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Mexico

The Streets of Reynosa

A WALK DOWN PINATA ROW

by John Troesser

"As I walked out in the streets of Reynosa,
as I walked out in Reynosa one day,
I stumbled down into an uncovered manhole;
but that's what you get when you walk like a Jay."

Who can forget those timeless lyrics? My tattered, bullet-riddled Sidekick's Songbook says that it was Trad Ballad that wrote it. Trad, a prolific songwriter if ever there was one, seems to have written just about everything from Greensleeves to Frankie and Johnnie. Last week, when I found myself walking down those (semi) legendary streets, I decided to take notes and a few snapshots to share with my friends at Texas Escapes.


First time visitors to Mexico should be warned that Mexico (as a developing country) is a work in progress. It is in a perpetual state of construction. While half of the country appears to be freshly-painted, the other half is usually in need of a new coat of paint. This imbalance is corrected every six years when national elections are held and every flat, upright surface in Mexico is covered in bright red, white and green paint.
No Hay Dos

Mexico is many things - but one thing it is not is a "nanny-state." The government doesn't see the need to spend a lot of money on barricades and warnings. Fancy-schmancy signs for live electrical wires, open trenches or washed-out bridges simply aren't needed. Mexicans are firm believers in the dictum of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and to first-timers, it may seem as if there's a program in place to "strengthen" as many people in as short a period of time as possible.

Like most visitors, I crossed into Reynosa from Hidalgo, Texas.* Soon after clearing the bridge and being ignored by the Mexican customs guards, I immediately encountered construction. The main street leading to the town square was being repaved with a snazzy faux-flagstone surface and although it was nearly finished, electrical wires for underground utilities and (what appeared to be sharpened) rebar jutted menacingly from the curb. I considered taking a detour, but remembering Yogi Berra's sage advice about the fork in the road - I took it.
Comida China, fish as chef, Chinese restaurant sign
Cousin Cuisine?
TE photo
   
Eat My Species!

As I headed uphill to downtown, I was pleased to see one of my favorite Chinese restaurants still in business. I'm sure the old typewritten menu that proudly offered "shrimp with mobster sauce" was gone. The door still had its aging sign from the "eat my species" school of signage. You're probably familiar with these signs. They're the ones where cows proffer you burgers, pigs smile while barbecuing their offspring and chickens gleefully serve their dismembered kin with a side order of slaw. In this particular case a fish of Asian ancestry offers some diced and stir-fried relatives.
Best B-B-Q. Pig in chef hat
Eat Me
TE photo
   
Piedras Negras Mexico restaurant sign. Pig cooking man sign
Porky's Revenge
TE photo
   

On the next block I found another old friend - an elaborate and detailed Rivera-esque mural. It may be the only historical mural along the border and it's a nice one, even though it's showing signs of age. The height of the building across the street has allowed the morning sun to lighten the bottom third of the painting, but the upper two thirds are fine. On the far right side of the mural a Mexican family and an American family cross paths at the border.
Reynosa Mexico large mural
The Rivera-esque Mural at the wrong time of day
TE photo, March 2006
This part of Reynosa (on the east side of the town square) is made up of restaurants, drugstores and nightclubs. The once-numerous liquor stores have have melted away to just a few. Businesses on the west side of the square are mainly corner groceries, beauty salons, doctor's offices and residences. These eventually give way to tire repair businesses, body shops and pinata factories.

I passed the square (as busy as ever) and started downhill toward my destination. The streets were blocked with water-delivery trucks, telephone repair trucks and street repair vehicles. Like the situation with paint - half of Mexico seems to be undergoing repair while the other half is awaiting it. Sidewalks were split and cracked or missing altogether. "When in Mexico, do like the Mexicans." So I started walking in the street.

Paper mache pinata, Tinker Bell pinata. Batman Pinata
An apprehensive Tinkerbell hopes to be bought before the Batmen are finished.
TE photo, March 2006

Pinata City

Soon I started having the eerie and uneasy feeling that I was being watched. I could feel scores of eyes following me down the street. It was a little like the Twilight Zone episode where mannequins got to spend one day a year among the living - but here it was the eyes of pinatas that were upon me.

Tip: The best quality pinatas are recognized by their ability to follow you around the room (or down the street) with their eyes.

"I was young and I needed the money."

If you still think of pinatas as little donkeys - you're showing your age. The last donkey pinata rolled off the assembly line in 1963. The government promised to retrain the laid-off workers to work on more modern models, but the old pinata-dogs were too set in their ways and hung up their paste pots. They just couldn't adjust to the likes of Bart Simpson.

The new generation of Pinata makers now take their cues from popular culture. Smurfs, Ninja Turtles, the stars of 101 Dalmatians and the aforementioned Bart have all posed for pinatas.

