Face to Face with the Mexicans/Chapter 7
THE MEXICANS IN THEIR HOMES.
Mexicans Brantz Mayer wrote as follows: "I have found them kind, gentle, hospitable, intelligent, benevolent, and brave. . . . In fact, regard them in any way, and they will be found to possess the elements of a fine people, who want but peace and the stimulus of foreign emulation to bring them forward among the nations of the earth with great distinction. . . . There are of course in Mexico, as in all countries, specimens of egotism, selfishness, haughtiness, ill-breeding and loose morals, both among the men and the women; but, although we find these floating, like bubbles, on the top of society, they must not therefore be considered the characteristics of the country. . . . With domestic virtue, genius, and patriotism, no people need despair; and it should be the prayer of every republican that enough of these still remain in Mexico to reconstruct their government and society."
In speaking of their politeness, Mayer continues: "The 'old school' seems to have taken refuge among the Mexicans. They are formally, and, I think, substantially, the politest people I have met with. The respect for age, the sincerity of friendship, the results of reading and education, and the honest, unpretending naturalness of character, for which, over all other people I have ever met, I think the best of them are remarkable." . . . "The fine benevolence of ancient friendship, the universal respect for genius, a competent knowledge of the laws and institutions of other countries, a perfect acquaintance with the cause of Mexican decadence, and a charming regard for all those domestic rites which cement the affections of a home circle may all be observed and admired within the walls of a Mexican dwelling."
Brantz Mayer, above all other writers, not even excepting Madame Calderon de la Barca, has observed more closely and written more sympathetically and faithfully of Mexican characteristics. In dealing with this subject, it will be understood that reference is had only to the higher and more cultured classes of society.
During the more than forty years intervening since this distinguished writer gave expression to these views, ten years only of which have brought to Mexico the precious boon of peace, the changes occurring and the onward march of events in that country have proved the correctness of his assertions. With every possible distracting cause, calculated to foster and encourage ignoble traits and retrograde ideas, they have not only continued brave and patriotic, but their social and domestic institutions have remained sacredly intact. Let the unsympathizing comment as they may upon the hapless fate of poor Mexico, it is not to be gainsaid that perhaps no country in the world has politically presented a more desolate picture, nor yet one that speaks a nobler lesson.
But by sympathetic intuition a woman attributes to the women of Mexico that undercurrent of social and domestic regeneration which has purified and preserved her institutions. While the men have been engrossed in war and revolution, with their train of direful results, the women, in the seclusion of their homes, have kept an everfaithful watch over the domestic virtues, and the happiness and welfare of those whom God has given them.
In repose, there is in the eye of every Mexican an expression of deep sadness which is hardly accounted for by recent history, however tragic, and must have been transmitted to the race through the miseries of martial conquests.
It has occurred to me that the women have inherited a larger portion of this constitutional melancholy than the men. I have been more convinced of it on meeting and conversing with them in their own homes. When the death of a member of the family was referred to, which had taken place years before—perhaps a son or a husband killed in battle—the grief seemed as deep and uncontrollable as if it had happened on that day. They are all patriotic, and if the country suffers, it is a part of themselves, and is reflected in their lives.
The Mexicans are by nature close observers of physiognomy, and, though shy, are sharp critics of the bearing of strangers. Their extreme isolation has probably added to the natural impulse. It does not follow that they criticise adversely; but they weigh one's lightest syllable in their own balances. Upon their first coming in contact with a stranger, they expect him to look them clearly in the face; and be sure they are watching every movement and expression with the keenest suspicion. Whatever may be their own failings, they are wonderfully endowed with the power to "fix you with the eye;" and you are expected to meet it bravely, and not to quail under the penetrating glance. To an infinite degree are the women expert in reading character, probably more so than our own more world-experienced and educated countrywomen.
It is no matter of surprise that they are distrustful of strangers, when the most they have known of them has been in the way of armed forces seeking to crush out their national existence. Their hospitality, too, having so often met with unwarrantable criticism personally and in the press, they cannot be expected to welcome the stranger over their threshold without caution and misgiving. A kindly and sympathetic warmth is always heartily reciprocated, while coldness at once repels. To desire their friendship is to deserve it, especially if the wish be tempered by the observance of the golden rule. No people are better aware of their national, political, and social defects, but, being sensitive, nervous, and very proud, an adverse criticism from the thoughtless and ungenerous stranger naturally wounds, and induces that reserve which is so largely national, and which it is so difficult to overcome. When a disposition is manifested to meet them on equal terms of friendly good-will, and proper deference is shown to their customs, it will be found that no people are more delightful, socially, more faithful as friends, or more ready to serve the stranger from whatever land, than the Mexicans.
Hospitality is one of the national characteristics, but it is of a nature peculiar to itself, and, contrary to our customs, the latch-string hangs on the inside, for the court circles of Europe are not more exclusive than the higher classes of society in Mexico. The architecture of the houses—their barred windows and well-guarded doors, which prevent intrusion from prying curiosity—together with the climate and customs, conspire to incline the people to lead exclusive lives. It is manifested even in the choice of vehicles, closed carriage being almost invariably used, though with such air and skies the reverse might naturally be expected. The first aspiration, with them, is to make home beautiful, and to this end every element of a cultured and refined taste is duly provided and cared for within the massive doors. The exquisite beauty of the rare and gorgeous flowers in the patios affords constant pleasure by day, while by night they have only to glance upward to obtain wondrous visions of a star-gemmed firmament.
Letters of introduction, even, will not always secure access to the inner circle of the home life. Comparatively speaking, few are accorded this privilege. But when once admitted by personal friends, especially if accompanied by them on the first visit, all formality and reserve are at an end, and the most gracious attentions are freely betowed, the veriest stranger feeling that he is no longer such. A genuine glow of pleasure has often been mine on finding that their inborn distrust of foreigners had melted away in my first intercourse with them. On passing many handsome houses in the large cities, and halting to admire the beauty and luxuriance of the flowers in the court, on seeing me the gentle voice of the dueña de la casa (lady of the house) would bid me enter and inspect them to my satisfaction. When this was done, and my hands filled with flowers, I was invited to the sala, chocolate ordered, and on departing—certain we would never meet again—a warm embrace, a cordial shake of the hand, and a "Vaya V. con Dios!" ("God be with you "), heartily given.
They are endowed by nature with a highly nervous and sensitive organization, with jealousy for a birthright; and amongst intimate friends of their own nationality they are easily offended, but less so with foreigners. And I have observed that the higher the altitude the more evident are these tendencies, attributable, probably, to both climate and elevation.
Much as the Mexicans love their homes, their language contains no word expressive of the meaning of the word "home." They have only casa (house), and hogar, but little used and lacking euphony. Another fact—the absence of chimneys, depriving them of the pleasures of the fireside, renders it only natural that they should seek diversion outside. The balmy air invites them to life al fresco, consequently the morning promenade, which usually includes the mass at church, the afternoon drive, and perhaps the theater at night, constitute their chief sources of outdoor recreation and amusement.
