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The Silver Cradle

The Silver Cradle: Las Posadas, Los Pastores, and Other Mexican American Traditions

Foreword by Felix D. Almardz
Drawings by Bob Winn
Copyright Date: 1983
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  • Book Info
    The Silver Cradle
    Book Description:

    Originally published in 1955, The Silver Cradle is the story of a year in the life of the Mexican American people of San Antonio, Texas. During the 1950s, Julia Nott Waugh recorded the performances of such seasonal and religious traditions as Las Posadas, Los Pastores, Las Calaveras, the Blessing of the Animals, the liturgical observances of Holy Week, and festivities of el diez y seis de septiembre (Mexican Independence Day), among others. Although years have passed and many of the details of observances have changed, the festival calendar and the joy and sincerity of the Mexican American people in honoring its customs and obligations have not disappeared. Now, in fact, a much wider population shares and appreciates the pageantry preserved for us by people like Graciana Reyes, in whose prized silver cradle the Christ Child slept every year at Christmas, and like Doroteo Domínguez, whose annual devotion to presenting a thousand-year-old pastoral epic in his back yard was legendary. Waugh has done much more than just open a window onto a charming past. She has captured for us one of the true gifts of our Mexican American heritage—the willingness to ritually celebrate the passage of time and to embellish the occasions with sensitivity and fervor. This book will appeal to the general reader as well as to those interested in folk traditions and Mexican American culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-76607-5
    Subjects: Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword (pp. ix-x)
    Felix D. Almaraz Jr.

    In the first edition ofThe Silver Cradle,Julia Nott Waugh declared: “Everything recorded in this little book has occurred in San Antonio, and it may occur again tomorrow.” Focusing mainly on customs and traditions that were “characteristic, significant, and apparently eternal” among Mexican Americans, the author, with graceful sensitivity, described a Hispanic cultural presence in San Antonio that neither time nor progress has erased.

    Unencumbered by scholarly trappings and endowed with the perspective of a non-Catholic, Waugh immersed herself in the environment of West Side barrios, sometimes in freezing weather, to transcribe accurately performances of ethnic rituals or reenactments...

  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xi-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The Bottom of the Pile (pp. 3-22)

    Polycarpo Méndez lives with his wife, Felicidad, their five children, and an indeterminate number of relatives in a three-roomed house in the Mexican quarter of San Antonio. It is penetrated with the greatest ease by cold in winter, heat in summer, and the gentle rain from heaven regardless of season.

    A few years ago it consisted of two small rooms worn gray by time and weather. The Mendez family began to feel that their home was not only crowded but a little drear. So Polycarpo assembled some scraps of lumber, flattened some oil cans, and at the cost of considerable...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Silver Qradle (pp. 23-40)

    High among the pleasures of the Mendez children are the Christmas ceremonies sponsored by Agapita’s godmother and everybody’s friend, that woman of character, Graciana Reyes. Graciana is patroness in her neighborhood ofLas Posadas, the search of Mary and Joseph fbr shelter in crowded Bethlehem. And in her home are enacted, faithfully every year,la acostadathe laying down, andla levantadathe taking up, of the infant Jesus.

    Now Graciana hasn’t a soft bed, nor a pair of silk stockings, nor a hat of any description, but she does possess a little silver cradle in which they lay the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Babe of Beauty (pp. 41-68)

    At this very moment, in a back yard down the way, Doroteo Dominguez is presenting a thousand-year-old mystery play which has as its theme the shepherds’ search for the Babe of Beauty.

    Now Doroteo is of a more heroic mold than the gentle folk who conserve the silver cradle. Prohibition was for him a golden era. Golden in more ways than one. Not only could he make money, he could engage in enterprises large and dangerous, suitable to his epic temperament. It is true that he spent a good deal of time in prison, but his pride was unscathed, for...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Blessing of the Animals (pp. 69-74)

    One day about the middle of January Plutarco Méndez washes the family dog. Felicidad contributes bluing to streak his white coat, and if other coloring matter is at hand he is variously engayed. Then Agapita offers her best ribbon for a bow at his neck. For Cazador is to be taken that afternoon to be blessed, along with other animals of the parish, at the church of Jesús y María.