If you've ever wanted to cudgel a Smurf, pummel Batman, or cuff around Little Nemo (I would strongly suggest that you seek professional help), but although Pinatas can be a way to release pent-up aggression, most pinatas are still purchased for children. The papier-mâché effigies can be made just about anywhere there is adequate space to construct and hang them. The factories are usually found in the poorer parts of cities - where rents are cheaper.
Princess Pinata, Cinderella paper mache pinata
Headline hemlines
A wasp-waisted princess

TE photo, March 2006
   

"To Live and Die in Tamaulipas"
Pinata production is cyclical. Born full-sized, early in the week, they reach maturity as the weekend approaches (and then die a violent death at the hands of zealous children). Some pinatas escape this horrible fate by being sent to small town groceries where they'll hang above the produce section until they gather enough dust to be declared a hazard by the health department. After the last sacrifices of Sunday, the cycle starts all over again.

Armatures are twisted into shape on Monday and on Tuesday larval mermaids and embryonic ninja turtles are covered with their first skin of obituaries and comics. By Wednesday they are "hung out to dry" - awaiting their crepe-paper finery. Half-dressed, they sometimes reveal their secrets to the world. Before my visit I had no idea that Batman favored tabloid underwear or that Cinderella's hemlines are actually headlines.

Candy, of course, is the objective of every pinata-bash. This is inserted into the pinata after purchase. Special candy stores stock bulk candy in a range of prices. Cheap candy for the neighborhood kids - and perhaps more expensive foil-wrapped candy if your boss' kids are there. There was a time when pinatas were sold with the candy already inside - but old timers will tell you how "meltdowns" would result in the candy settling into one appendage or another. When struck, the molten caramel.... well, let's just say it wasn't a pretty picture.
Four modern girl pinata
2001 Models in
Raymondville

TE photo
   
The Walk Resumes

As I advanced deeper into Pinata Country, it seemed to me that just about every other building had a group of swinging pinatas awaiting their final touches. Evidently Cinderella has been re-released, so there was an excess of princesses as well as legions of Batmen (but not a single Robin). There were also a few less-popular personalities - showing that even pinata artists can get burned out and need to experiment.

Chihuahua in in sweater
Not a Pinata
TE photo
   
Dog Day Afternoons

Besides the pinata population, the next largest group of street dwellers I saw were Reynosa's dogs. These poor animals are broken and bruised survivors - and many of them limp and list from improperly-healed injuries. Having survived their brief puppyhood on these (very) mean streets; they spend their adulthood bravely defending their master's homes - staying up all night every night. The next day is spent sleeping (with one eye open for approaching cars).

While 98% of these dogs wouldn't bite a hot biscuit, once in a while you will encounter a dangerous one. I'm not talking about Pit Bulls, Doberman pinschers or Rottweilers. The most threatening dog I saw on the streets of Reynosa was this Pomeranian-Chihuahua hybrid. He was walking toward me down the middle of the street - forcing other dogs, humans (including myself) and at least one car onto the sidewalk. Until I encountered this bantam-weight Cujo, I had never actually seen a dog swagger. Evidently his sweater gives him elevated status over his unclothed brethren. It shows that he has a human mother (no man would put a sweater on a dog) and that means that he is loved. No one is going to challenge him - knowing that his human "mother" is just seconds away.

To Be Continued...

*Hidalgo had its fifteen minutes of fame back in the 1980s when it became the American entry point for Africanized honey bees. The city of Hidalgo extended their dubious honor by erecting an oversized, semi-comic killer bee in their main park.



April 14, 2006 Column
Text and photos © John Troesser
More Columns by John Troesser

Forum:
Dear TE, I was about to embark on a quest to make a pinata, and did a Google image search for some creative possibilities, somehow wound up in the middle of your entertaining piece about Pinata Row. Iím kind of a tough customer with a short attention span when it comes to reading stuff on the InterWebs, but I thoroughly enjoyed your article and your sense of humor. Iím from California, and to my knowledge, have never been to Texas unless we crossed the panhandle in the early Ď50ís on our way from Manhattan, Kansas (where my dad was going to veterinary school) to our family back in Central California. I donít remember those days, as I was a wee lad. My mother was a self-taught historian, eventually working for the city of Thousand Oaks, Ca. in that capacity in the 1980ís. She imbued in me the importance of saving bits of history, recording events, taking pictures of old buildings etc. Point being, I appreciate your mission, and salute you for doing this work. If Iím ever in Tejas, I may come and visit. Thatís unlikely, I guess, but if a white-haired dude shows up at your door with a Batman pinata under his arm...thatíll be me. Sincerely, David Allen, Thousand Oaks, July 03, 2011

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