No people more eminently possess the faculty of entertaining their friends in a royally hospitable way. An assemblage of five hundred guests is as well taken care of as fifty, and no one feels neglected. They are convivial and joyous, mingling freely with one and all; gay sallies of wit and sparkling repartee rule the hour. But, at the same time, a remarkable dignity characterizes their every movement.In the majority of the towns and cities the ringing of the cathedral bells, at ten o'clock, calls the people from their places of
ENTRANCE TO A MEXICAN HOME.
In all their professions of friendship, I have found them frank and sincere, and untiring in their demonstrations to the favored person who has won their regard. While this sincerity is unquestionable, they are yet gifted in a high degree with the pretty art of evasion. Let one who has had trouble confide in them, and let them be but fully convinced that they are the trusted custodians of such confidence, and nothing can induce them to betray the trust so reposed. The penalty of severest punishment cannot wring from them a secret intrusted to them. But by the dainty manipulation of their admirable tact and diplomacy, the inquirer is satisfied and not one syllable betrayed. As well try to make an incision in the side of Popocatapetl with a penknife as extract from a Mexican what he does not want to tell you.
It is asserted by some writers that there is no middle class. It is my opinion, founded upon careful observation and inquiry, that there is not only at this time a very large and influential middle class, but that every year it gains large accessions from the humbler class, who are making giant strides to a nobler place in life through the fine educational advantages now afforded them. In this connection I must say that, while access to the higher strata of society is difficult, the middle class vie with them in their hospitality, never turning a stranger from their doors, and some of the most delightful acts of courtesy and kindness that I ever met with in that country have been extended me by the ever faithful and gentle middle class. With them letters of introduction are unnecessary.
They may not own their homes, but there is an air of pretty neatness about their houses; an unobstructed freedom, a gentleness of manner, which I say unqualifiedly is not equaled anywhere. It is from this class that are springing up every year men of genius and talent, of unremitting toil and study, which will enable them to take that honored station in their chosen field of labor which, in all countries, is the reward of untiring patience and fidelity to any cause. The forms of greeting and salutation are numerous, and among them none is so distinctively national as the abrazo. Men fall into each other's arms and remain thus for several minutes, patting each other on the shoulder and indulging in all sorts of endearing epithets.
Another form, rather less diffuse, may be seen any time on the street and promenade, not only among men, but also between friends of opposite sex. In the quickest, most spirited manner, the arms of both parties are outstretched; they rush together for a second, their breasts barely touch, and while the observer is watching for a kiss to follow this ardent salute, they separate and the abrazo is finished. The extreme frankness accompanying it compels one to rather admire the custom; for it means no more than hand-shaking among Americans.
A mere introduction between men assumes elaborate proportions. Señor Calderon says: "I have the honor to present to you my friend, Señor Ojeda, a merchant of this city; "whereupon Señor Ojeda replies: "Your obedient servant. Your house (meaning his own) is in —— Street, where I am at your orders for all that you may wish; "or, "My house is muy a su disposicion" ("entirely at your disposal; make yourself at home").
From this profusion of politeness, doubtless, has arisen the impression that the Mexicans are devoid of sincerity; when in truth the recipient of such offers would alone deceive himself should he suppose that the Mexican proposed to make him a gift of his house.
Hand-shaking goes to extremes. If friends meet twenty times a day, the ceremony must be gone through as often.
It is not sufficient for gentlemen merely to touch the hat-brim, in passing each other or any friend; but the hat is removed entirely from the head, whether driving, riding, or walking. I noticed a little pantomime they go through when one gives a light to another. He draws his right hand quickly to his breast, in a second extends it outward, tipping his hat-brim three times, which is all repeated by the one who has lighted his cigar.
I saw on Calle Plateros, one day, two splendid carriages each occupied by one man. On seeing each other, the carriages were halted, both alighted, removed hats, shook hands, embraced, talked for a few moments, again embraced, shook hands, bowed, took off hats, and each entered his carriage and went his way.
Among women the salutation assumes a more confidential form; the stranger receives a gentle tap of the right hand upon the left shoulder, and then a generous shake of the hand; while more intimate friends not only tap each other, but also kiss, not on the lips, however, merely laying the cheeks softly together. The Mexican mode is to be commended.
A lady admires some ornament or article of wearing apparel; instantly the possessor gracefully informs her it is "muy á su orden" ("at your orders "). Changing residence requires that cards be sent announcing the fact, and placing it "muy á su orden," otherwise visiting ceases. Young babies are also placed "muy á su orden." In writing notes of invitation, the Mexican lady always closes with, "We will expect you here, at such an hour, at your house."
A vein of sentiment and poetry, however, runs through every detail of their lives, which forms the motive power of that fastidious nicety which regulates social intercourse. A spray of flowers sent as a token will be first pinned over the heart, the pin left in it, indicating the pledge as a part of the personality of the donor, hence more sacred; or a note may contain a pansy, with a dainty motto inscribed on its petals.
In letter writing or in making a formal acknowledgment, politeness and high-bred courtesy govern; even the President would make himself the individual under obligation.
No gifts are made at Christmas, but on "El Año Nuevo" ("The New Year") tokens of all sorts and kinds, and cards, are sent to friends, with "felicitaciones."
Visiting is the same as in all well-regulated society, except that strangers must send their cards and make the first call. A short visit is not appreciated, as it would indicate coldness and formality. Everything is given up to the guest, let the time be long or short, and a Mexican lady never continues the performance of any duty, however urgent, or engages in anything that would distract her attention from her guests.
On entering a Mexican home, after an absence of months or years, if you are an old friend, the reception you meet with is overwhelmingly joyful. Every member of the household in turn gives you an embrace; you are seated on the right-hand end of the sofa, and then a thousand kind inquiries follow in regard to relatives, and many interchanges of thought and incidents that have occurred in your absence. You are allowed to do nothing for yourself, for the entire family, from the least to the greatest, perform a part in entertaining and making you feel at home.
But it is a difficult point in Mexican etiquette, that of seating visitors. Guest and host vie with each other in politeness, and sometimes several minutes are occupied in this courteous contest.
On leaving, the visitor is always entreated to remain longer, but when he must go, they "speed the parting guest" with all the fervor with which he is received.
Gentlemen bow first on the street, but ladies have the advantage in the house; for even if the President were to call, the lady of the house is not expected to rise from her seat to receive him.
In walking, ladies hold the right arm of the gentleman. The right-hand side of the back seat of a carriage, and the right-hand end of a sofa, are the places of honor reserved for the guest.
At balls introductions are not necessary for gentlemen to ask ladies to dance, and in private houses all are supposed to be ladies and gentlemen.
A lady retains her maiden name in marriage, and her visiting cards are engraved with her own name with the prefix of de before her husband's—as, Josefina Bros de Riva Palacio. Madame de Iturbide, as known in the United States and Europe, in Mexico is simply Alicia G. de Iturbide.