    The ceremony should by rights be performed on the feast of San Antonio de Abad, which falls on January seventeenth but, weather and convenience determining the life of the quarter,...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Apostles Twelve (pp. 75-83)

    Anacleto Arrellano is milking a goat by the side of the church. As with steady rhythm he extracts a foaming quart, he and Polycarpo Mendez are talking—telling each other, after the manner of humankind, things they already know.

    The twelve apostles will perform their customary acts of devotion during Holy Week, Polycarpo says. They will keep a vigil in the church beginning with the seven o’clock Mass on Maundy Thursday and lasting through the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday morning: they will present themselves in the chancel for the ceremony ofel lavatorio;they will lift the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Easter and Epiphany (pp. 84-94)

    Polycarpo and Felicidad Méndez being given to standing, however uncertainly, on their own feet do not find it necessary to send their children to Pascual’s school. It exists for people poorer and more helpless, but they know the master well, and they share in many of the activities of that unassuming good man.

    Pascual was president of the Anti-Communist Society of San Antonio until the group dissolved itself for lack of visible resistance. And he is principal, janitor, and cook at a school for children who do not fit into, or cannot get into, any other institution. His political convictions...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Honor to the Qura Hidalgo (pp. 95-107)

    Halfway through September the Mendez family, along with their compatriots throughout the world, celebrate Mexican Independence Day. Here in San Antonio the consulate is active, the Charros are busy with their colorful affairs; societies, schools, and individuals are expressing themselves after their own fashions.

    But all the organizations, and the people at large, whatever they may be doing and wherever they may be doing it, are memorializing that September night of 1810 when Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, priest in the village of Dolores, proclaimed that the time was at hand for Mexico to be free from Spain when he...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Carnival of Memory (pp. 108-117)

    On All Souls’ Day the Mexicans of San Antonio go to the cemeteries to visit with their dead.

    They go in limousines carryingprie-dieuand tall chrysanthemums; they go in ramshackle carts and in ancient cars brimming with babies and blankets, baskets of food and garden flowers. Those who possess neither Lincolns nor Fords, nor anything in between, take the extra buses put on for the occasion. And those who haven’t the fare trudge all the hard way on foot. For density, for diversity, for confusion on the road, only the circus crowd competes.

    There is an old burying ground...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Diversified Honors (pp. 118-139)

    At three o’clock on the morning of December twelfth parishioners of the church of Jesus y Maria rise blithely from their beds. They are going to greet with music and with song the dark patroness of their nation, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Throughout the little space of time that encompasses her feast day, the faithful manifest their devotion in manners most various: they go to Mass, present religious drama, march in procession, stage a cockfight, offer pagan dances, and singmañanitasat dawn.

    Before day breaks, windows are yellowing. Householders are coming out to light the little flower-embowered, treasure-strewn altars...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Royalty on the West Side (pp. 140-147)

    The chili queens have been banished from Haymarket Square. But no one thinks of cutting off their pretty heads, and like royalty more exalted, they keep a watchful eye on their former domain.

    Driven undercover by the expansion of the market, the hostility of the authorities (to whom they were a headache on more counts than one), and the requirements of the Health Department, the Mexican families who operated the small, peripatetic restaurants known as chili stands have taken refuge where they could. Some of them have gone into hot cubicles along Produce Row where they dispense the same food...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN A place of Frequent Emotions (pp. 148-160)

    When Felicidad Mendez has been safely delivered of a child and is up and about again, she goes over to Ruiz Street to give thanks to the Lord of the Miracles. With the baby in the curve of her arm and Plutarco carrying abolsaof didies and bottles, she walks through the morning streets to His chapel in the yard of her friends the Rodriguez. That charm has fallen to progress, that the shrine is without beauty and in part badly built, is of no moment to this heavy-burdened, happy woman. She cares only that over the altar hangs...