I've never once seen bloody animals being sacrificed, goats with sliced throats or any other celebratory or religious customs of Muslims celebrated on the streets of the USA. However, I remember readers sending me photos of these religious traditions, which may seem barbaric to some, playing out on the streets of different Russian cities. I've always struggled with the question of immigration vs. cultural heritage. To what extent should immigrants in a new country part with their cultural ties, and assimilate into the new environment? I think it's a delicate balance, and there are no easy answers.
When I was in San Diego a few months ago, my visit coincided with one of the most important Mexican holidays - Cinco De Mayo. Most Americans think this is Mexican Independence Day, but in fact it's a day to commemorate the Mexican army's victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The holiday is widely celebrated in the USA, with many festivals and ordinary citizens eating Mexican food and sipping margaritas in the warm sun. I was in Old Town San Diego, a huge Mexican mecca in California, during Cinco De Mayo and encountered all kinds of festivities, food, beautiful dancers and mariachi bands.
1. If you're in San Diego, it's necessary to visit this area. It's very touristy, but fun with a lot of shops, music, cheap clothes and souvenirs, etc. It's a State protected Historical Park, and contains a lot of old, restored buildings from the early 1800's.
2. During Cinco De Mayo, it was blazing hot and all lawns were crowded for a huge party being sponsored by Univision, the largest Spanish language television provider in the USA. Old and young Mexicans pulled up lawn chairs, shaded themselves with umbrellas and hats, and enjoyed all of the performances on a large stage.
4. My Spanish is okay, but I had no idea what was happening during most of the performances. In this play, young Mexican boys appeared in wedding dresses, followed by dancers in colorful costumes. The audience was completely enthralled, cheering, laughing and singing at various points. Boys in dresses? Seems like something highly unspiritual. :)) The play almost seemed like something out of a Spanish soap opera, with muchachos vying for the affection of the bride. "Muchacho" - Spanish word for boy in case you don't know.
5. The Town Square is filled with hundreds of shops, cafes and ice-cream shops. Colorful and very photogenic for photographers.
6. If you're a fan of pottery or garden accessories, it's the best place to shop in the USA! Everything is cheap, and these hand-painted pots for plants and flowers cost only $10.50. I would have bought one home, but they are too fragile and would not have survived the long plane ride back to the East Coast.
8. I don't know the purpose of these items. Perhaps they are simply hanging decorations, or they contain evil spells or curses inside? :)
9. Cheap instruments for young kids to buy. I think they also make nice wall decorations! Boys - the quickest way to many girls' hearts is through poetic lyrics and a guitar. I gave my young nephew this advice when he began taking acoustic guitar lessons.
10. If you support free expression, you must take the good with the bad! For me, there's nothing more irritating than these Jesus freaks that stand in huge crowds with microphones, shouting anti-gay sentiments, proclaiming that the only way to happiness is through the Lord, and threatening eternal damnation for those who choose another path in life. Of course, it's their right to say and believe as they wish, but most people seemed completely uninterested in the ideology and aggressive tone of the speaker. You can see all the banners for burritos and other Mexican foods in the background. This is one of the main reasons locals visit Old Town - for the food! :))
11. On the streets, plump and cheerful Mexican women make tortillas from scratch, press them in a hot skillet and serve them piping hot! You can eat them plain, with butter, salsa or a variety of hot sauces.
12. I was in San Diego for a work conference, but there's always time for play. So, my young assistant and I took time out in the middle of the day to return to Old Town for a Cinco De Mayo lunch. In almost all Mexican restaurants, chips and salsa are brought to the table for free shortly after you're seated. On a hot day, there are few drinks more refreshing than a margarita! You can drink them over crushed ice or frozen (like a slushie), and in a lot of fruit flavors. I usually pick the classic lime margarita or strawberry. Tasty! :)) Btw, something that bothers me in Russian restaurants is how long it takes to get your drinks! Sometimes, they come only when the meal is brought. It's strange for an American, who is used to water being brought immediately, sometimes even when the waitress first greets your table.
13. Usually, I find these violin and mariachi players a nuisance, but on this day I was slightly drunk and they only contributed to the festive, party atmosphere. They play for tips, sing you beautiful tunes in Spanish, and then go on to the next victims...oops, I meant table. :)
14. Mexican cuisine doesn't seem popular in Russia, I've seen very few restaurants there serving this type of food. In America, burritos and tacos are almost as popular as hamburgers. ;) Most Americans like this cuisine, and Mexican restaurants can be found almost everywhere. I ate this massive plate of food, with the main dish being "flautas." This is a flour tortilla, stuffed with spicy chicken and cheese, deep fried and covered in more cheese sauce and sour cream. Almost all Mexican dishes are served with refried beans and rice. Yes, a heart attack on a plate, but when I'm traveling I don't watch what I eat. It's time for indulgence, and I choose the most rich and delicious meals.
15. I don't know how many Mexican restaurants exist in the condensed area of Old Town San Diego, but it feels like hundreds. Usually, the lines to be seated are long, but don't worry! They move very fast, and if you visit this region of San Diego, a trip would not be complete if you didn't eat the local food! If you are health conscious, there are healthy Mexican options where you can eat only proteins like chicken and beef with vegetables, but where's the fun in that? :)
16. Now, back to the original question about immigrant assimilation. Today, I saw this post from Varlamov, where he mentions the mass crowds that gather in Moscow each year at the end of Ramadan. He writes on this topic yearly, and I always read the thousands of comments that usually gather, spewing hate at Muslims and their impact on Russian society. This year, Varlamov is in the USA in New York City on Eid al-Fitr. This is one of the biggest cesspools of humanity in the USA. In the post, he states that he wanted to go shoot similar scenes, so he asked New York City locals where the Muslims gather, and was disappointed to learn we don't have this huge spectacle here. I've never once seen it in all of my travels in America. Maybe it happens on a smaller scale in places like Detroit or Minneapolis, which house two of the largest Muslim populations in the States. The only Muslim impact I see is women who continue to wear hijab, or on rare occasions full burqas. About the latter, I am 100% opposed. I wore this garment, and wrote about the sensations and emotions it caused here.
17. Me, behind the blue veil. The color of the garment matches the tint of my eyes, but how would you know?
What do you think? Is it harmful for immigrants to celebrate Cinco De Mayo and religious rites like Eid al-Fitr in their new homeland?
I'm not sure if anyone is on LJ on a Friday night, but hopefully some people will see and offer opinions on this post. Next week, I'll tell you a lot more about beautiful San Diego! In the meantime, have a nice, sunny weekend! :)