It is better for foreigners to have visiting cards engraved after the fashion of the country if they intend mingling with Mexican society. Mexicans are as fastidious in the style and quality of paper and envelopes as in everything else; even the minutest detail is de rigeur. In high society, only the finest paper, with monogram in gold or silver, or elaborately engraved with the name inside the monogram, is selected. Some of the daintiest informal little notes I have seen, passed between lady friends—written on the finest paper, and then by deft fingers folded in the form of a leaf or flower, with the address on one tiny petal. In all correspondence the rubrica or firma must be used; neither the nature of what is written, nor the name, has any significance without the peculiar flourish beneath. This is taught in the schools, and the more elaborate the better. The rubrica is a receipt, a part of every business obligation or social correspondence. Every public document closes with "Libertad y Independencia" or "Libertad en la Constitution" and in sending an agent to a foreign country, every document relating to the business bears his photograph—perhaps a wise precaution.
In exchanging photographs, it is customary to dedicate them with a pretty sentiment or verse, and the date—not infrequently the age, also—is added.
Smoking publicly is not now customary with señoritas, but I have been told they indulge in this harmless and, with them, graceful pastime in private. Matrons smoke without reserve, and as a matter of course, men are habituated to the indulgence everywhere—no place in the house being exempt from the odor of the cigarette. Pipes are not used, and a delightful offset to smoking is that there is no chewing.
Many of their forms of daily and general politeness may seem empty and meaningless; but there is no more insincerity intended than in some of our own social small coin. It will be borne in mind also that these are not the characteristics of cities or city people, but belong equally to smaller towns and villages. In mingling with the people, their hospitalities and courtesies should be received in the same kindly spirit in which they are given.
Even in the country, on lonely haciendas, everything is free and open-handed. Your servants have the freedom of the kitchen and stables, the host gives up to you his place at the table, and often, on resuming the journey, will ride half a day, to lead you safely through some mountain defile or dangerous, bandit-infested place—and then the parting is as earnest and as zealous as word and manner can make it.
Natives of climes more frigid may contrast the formal bow, the restraint and stiffness of a possible shake of the hand, and the greeting commonly observed by their own countrymen, with the native ease and graceful cordiality to be met with here. Hence, an introduction into a select circle in Mexico makes a never-to-be-forgotten episode in the life of the favored stranger, cementing the ties which bind him to the country.
Wherever the fates may direct him, he will often experience a yearning to revisit a land where he was ever the recipient of a gracious courtesy scarcely to be found elsewhere. But few Mexicans, save those in diplomatic service, take up their permanent residence in other countries, especially among the Anglo-Saxons. The coldness and formality they there encounter freeze their own warm and cordial manner.
Like the Frenchman, the Mexican talks quite as much with hands and eyes as with his tongue. He shrugs also, but not so unceasingly as his brother Latin.
These gestures are rendered very attractive by the appropriate and graceful manner in which they are used. They are seen as much in the street or horse-cars as in the house.
One of the prettiest and most cunning of all the hand motions is called Beso Soplado, throwing kisses by gathering the finger of the right hand in a close group, touching the lips, then throwing them out fan-like, at the same time blowing on the hand as it is outstretched toward the object for whom the demonstration is intended, thus indicating that five kisses are given at once.
Illustration No. 1 of these movements, "un momentito," signifies the desire to postpone a departure or return, or the performance of some duty, then necessary. In a twinkling the taper fingers express this without uttering a word. "One little moment!" Everybody uses it.
No. 2. ''El no quere gastar dinero" ("He owes money but is very stingy, and from not using it to get the money, out of his pocket, his arm has grown too stiff to reach into his pocket for the money, consequently he is unable to pay his debts").
No. 3. "Muy buen violinista" literally means one who plays well on the violin, but in this instance he plays, instead, on the credulity and
verdancy of his friends. He plays off on them by inviting himself to dine with them, having little or nothing to eat at home, thus supporting himself on their involuntary hospitality.
No. 4. "Tiene bastante dinero" ("He or she has plenty of money").has conveyed also the thought of the other listener, and both are happy.
NO. 5. A VERY GREAT CRITIC.
NO. 7. "HE'S A SHARPER."
No. 7. "He's a sharper! Don't you trust him! He'll deceive and cheat you without mercy."
No. 8. Salutation in the street, or from a fair Juliet in her window;
one of the most graceful and beautiful of the endless sign-manual. It will be seen that it is the middle and third fingers only that move rapidly back and forth, and not the whole hand.
No. 9. "No es costumbre"—literally an expression of negation, so named from impressions received during my first sojourn in the country. Even children in their play use it when wishing to say, "You can't do that now, I sha'n't play with you."
An irrevocable edict has gone forth when that prophetic forefinger goes upward and outward before the end of the nose. The laws of the Medes and Persians may be evaded, but "no es costumbre" never.
NO. 9."YOU CAN'T DO THAT NOW"
In no country are family ties stronger. The thought of separation is to them fraught with unspeakable anguish, and even after marriage it is not unusual to see half a dozen families living in the same house, daughters with their husbands and sons with their wives remaining under the paternal roof. The time never comes in the lives of the parents when the children are not more or less amenable to them. Grown sons and daughters do not forget the respect and obedience that were expected of them when children.
The reverence for parents goes with them in their wedded lives, and even increases with the lapse of years. A man never grows too old to kiss the hands of his aged parents or to visit them every day if they reside in the same city, and the daughters do the same.
When the marital knot is tied, the women accommodate themselves to whatever fate may have in store for them with that grace and fortitude which belong to them, rarely equaled and never surpassed. The time never comes in which they feel their burdens too great to be borne with patience.
They go but little into society or mixed assemblages, consequently their earthly happiness is summed up in home, husband, children. Their outward deportment corresponds with the interior calm. Whether riding, driving, or walking, they always retain a decorum and dignity of manner peculiar to themselves. To express emotion or surprise in public is not considered becoming.
In all my intercourse with them, I have seen but two who used the trenchant weapon of sarcasm; in their hands it cut like a two-edged sword, and in each case their own countrymen were the victims.
Among the earliest lessons of Christianity inculcated by the Franciscan missionaries were love, charity, and self-denial, and the outcome of these teachings of nearly four centuries may be seen to-day in the beautiful graces and charities of the Mexican women. These high lessons, exemplified in the lives of the teachers, were received gratefully and practiced faithfully by the warm-hearted people. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, relieve the distressed, and entertain the stranger—surely there is no nobler mission!
Every battle-field on their soil has left its records of their tender devotion to “prisoners and captives," without regard to name or nationality. Our American soldiers, when in an enemy's country, with death staring them in the face, have borne grateful witness to their patient and tireless nursing. The Texas and Santa Fé Expedition, in 1841, written by George Wilkins Kendall, fully portrays the kindnesses of these noble-hearted women. In a march of two thousand miles, from Santa Fé, in New Mexico, to the capital, the condition of the unhappy prisoners was everywhere ameliorated by the women, who, moved by pity, never failed to bring them food—the best they had—and on every opportunity tenderly cared for the sick and foot-sore Americans.
