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Fest relives spirit of old Mexico

Hispanics in Wimauma, many of them migrant farm workers, celebrate the Posada, a Christmas tradition, on Sunday.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 18, 2000

WIMAUMA -- For much of the year, the Hispanic migrant farm workers now living in southeast Hillsborough County roam from growing season to growing season in different states and towns.

On Sunday, Hispanics in Wimauma gathered to perform the Posada, the Christmas parade in which Mary and Joseph roam from house to house looking for shelter to give birth to baby Jesus. The Posada is an old Mexican tradition, a blend of Aztec and Catholic traditions, but is perhaps even more relevant to the Mexican community in Hillsborough County today, a shifting community struggling for a foothold in a new country.

"We're not thieves, we're pilgrims," the choir from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church sang in Spanish, following children dressed as Mary, Joseph and the angel, and a Nativity scene carried by two men. "We just need a place to go."

In front of them, children dressed in black tunics decorated with silver crosses and bright red, yellow, blue and green feathers danced to the rhythm of drum beats and beat their own sticks in time. People dressed as the characters Los Viegitos, the old people, and Tio, an evil character with a whip, danced ahead of the procession.

"It's a very old tradition developed by missionaries to help convert the indigenous people of Latin America to Catholicism," said Martin Torres, the Mexican consul based in Orlando who came to the Wimauma Civic Center for the festivities Sunday. "It represents the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph. . . . The Posada is performed everywhere in Mexico, from the needy neighborhoods to high-class people."

But the Posada, at least one this large, is not usually performed in Hillsborough County. More than 500 people gathered at the civic center Sunday afternoon for a Mexican Christmas celebration that included the Posada and other traditions, such as breaking pinatas and drinking ponche navidena, a punch made with baked guavas, sugar cane and tejocotes.

The day's events were sponsored by the Mexican Consulate in Orlando and local health and social services agencies, which helped distribute toys to the children.

Kids from the Rural Youth Soccer Association played soccer games against teams from Bradenton. In only its second season, the association has more than 150 kids, mostly the children of migrant farm workers, playing organized soccer for $5 a month. Most suburban soccer leagues charge much more, so this association must get by on creativity and donations.

The league was started by social worker Alayne Unterberger and a group of parents who wanted a way to reach their Americanized children and build a sense of community among the farm workers. Including soccer in the Mexican Christmas celebration was just one more way to involve the children in their native culture.

After the Posada, the kids lined up to take whacks at a pinata shaped like a purple, green and white ship. As their parents shouted encouragement in Spanish, the other children shouted directions in English.

The pinata is a very old Mexican tradition, Torres said, but no matter what language is shouted, the result is always the same. When the first treats began to fall out of the battered ship, the kids swarmed to get their fair share of a Mexican Christmas.

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