy that I truly enjoyed along with the lengua (tongue)." Theresa Ruiz
When you talk about Mexican entertainment you talk about the rich, vibrant Mexican bands or the soothing sounds of the Mariachi singers. Quite often I go to Oak Park to hear the music and to hear the laughter of the people. I may catch a Mariachi band play something romantic for a couple who are about to get married. Or I may hear a 12-piece Mexican band with brass instruments play something festive so everyone could let loose and dance. The music fills up the whole park and the immediate neighborhood. I often sit on a large rock and listen and enjoy.
There are numerous things the Mexican people do to have fun at parties. There's wonderful discussions and storytelling, traditional Mexican dancing and there's card playing and there's kicking a soccer ball around or perhaps listening to the Dodger's game on radio. Whatever it is, love and laughter abounds. And the family and friends enjoy the party till sundown.
And we must not forget the pinata--which comes in the shape of almost anything. This colorfully decorated figure is typically of an animal that contains toys and candy inside. It is suspended from a height, like a tree branch, and is broken open with a baseball bat or the end of a broomstick by a blindfolded child as part of the celebration. When the pinata is broken, the candy falls out and everyone applauds.
"Special memories when my uncles came to visit they played cards; in fact my grandfather added a potty out in the back so that they didn't waste time while playing cards and sometimes listening to the ballgame on the radio or having music." Irene Ruiz
The Mexican Party of All Parties
Of course, there's the Mexican party of all parties in Santa Barbara during the first week of August. It is a five-day party with food, dancing and entertainment galore that celebrates the rich California heritage. The city of Santa Barbara embraces Native Americans, Spanish and Mexican heritages with a massive party that embraces all visitors.
For generations, the early California families celebrated traditions of colorful music, dance and horsemanship, together with a vaquero spirit of friendliness, hospitality and tolerance. This is all part of the Fiesta Days heritage, in which it embodies the spirit of the Old Spanish Days Fiesta.
Fiesta Days in Santa Barbara, California
A Wonderful Blend of Rich Cultural Ingredients
Mexican parties aren't just about the food or drink, it is much more. There are a lot of elements that go into a Mexican party that makes it special. It is something that non-Mexican Americans can learn from and perhaps implement in their daily lives and in celebrations to create more joy and love.
It's the strong intergenerational connection. It's the vibrancy of the Mexican culture that is so alluring. It's the cooperative spirit where everyone is involved in making the party a happening. It is the fact that everyone, young and old, are having a good time whether they are singing or dancing or just watching the others have fun. It is the love that they share with their words and stories and music and food. It is something that I wish I could bottle up and take home to my family. Instead, I just sit on a big rock in Oak Park and admire.