But, before the dawn of Christianity in Mexico, the women practiced a noble order of charity. When Netssahualcoyotl, the young prince of Tezcuco, was fleeing from his enemies, weary and dust- stained, he suddenly found himself in the presence of a young girl who was reaping chia in the fields. He hastily informed her of his danger and entreated her aid. She was moved to pity, and, telling him to lie down, covered him with leaves and stalks of the maguey. When his pursuers came up, they inquired if she had seen him. "Yes," she replied, "he has gone by yon road," pointing in the opposite direction—which saved him.
Although there are hospitals, homes, and public charities in every city, still there are not only numerous beggars, but blind, maimed, and distressed persons—real objects of charity—seeking aid from the more fortunate members of society. Assistance is never denied; even little children take by the hand, with the sympathetic "pobrecito!" ("poor creature "), and lead into the house, some poor creature to be fed and cared for, having been taught to pity and never to ridicule or despise personal afflictions.
The housekeeper is supplied with home remedies, that she may give effect to her charitable interest in the sick and miserable. In many places, ladies of high position on a saint's day will unite in giving a dinner to the poor. Each one contributes to the feast, and then, with her daughters and friends, waits on the squalid guests. Theatrical and musical entertainments are also frequently given for charitable purposes.
Poverty, while greatly to be deplored, is not considered a disgrace. Almost every wealthy family has its full quota of poor relations, who in many instances fill the places of housekeeper or upper servants. But at the same time they are provided for comfortably and kindly. Even where means are limited, it is common to see in a household several children outside the immediate family taken from time to time, and cared for by the tender-hearted lady of the house.
Two of the most interesting young people whose acquaintance I made at the capital were the descendants of a humble Indian woman. With her sick babe, only a month old, lying in her rebozo, homeless and unfriended, she trudged through the rain at dusk. A charitable lady, from the interior of a luxurious home, witnessed the scene, and calling the woman, took the babe to her heart as if it were her own. She proposed to her to adopt the child, promising a mother's care. The trust was sacredly kept, and although this lady afterward became the mother of fifteen children, the poor waif was one of the many, and developed into a lovely woman. She married an accomplished gentleman and bore several children, but to the day of her death she knew nothing of her origin.
The religious observances, as well as the customs of the country, are kept up mainly by the women. The men naturally become more cosmopolitan through travel and contact and intercourse with the outside world. But whatever the cause, scarcely a man of education can be found who does not proclaim himself a deist or an atheist. But if a long illness ensue, or death appear inevitable, the priest and the holy sacrament are at once ordered. So I have come to the conclusion that they consider the expression of irreligious sentiments when in health indicative of liberal ideas, and showing a sympathy with the "advanced" thought of the age. While they adopt the theory that "the first requisite of man is to be a good animal," in the hour of trial they fall back on the time-honored consolations.But, despite their lack of creed or religious faith, there is one respect in which husbands of other nations might learn from them a profitable lesson. They generously believe that their wives are fully entitled to an equal share of their business profits and to the expending of their income. The wife is not subjected to the humiliation of begging a pittance, but the whole matter is left to her own good judgment.
EXTERIOR OF CHAPEL ON THE HACIENDA OF SEÑORA
It is only justice to say that courtesy and kindness are almost invariably with them the rule in the family.
It is a knightly spirit which impels the men to the belief that their women are not capable of sustaining the burdens of life. And when a man marries, if his wife have a widowed mother and sisters without means of support, it never occurs to him that it is not his duty to keep and maintain them. These offices they cheerfully accept as an hereditary right, without regard to the attainments or accomplishments which might be turned to account.
This chivalric conduct extends still further, in view of the fact that estates of orphans and widows are administered with much care and honest effort. No dread Nemesis pursues the Mexican in the form of a mother-in-law, for, even if there be room for criticism, she may counsel, but she never interferes.
In many homes I have seen the husband regularly, three times a day, bring from the court-yard a flower to lay on the wife's plate. And such little attentions are not meaningless. I have also known many instances where the husband fondly insisted on the wife placing herself at the table, so that she might be excused from serving either the soup or coffee—saying, "The care of the children was enough for her."
There is little or no intoxication among them. At the club or in their homes they may imbibe too freely, but the effects are never apparent in the street.
In social life there are certainly no more agreeable companions than educated Mexican gentlemen, and they are still more delightful when one comes to know them intimately upon the basis of friendship, time and means being alike at one's disposal; and wherever fate may lead, they follow the fortunes of their friends.
One American family whom I knew were kindly conveyed on their journey of five hundred miles, over a rough and barren country, and nothing would induce the generous Mexican to receive one cent in compensation; and further, the mozo who drove them, and the one who rode ahead to ward off interlopers also declined any compensation, saying, "It was the master's orders."
Some of the grandest public benefactions that I have ever seen were endowed by Mexican men; not only hospitals of every kind, but also institutions of learning. An instance I recall, is that of Everisto Madero, ex-Governor of Coahuila, who devoted his entire salary during his term of office to establishing public schools in his State.
The taste for ceremonious display and profusion is national, and enters into all arrangements, whether of house, dress, or equipage, being limited only by the means for its indulgence. If rustic chairs, cornices, or brackets are used, the dainty fingers of the housewife adorn them, until they lose the rough, unpolished appearance of the native boughs, by means of gilding, bronze, and gay paints, the whole combined into a brilliant mosaic.
Pots containing their lovely plants are draped with mosses peculiar to the country, exhibiting only the beautiful. But in striking contrast to these natural flowers blooming the year round I have frequently seen in handsome houses huge artificial plants in pots, with exaggerated coloring in foliage and flowers.
A love for all bright and lovely objects is innate with these children of the sun. Gorgeous flowers, trailing vines, Chinese lanterns, paintings hung in corridor or patio, brilliant-hued singing-birds, all combine to form a scene of Oriental richness and beauty.
Notwithstanding the apparent tendency to prodigality, the utmost care is taken in every detail of domestic economy.
The carriage, with its silver mountings bright and glistening, stands in the zaguan ready for the drive at a moment's notice, but when not in use, carriage, horses and harness are all in their proper places, in the best possible order.
On the first visit, a guest is cordially shown through the house by its mistress, who may well take pride in its spotless condition. The Mexican housekeeper dreads nothing more than an insignificant particle of polvo (dust) in any part of her domain.
Great care is bestowed on the marking of household linen, the husband's initials or monogram being exquisitely embroidered on each article. Merely to write the name in ink does not suffice, not being considered in keeping with a refined taste.The bedsteads are of either brass or iron—in wealthy families of the former—and almost universally single. Much ingenuity is expended in the draping of filmy laces in canopies of various shapes, daintily caught back with bright ribbons and flowers, while the greatest pains are taken in the execution of elaborate embroideries, laces, tatting,
THE PALACIO MANSION
distinctively national. But with all this industry piled up, I have never seen in the country our well-known, if homely, patchwork quilt.
Pillows are more numerous than with us. I have counted thirteen on one bed, made of either wool or cotton (feathers are limited to the few), very thin and narrow, graded and piled up, pyramid like, and all trimmed uniformly with lace.
Lace curtains are prime essentials of a well-arranged home and adorn every opening, but I have seen none of our gay chintzes or cretonnes used in this way. Mirrors are indispensable, and with the careful forethought of the housewife, one invariably occupies a place over the sofa, while another hangs on the opposite wall, directly before you.
