If a city could be described as vain, Guanajuato would be the perfect fit.
Readying itself for the biggest day of the year, this vibrant city took no chances and dressed to its best. It donned on everything green, white and red, and transformed from Plain Jane to its fiesta-ready self. Mexican flags hung from hotels and restaurants, while the streets were lined with pop-up stores selling themed decor and souvenirs.
It was Mexico’s Independence Day, and very proudly so.
Beyond the surface, a city cannot be called one without its people. It was the locals that breathed life to this place, and defined its unique way of celebration. From the esteemed la estudiantinas tradition, to screaming “VIVA MEXICO”, to even having curly moustaches on sale, these were all made possible by the people who poured their love into its country in the first place.After living for more than 20 years in Singapore, I have to say that I’ve never felt this excited for our own National Day Parades 😂 Maybe my first parade in Primary 5 made me jump out of my seat every 10 seconds, but that experience is a long forgotten memory by now.
Today, Singapore dedicates the efforts of our late Founding Father Lee Kwan Yew with parades, performances and fireworks — but we all know that nothing beats a fiesta with music, dance and tequila!
Savouring the day, we walked slowly along the streets and absorbed the vibes of Guanajuato. Walls of all colours directed us towards popular markets and museums. We stood out without a sombrero or a flower crown; but we’d probably have stood out even more if we tried to fit in.
Although each stall sold relatively similar items, I loved looking at how crazily jarring the colours were together. It didn’t matter if the walls were painted yellow, blue or pink – today, everything had to match green, white and red.
While locals were used to the typical Mexican decor, I couldn’t resist a look at every stall I passed. This must be how tourists felt on Singapore’s National Day.
Guanajuato’s Tradition La Estudiantinas
I absolutely loved the estudiantinas tradition. To me, it is the very reason why celebrating Independence Day in Guanajuato felt so special. Incepted in 1962, this practice is a defining part of Guanajuato’s culture, and allows tourists to better understand the soul of this city.
Before the tradition started, our Mexican tour guides gave us some things shaped in teapots and frogs. We were baffled and curious, but our questions fell on our lips as soon as it rose.
“HEY, DO YOU HAVE TEQUILA YET?”
Without waiting for an answer, a Mexican gestured towards our empty – and now I know – cups, and poured a shot of tequila. He goes through the entire crowd, and soon after, another Mexican comes along for seconds and thirds.
Then, magical sing-song voices filled the air, as guitars, mandolins, double bass and tambourines strung a beautiful melody together. It was the tuna, or students who sang and played music to make a living. In the past, some students could not afford university and had to resort to other means for money. They sang popular songs, and serenaded women with their soulful voices.
Today, the tuna welcomes students of all faculties, and celebrates the spirit of brotherhood, loyalty, and the freedom of youth.
The music was infectious, and happiness spread like a plague. Everyone belted out to songs and danced to its beats. The guys gave out roses to their special ones, while the tuna serenaded us with their amazing voices.
It was one of the most romantic nights I’ve experienced – literally.
Alas, what’s a party without a night fiesta!
For 100 pesos, we entered the main plaza, and were welcomed by a crowd of locals and tourists alike. The band was still setting up on stage, so we got ready to look more like we were part of the celebration.
We donned on flags, ribbons, and flower crowns, and transformed from typical Singaporeans to full on patriotic.
The night followed with more tequila and dancing, which I really suck at. But tonight, no one really cared — it was fiesta time! Within minutes, I was waltzing through the music with a Mexican, and trying my best to avoid stepping on his toes.
As if the night couldn’t get better, I actually chanced upon my SMU friends! They are doing their student exchange programme in Mexico City, and had also travelled to Guanajuato for this big day. By nightfall, there was such a huge crowd that I swear, there was only a 1% chance of meeting them. I guess it’s fate ☺️☺️☺️
To top off the night, fireworks exploded and filled the entire sky with falling stars.
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¡Viva México! Happy Independence Day to this wonderful, warm, friendly, beautiful country! And congrats on the most spectacular fireworks display I have ever seen – probably because they were super up close and personal (my eyes are still stinging from the smoke!) and they were lit off around San Miguel’s gorgeous cathedral impressively lit up as the flag. A fantastic evening!!! Worth the crowds and the late night! #sanmigueldeallende #independenceday #mexico #vivamexico🇲🇽
The host started shouting ¡Viva México! and the crowd screamed back wholeheartedly. It was a cry so filled with passion (most likely from tequila), and I honestly couldn’t have imagined a more perfect celebration than this.
Mexico has embraced us with its culture and festivities, and welcomed us like we were their own. It made me realise how much pride and love the people have here, and how inclusive they were to strangers like us.
- It felt weird because National Day never felt so special and significant in Singapore. It was always another holiday to sleep in and eat with family.
- It was so different from home, because I can’t imagine Singaporeans letting loose and dancing in a big square, or accepting shots of tequila from strangers.
Lastly, the celebrations are so much more heartfelt and real — simply because Mexicans are prouder of their country than Singaporeans are. Singaporeans are often so critical of ourselves, that nothing seems to truly satisfy us. We also find lots to complain about (recent events include the Nas Daily saga and the Crazy Rich Asians controversy), and splurge on material goods to fulfil the image of a rich, successful, ‘got-my-shit-together’ Singaporean.
But even a S$2,000 iPhone XS can’t keep us content forever.
If Singaporeans were to be as happy and carefree as Mexicans, we would need to love ourselves more. We would need to define happiness beyond material wealth, and begin finding satisfaction in what we have. Nonetheless, most of us don’t have the luxury of travel, and the opportunity to experience something outside our comfort zone.
I am just glad that I am breaking out of the bubble and changing my view of the world, one city at a time.