On entering the sala, the most noticeable feature is the sofa, with its invariable accompaniment of four chairs—two large and two smaller ones—placed at either end of the sofa, parallel to each other and vis-a-vis. The unusual number of chairs in most of the houses is surprising, and suggests occasions of reunion as their raison d'être; and regardless of wealth or station, the method of arrangement is the same, extending around the room in unbroken lines, except when met by the sofa or the triangular tables that fill the corners. The parlor furniture of the wealthy is extremely handsome: upholstered in damask, either pure white, or in shades of blue, pink, or crimson, supported by stately frames of gold or silver; with carpet corresponding in style. But the furniture in more general use has wooden frames covered with bright reps; the cushion of each, with its dainty, home-wrought lace cover, tables with the same, all fitting to a nicety make a unique and harmonious effect. Plainer houses have the same unbroken lines of home-made chairs (the sofacita before described), with the same tables and arrangement. Here one will see as pretty home-made laces and drawn-thread work as in the grand houses.
Surrounded by so many evidences of a refined and luxurious taste, the absence of books and pictures is conspicuous. Private collections are few, but in every large city there is a public biblioteca (library), of which the men and boys avail themselves, but the desire for knowledge is not yet sufficiently urgent for these institutions to be much patronized by women.
On the great Tacuba highway, at the eastern extremity of the Alameda on the right, at Mariscala No. 2, stands a mansion typical of the wealth and luxury of the capital. This stately edifice is the home of General Vicente Riva Palacio, the distinguished statesman, soldier, and littérateur.
The house is entered as usual through the zaguan, from which a spacious stairway, branching to right and left, leads to the principal apartments. A bronze statue of Guerrero, a leading hero of the Independence war, who was grandfather of the owner of the house, now stands as seen in the illustration. The stairs and floors of the corridors and halls are of the finest Italian marble; while around and on either side are tropical plants of every shade and tint; and on the north side swings an aviary filled with bright-hued singing birds.
The house contains about fifty rooms, including three parlors, a grand salon and two smaller ones, all fitted up luxuriously. The oratorio (chapel) is impressive with its altar handsomely draped, and the picture of the Virgin Guadalupe in the center—crosses, silver candelabra, kneeling-stools in plush and gold, magnificent vestments, and I was surprised and pleased to see, on either side, American mottoes—"In God we trust," and "God bless our home."
Quite near the chapel is the comedor grande (large dining-room), which is, perhaps, 100 feet in length and 50 in width.
The furniture is of native rosewood and mahogany, wrought in most tasteful designs, while the floor glistens like glass, in its varied mosaics of rare and peculiar woods. Mirrors alternate with the massive side boards, with their rare marble slabs from the quarries of Puebla.In different receptacles were no fewer than 3,000 pieces of china, many of them hand-painted in the flowers of the country, 2,000 pieces of crystal, and silver that for quantity, variety, and brightness was truly dazzling. Included in this was the magnificent silver service
STAIRWAY IN THE PALACIO HOME.
sent by Francis Joseph, Emperor of Austria, engraved with the royal arms, to Mariano Palacio, father of the present owner of the house, as a token of gratitude for his voluntary and noble defense of Maximilian. Smaller rooms are used by the family informally.
The table linen, of finest texture, includes cloths with monogram elaborately embroidered at either end, and napkins for every possible use, many representing the talent, industry, and ingenuity of the women of Mexico, being hemstitched, embroidered, or ornamented with that original lace—the drawn-thread work—for which they are famous.
While on the subject of needle-work, I must mention that I was shown about thirty of the most elegant bed-spreads on which my eyes ever rested. They consisted of velvet, silk, satin, plush, lace, crochet, with various kinds of embroidery as center-pieces; all quite adequate to arouse feelings of lively admiration. The sheets, of snowy linen, are hemstitched and embroidered, sometimes several inches in depth. The pillow-cases correspond in style, the whole forming a collection of rare needle-work which seemed to amount to thousands of pieces.
The sleeping apartments, in addition to every article of luxury and ease, are furnished with single brass bedsteads, over each of which is suspended a canopy of delicate lace, caught up with flowers and bright ribbons, forming a veritable bower.
The sala grande bears evidence of an immense expenditure, every thing being of European importation. In size it corresponds with the dining-room. The carpet is shaded from pale pink to bright crimson; the furniture in frames of gold, upholstered in the same shades of the carpet. Grand chandeliers costing thousands of dollars are suspended from the ceiling; mirrors and sconces are arranged on the walls, and lace curtains of daintiest weft shade the windows. In this apartment I again encountered the beautiful hand embroidery of Doña Josefina, the noble and lovely wife of General Palacio, in the chairs, ottomans, and hassocks, all executed in the finest Japanese designs, some of which she told me had occupied her time for six months.
I must also mention the ceilings of this mansion. Some 30 feet in height, they rest on heavy beams of wood, laid crosswise of the room, each one perhaps 18 inches in depth, the whole giving an effect of massive grandeur. The beams are tinted to correspond With the ceilings and walls, and ornamented with lines of gold. These lines also panel the walls, and outline doors and windows.
The azotea, a notable feature in the architecture of the Aztecs, still adorns these square-topped buildings. At the capital they are constructed of brick, and form a delightful promenade at all seasons. As the houses are joined together, one may walk over the entire square, as I had the pleasure of doing.
The study of General Palacio contains, perhaps, one of the finest collections of books and manuscripts in the republic. He possesses a large number of the original documents of the Inquisition handsomely bound; also a valuable foreign library, comprising books in many languages. The door of the case containing the books of the Inquisition opens over a winding stairway, and the carpet is fitted to a nicety over the semicircle which opens and closes with the door, giving ingress and egress to the private study below. When the General opened the door of this case, I came near going headlong below, and the thought flashed through my mind that I was verily descending to the vaults of the Inquisition, not knowing that the door of the bookcase was also that of the dark stairway. I was, however, rescued by my friends, and made the descent in the usual way. I would here remark that these spiral stairways are a prominent feature of Mexican architecture.
In the room below there is a handsome case containing the swords of General Francisco Xavier Mina and Vicente Guerrero; the feathers—pink and white—worn by the Emperor Iturbide on his hat when entering the city in 1821; a bronze cast of Napoleon; and the original sentence of Picaluga, who betrayed Guerrero into the hands of his enemies, besides many Indian curios and bric-a-brac. In another room were the chair of Hidalgo and the saddle that Maximilian rode the day he was captured.
Some idea of the immense collection of books, manuscripts, legal documents, and literary works of General Palacio may be gained, when I say that eight handsome rooms in this grand house are devoted exclusively by him to his scientific and literary pursuits—the large study upstairs, from which we descended by means of the winding stairway, and seven rooms on the ground floor, running from the front windows on the sidewalk, along the patio, far to the rear. On the opposite side is the family theater, capable of seating two hundred persons, beautifully arranged and decorated. The drop-curtain and scenery are painted from native subjects. In the season a select company occupy the boards—sometimes varied by amateurs—and play to crowded houses of friends.
THE SALA GRANDE IN THE PALACIO HOME.
In the rear zaguan, a carriage is ever ready for the drive, while immediately behind this is an exquisite fairy-like grotto, with its fountain, creeping tropical vines and gorgeous flowers, distinctly visible from the sidewalk through the open doors. On one side are various baths, and still beyond, sewing rooms; while on the other are the numerous servants' rooms, all neat and well kept. Beyond these is the vast laundry, then the stables containing stalls for many horses, all sleek and shiny, with vehicles of various kinds, the premises extending until halted by the rear street.
It may be interesting to know that the number of servants constantly employed is thirty-five—among them three housekeepers—to say nothing of many extra ones who come in on special occasions. The family to be waited upon by this array of domestics consists of, at most, six members.
Externally the mansion presents the semi-feudal appearance so often seen here—a mass of solid, gray stone, indicating little of the extent and magnificence of the interior.
The love of music permeates all classes, and is cultivated equally by both sexes. Thoroughness is the rule, and memorizing is always required; the most difficult and prolonged recitals being rendered with brilliant execution without the score or a break. When asked to play, the musician complies at once, and if the guest expresses pleasure, will continue playing indefinitely.
On marriage the beautiful art is not given up; on the contrary, is practiced quite as much as before. In some delightful homes I have been agreeably entertained for hours at a time by the choicest musical duets rendered by an elderly man and his wife, the sons and daughters, and even the grandchildren, taking their places alternately at the piano.
I heard but little classic music, but the opera is popular and understood by all. In this, public taste is quite critical, Italian opera taking precedence. Opera bouffe is regarded as highly immoral, although the ballet is universally popular, and introduced between the acts of grand opera. English opera is regarded as a compromise between them. A young Mexican friend of mine quaintly classified Italian opera as blanca (white or pure); English, color de rosa; and opera bouffe, muy Colorado (highly colored).
An enterprising manager, not a great while since, attempted to present on alternate nights grand opera and opera bouffe. On grand opera nights every seat and box was filled with the wealth and fashion of the capital, while on opera bouffe nights they sang to almost empty houses. If any laxity of morals exists in private life, immoral and corrupting plays are certainly discouraged on the boards.
The native airs breathe a passionate sweetness, uniting with the tender minor tones the high staccato movement and the short, quick rest—a style to be observed both in the voice and instrument.
A marked difference may be noted in the melodies of the plains and low country and those of elevated and mountainous regions—the former being soft and pathetic, while the latter breathe the exhilarating spirit of the hills.
The finely attuned national ear for music assists greatly in the acquirement of foreign languages, for which their aptness is remarkable. I have been in families where English, French, and Italian were spoken quite as fluently as the native tongue. In this respect they excel our own country people. Their linguistic culture is practical, while our students generally neither have nor make opportunities for speaking in foreign tongues.
Closely connected with music and languages is the poetical faculty, which seems equally inherent. It comes out on any occasion, with surprising readiness, in little tender sentimental effusions, or graceful compliment—tone and gesture having added emphasis in delivery.
Diminutives are universally employed, and the cita never sounds so sweetly as when murmured by infant lips in mamacita and papacito (dearest or darling mamma and papa). The names we are accustomed to use in a formal manner sound sweet and pathetic in their simpler adaptation, as heard in Mexican homes. Aunt Julia, in our prosaic idiom, becomes Julita—pronounced Hulita, little Julia—tia aunt) being entirely omitted. Everybody is called by the Christian name, regardless of age or position in society.
Nothing is more melodious in Mexican homes than the terms teand tu (thee and thou). The pronoun you, usted (written V.), is not used in the family, nor with intimate friends, te and tu being expressive of confidence. I have been corrected by heads of families for thoughtlessly addressing some of them as you instead of placing myself in their inner circle, sharing its most sacred privileges.
In the endearing expressions, "Tu me quieres á mi?" ("Lovest thou me?"), " Yo, te quiero á ti" ("Yes, I love thee"), the pronouns are repeated for emphasis.
Another way of putting it is, "Me queres tu?" ("Lovest thou me?'"), "Si, te quero" ("Yes, I love thee"). Still other loving expressions which are heard in Mexican homes every day are, "Luz de mis ojos" ("Light of my eyes"), and "Idolo mio" ("My idol"). "Mi corazoncito" ("My heart's treasure"), and "Vida mia" ("My life"), all having an added zest by the speaker's tender manner.
In the baby language of mothers, nothing is sweeter than these
CORRIDOR IN THE PALACIO HOME.
expressions. Intonations vary in different localities. At the capital the rising inflection is generally heard, the voice running on an upward sliding scale—the marked rising inflection—as nõ, Buènó, with pleasing effect.
Great delicacy is always exercised in speaking of ages. In one part of the country, one a little advanced in years, or even quite old, is called viejito (a little old). In the choice society of the capital this term is considered wanting in good taste; un poco grande or grandecito (a little large) is usually employed, but the phrase carries conviction with it.
One highly commendable trait is, that Mexicans will not say disagreeable things to you, either on their own account, or repeating what others may have said. I have been told that the women are much given to gossip; but if true, I have not heard them, as they are careful never to speak unkindly or slightingly of their countrywomen in the presence of strangers. The possible failings of their own people are carefully held in reserve; and the most critical remark I heard one woman make of another was, that she was "muy buena, pero para pura buena no serve" ("very good, but to be purely good, and no more, was of no value"), a nice discrimination between negative and active goodness!
"Muy Mexicano" ("Very Mexican") is another phrase used in the same way, referring to something slow, or out of accord with the feelings and sentiments of the speaker.
"Muy mal criado" ("A very bad servant") expresses great contempt. Sometimes, however, it is used humorously, as when a child teases its mother, or a friend insists on the conferring of some little favor at an inconvenient season.
In the arts of the toilet the señorita is fully up with her AngloSaxon sisters; indeed, it may truthfully be said she is ahead of them. Paint, whitening lotions, and dentrifices are used freely. But no women excel them in the care of the hair, that "glory" of woman, and its wonderful length, its silky, luxuriant softness, amply compensate them for their pains.
Houses built before the days of modern conveniences are not provided with baths, but comfortable and luxurious public baths—warm and cold—for all classes exist everywhere. It is here the señorita, at least once a week, uncoils her lovely tresses, and washes thoroughly both hair and scalp, then, with towel pinned around her shoulders, and hair flowing in unconfined ripples from crown to tip, goes through the streets to her home with no more concealment than if returning from church. Señoritas are universally known in plain English as chickens. If very young, they are pollitas (little chickens). If twenty or more years, the graver and more prophetic term polla (grown or big chicken) is applied.
An opportunity was given me of hearing an amusing adaptation of the term.
A number of ladies were arranging to give an entertainment for a charitable purpose. All had stated what they would contribute, save one, who had remained silent throughout. But when a lull came in the conversation, she quietly remarked she would bring the pollas y pollitas. The merriment spread like contagion, for she had three marriageable daughters.
On another occasion, at a fashionable dinner party which I attended at the capital, Guillermo Prieto was also a guest.
The venerable poet sat at the extreme end of the long table beside a blooming señorita, who was evidently entertaining the old gentleman to the best of her ability. A charming, middle-aged señora sat near me, and when the conversation flagged, she turned and said, naïvely, "Oye! oye (hear! hear)! Guillermo! You like those pollitas much better than the pollas!" To which he replied, "Naturalmente (naturally), there is nothing prettier or sweeter than a pollita!" An expression of taste which could not be described as national.
But these lovely pollitas never experience the pleasures of our débutantes. From thirteen years of age they may be candidates for matrimony, but such an event crowning their entrance into society as a winter in Washington would be as foreign to their ideas and impressions of real young ladyhood as their Romeo and Juliet lovemaking from the balcony or barred windows to our young ladies. So they are always out, and yet never out!
Solteras or doncellonas viejas is the term applied to old maids. While no derogation attaches to this position, yet often much sport is made at the expense of those who may in any way render themselves odious and disagreeable. ''Muy fastidiosa" ("very fastidious," or "a little difficult to please") is politely applied; or "Very good to dress the saints," meaning, that they are always at church, and, having nothing else to do, dressing saints is a proper occupation for them.
Thirty years are allowed a señorita ere she is launched on that monotonous soltera journey; and they are to be found as often in wealthy as in plainer families.
Bachelors are quite common, and they also have their special names. Sometimes solterones, at others, solterones perniciosos (bad or pernicious unmarried men). A Mexican lady said to me, "Life to the solterones is never bleak nor desolate. They keep up their houses and have everything about them that contributes to their happiness!"
Young marriageable men are called gallinos, older ones, gallos (young and old roosters). And those tireless, idle young men who stand on the streets habitually, watching the señoritas on their way to mass or to shop, are called by the appropriate name of lagartijos (lizards), because they are always in the sun.
Foreigners are not long in sorting these out from the multitude, as they make it a rule to stare one out of countenance.
They compare with the idlers of all countries, and are not a whit behind them in deportment and dress—even the eyeglass is not wanting.
A natural and, it would seem, national source of pride to the Mexican, is his small and elegantly formed foot, and, not satisfied with its original graces of slender form and arched instep, he compresses its size by wearing tight-fitting, high-heeled, and pointed-toed shoes.
Apropos of this little display of personal vanity, shared by both the sexes, I may repeat what a lady of great culture and refinement told me in plain words, that while her husband was handsome, good, and kind, yet, had he not possessed the most perfect foot she ever saw, never would she have married him!
The women are by no means migratory in their habits. Indeed, with few exceptions, they do not travel in their own country. They have no seaside resorts nor watering-places kept solely for recreation; the change to a hacienda or to a quiet village being the chief portion of their knowledge and experience in that line.
The increased facilities for travel do not offer sufficient inducements to them to leave their homes.
One charming woman, whose acquaintance I formed at Morelia, said to me that she had never been ten miles beyond Morelia but once in her life. This was a trip to the capital after her marriage. Then she only remained one day, which was spent in weeping so violently, and in entreating her liege lord to take her home again, that he was only too glad to do so without delay.
The boarding-house, as it is known to us, is entirely unknown in Mexico, so that in cases of financial difficulty or other misfortune, ladies do not assume the care and management of such establishments. I only know of one instance where a lady, suddenly reduced from affluence to poverty, had recourse to this method of gaining a livelihood. Now and then one may encounter a casa de huespedes, where furnished rooms are rented, but this is the extent of such business by women. And it is safe
WASHSTAND IN A MEXICAN HOUSE.
found herself inside either a hotel or boarding-house.
Indeed, so deeply rooted is the feeling against any kind of publicity in the domestic life, that it is not considered etiquette for a lady, married or single, to visit in hotels.
Foreigners are attracted by the tender, kindly manner of the señoritas, and frequently choose their life partners among them. But, though loyal and devoted wives, as is well known, the fewest instances are on record where they have been successfully transplanted to another soil. They will not quarrel to carry their point, but sooner or later they will and must return to their native land. The women of other countries may fill a wider sphere, but there is no climate nor customs like their own.
A parallel is found by transplanting the American woman to Mexico, and the Mexican woman to the United States. The one sighs over her lack of freedom, while with the other, the excess of freedom is an untold burden. No charm or attraction can exist for her beyond the barred window and the circumscribed limits of the promenade, accompanied according to custom, by some female relative or servant.
The foreigner who contemplates seeking the hand of a señorita, should first arrange all business matters in his own country, bid adieu to kindred and friends; for when the event takes place linking his fate with that of the object of his affections, he must become in word and deed a Mexican, and be one of the family in every relation.
One noble trait is exemplified in the life of the Mexican woman who shares her worldly goods with either a foreigner or countryman. He may bring into his house his parents, his aunts, and his cousins, even as remote as the twenty-ninth cousin, and his wife will feel it only her duty and pleasure to be kind and tender, dividing with them her worldly possessions.
According to law, a girl is eligible for matrimony at fourteen. She is then as fully developed as an American girl at eighteen. Maturing thus early, marriage takes place, and from twenty-five to thirty-five, the piquancy of youth waning, they arrive at a faded and premature age. The dearth of intellectual pursuits and the climate do their part in the metamorphosis.
The fine physical development among the women is particularly noticeable at the capital. Their beauty, however, grows upon and impresses one by degrees; their glorious soft eyes, glossy black hair, exquisitely shaped hands and arms and small feet are more admired the longer we observe them.
It is a pleasure to chronicle the fact that the government is now thoroughly aroused to the importance of giving educational advantages to the excellent, honest, and kindly disposed middle class. Nothing will tend more to make Mexico strong in herself and the sooner place her in the foremost ranks among nations, than the disposition
Treated heretofore more like dolls, or ornamental adjuncts—and in a state of dependence—now, without fear of misconstruction, they may enter such avenues of art and industry as will support them independently. Every latent talent is being fostered and encouraged by the administrators of the law. Poor young girls, as well as boys, are pensioned by either their own State or the federal government, and only a few years more will witness an upward and onward progressiveness heretofore unknown.
At home, also, their range of accomplishments is extended. Where formerly señoritas employed themselves in lacework and embroidery, they now cut, fit, and make their own dresses with taste and skill, copying closely European and American fashions, and taking much pleasure in the selection of the various styles.
During my sojourn at the capital, one young señorita graduated in dentistry. She began at once assisting her father, who was a dentist, in his office, the fact being announced in all the leading daily papers.
Happily the class which most needs this aid and encouragement is the one most benefited by it—the excellent, faithful, and hospitable middle class.
It need not be inferred that husbands interdict their wives from sharing intellectual enjoyments. Yet one—a distinguished man of letters—remarked to me that it was all very well for American women to walk along with the men in science and literature, but it would never do for Mexican women to know any place aside from the home, with its relation to husband and children. If so, they would at once grow unhappy and discontented.
A Mexican gentleman, who had lived a great deal in the United States, and appreciated the Americans as a people, freely admitted to me that he had made the "double mistake of marrying two American women." If this remark savored of a lack of gallantry, it bore, however, a general truth, for the races are not, as a rule, suited to each other conjugally.
But some of the most majestic old dames it has ever been my fortune to know are among the Mexican women. They step as if descended directly from Montezuma, and the manner in which they uphold the dignity of their homes is something well worth seeing.
In neither sex is the slightest effort made to conceal age. Even young ladies on the shady side of an "uncertain age" do not seem aware that the least derogation attaches to that fact, but with a quiet unconcern state the exact number of their years. Having so many servants, the lives of the women are much easier with regard to household labors than with us. There is no hurry—no necessity for it; but, though custom yields to négligé in the mornings, sacques and skirts, loose low shoes, and no corsets, hence no inconvenience as from the more formal toilet of our women, their maladies are quite as numerous. The lack of exercise, and excessive indulgence in rich, highly-spiced peppery food, may account for many ailments.
Children sum up, generally, ten, twelve, and sometimes as many as fifteen to eighteen in number, many not reaching maturity. In few instances do the mothers nurse their babes, the wet-nurse being "the power behind the throne."
I was agreeably disappointed, however, to see so few instances of personal deformity. Near-sightedness is prevalent all over the country, and is accounted for by the excess of light outside and its deficiency, with lack of ventilation, in both homes and schools.
Mexico is an earthly paradise for children. The little monarchs hold high sway in the affections of the people; and from the moment they see the light it is a long hey-day of enjoyment and child-play. Expressions of the tenderest love are lavished on them without affectation, whether in the street, the house, or the shop, and, regardless of how many may have preceded him, the new baby is hailed with delight, and takes superior rank in the household.
No country can produce more marvelously beautiful, brighter, or more precocious children. They are happy by nature, and, though indisposed to quarrel with each other either in the house or street, yet somehow they manage to assert their rights.
The childish prattle in the sweet baby Spanish is melody itself, coming from these winning and most lovable little creatures. Beautiful Alfonso, the baby boy of Señora Calderon—a little more than two years old—came tapping at my door one day.
Opening it, I asked, "What do you want, precious one?" Taking my hand and looking archly in my face, he said, with baby incorrectness, "Sabo Ingles" ("I know English"). "Well, then," said I, "speak to me in English."
"Gooch," he replied, laughing, shaking his head, and, as I caught him in my arms, patting me on the cheek. My name was the only word he knew, but he had rehearsed it with his nurse until his pronunciation was perfect. After this, every visitor was made aware of his proficiency in English, the whole family entering into his own enjoyment of his knowledge. No wonder these darlings are so little under control when they are so cunning and interesting!
LITTLE ALFONSO. "I KNOW ENGLISH."
National tastes and characteristics are early developed.
Among the first is, that noise of any kind—laughing, crying, and walking heavily—is rude and unbecoming.
Babies do not creep because always in the arms of the nurse, who does the greater part towards amusing them. They are so tractable that in sitting for a photograph they naturally take a graceful, easy position, upon which even the artist cannot improve. The portrait of Alfonso is an instance of this kind. I took him to the artist, and without either of us touching him, he assumed the position as presented.
Clinging as they do to inbred traits, the universal habits of all children exhibit themselves. If they are not given the drumsticks of the fowl, I have seen their great luminous orbs gather moisture until tears would overflow in distress at the appropriation by some one else of this important appendage. No child is excluded from the table or asked to wait: even on ceremonious occasions their places are reserved. They are admitted into the full confidence of the family circle, and such interesting events as births, marriages, and deaths are discussed in their presence with the utmost freedom.
Boys begin to smoke about ten years of age, but never do they indulge in the presence of their elders—not even an older brother. Few games and but fewer outdoor sports have been provided for them; and until within late years, bicycles or gymnasiums were unknown. But they are grand little horsemen, when fully equipped in the national dress; though sometimes rather grotesque when mounted on a hard-mouthed "billy goat" instead of a horse, accompanied by a train of boys. One rides, another leads, and still another uses the lash. I have seen two boys on one "billy," and this usually obstreperous animal yielded quite kindly to the caprices of the riders.
Girls have quite as little diversion, and often I have seen them playing self-invented games, in close imitation of church scenes—with altar, candles, and swinging censers—the boys acting as priests, while the girls, as nuns or plain worshipers, would file into the imaginary church.
The home discipline is of the mildest. If a correction be necessary, it comes in the form of an appeal, both parents showing tender leniency. An infraction of the household laws brings no punishment from the mother, and if persuasion and tears will not avail, the culprit goes free. At school the discipline is of the same character. No scolding, no correction or use of the rod is ever permitted. The laws of the country are express and explicit on this point, and even a parent so inclined could not grant this privilege to the teacher. But parents and teachers vie with each other in inculcating all the laws of politeness and courtesy.
I wish I could tell half I have seen of the graces and courtesies of these children. In the Alameda, with kindly deference, they will always yield to elderly and infirm persons their own cozy and shady seats. On entering a sala, where there are few or many guests, these exquisitely polite little gentlemen will go all around shaking hands with every one present. They never break into the conversation, but when addressed will modestly join in it; then, wishing to retire, will say, "With your kind permission," and again shaking hands, move gracefully from the company. Girls are no less imbued with the same spirit of courtesy.
A Mexican boy never thinks himself too near manhood to pay the compliment to his mother of kissing her hand every time he comes into her presence. But I have sometimes seen evidences of a double motive in this pretty custom. Every one of these lads loves to patronize the dulce vender, and to do so he must keep in the good graces of his mother. While he stoops to imprint a kiss upon her hand, he whispers in her ear, " Give me a medio, dear mamma, I want some dulces." This appeal is never resisted.
Children are entertained by their mothers with an inexhaustible supply of tales and legends. Kings and queens are generally the subjects of these stories, and while their origin is Spanish, much Mexican sentiment is ingeniously interwoven with them.
Something more must be said about the dear babies and their clothing. In the Aztec country, baby's wardrobe is an unpretentious affair. The custom prevails of supplying only a very few simple articles. A square yard of flannel and one of muslin, hemmed all around and edged with lace or embroidery, known as pañale, are wrapped around the infant's body and worn for three months, when little drawers—calzoncillos—are substituted. Dresses are held in reserve, to be worn on special occasions.
In wealthy families now, however, European wardrobes for babies are used, yet many still adhere to the original mode. At night the nurse wraps a small rebozo tightly about the arms and hands of the little one. She explains that baby will become frightened at his hands and scratch himself with his nails. In some families the rebozo is kept wrapped around the little one's arms and hands, both by day and night, so there is no danger of his taking fright at his own development.
Poor little babes! They do look so uncomfortable, inveigled in the folds of the relentless rebozo, their bodies straightened out full length, so that neither arms nor legs can toss about if colic or other baby malady should overtake them.
- Mexico as it Was and as it Is, by Mayer, and Madame Barca's Life in Mexico, were published about the same time, the former in 1844, Madame B.'s in 1843. Mayer was Secretary of the American Legation under the Hon. Powhatan Ellis, and the latter was the wife of the first Spanish Minister who was sent to Mexico after the War of Independence.