Sep 15, 2008

TODAY, September 15th, Central America Celebrates Independence Day...Horray!

INDEPENDENCE from Spain in 1821

"The five nations of Central America have not always been the most cooperative of neighbors over the years. But for the first two weeks of every September, the countries put aside their political differences and border squabbles to join in celebrating the isthmus’ independence from Spain in 1821. It is one of few things all the countries can agree on.

The September 15 Independence Day parades through the capitals and major cities of Central America are family events, geared mostly toward the young and the nostalgic elderly.

High school students, dressed in their pressed school uniforms and recently shined shoes march with their school mates, some holding banners or twirling batons and others playing in the marching band. Younger children attend the parades with their parents as spectators, waving balloons and flags as they wait to catch glimpses of their older brothers and sisters march by.

The September 15 celebrations really begin in early August, when student bands begin to meet every Saturday morning in their schoolyards to practice songs and marching in formation.

Surprisingly, the students don’t seem to mind attending school on weekends, as the Saturday sessions usually are conducted more like pep-rallies and social events, rather than marching drills.

The practices make it difficult to sleep in on Saturdays, as the sounds of un-syncopated snare drums and trombones can be heard in most neighborhoods in the early morning hours of August and September.

Students aren’t the only ones preparing for the regional celebration. One of the newer traditional highlights of the independence celebrations is the running of the Central American Freedom Torch from Guatemala to Costa Rica – a reenactment of the messengers who brought the word of independence to the various Central American provinces belonging to Spain’s Capitanía of Guatemala 183years ago.

The annual running of the torch became a tradition 40 years ago, after the Pan-American Highway was completed. (It took the original message bearers a month to bring the word of independence through the jungles of Central America to Costa Rica, which was deeply divided on the sovereignty issue at the time.)
The torch starts in Guatemala on September 1 and spends an average of three or four days traversing each country, passing through the hands of hundreds of thousands of Central American school children, politicians and national celebrities before arriving in Costa Rica on September 14.

In some countries, such as Nicaragua, the Freedom Torch stops temporarily in each department capital to light other torches, which are then run to the far corners of each rural municipality.

When the torch finally arrives at Costa Rica’s colonial capital of Cartago each year on September 14 at 6 p.m., the whole of the country goes out onto the street to sing the national anthem, with the expatriate community fumbling and lip-syncing their way through the tricky lyrics. After the singing/butchering of the national anthem, Costa Ricans of all ages flow out into the darkened streets for a paper-lantern parade.

The sight of groups walking down the darkened streets in silence carrying homemade lanterns has in incongruous effect of a candlelight peace vigil mixed with a colonial-era witch-hunt.
Parents and grandparents enjoy this opportunity to pass on their appreciation of independence as they proudly walk the streets arm-in-arm with their children, raising their colorful cellophane lanterns.

The following day, on September 15, all Central American countries join in celebration. It is time for the students to strut their stuff, men to pop their beers, and presidents and politicians to deliver windy speeches.

While the basic ingredients of the annual Independence Day celebrations are the same every year, the mood and expression of the event has changed with the times. The evolution of the celebration is perhaps most dramatic in Nicaragua, where the concept of independence has been interpreted differently by each government.

During the U.S.-propped Somoza dictatorship, Independence Day was a solemn and formal event, with women in big dresses and student bands – known as “war bands” at the time – performing U.S. military hymns. When the revolutionary Sandinista National Liberation Front took power in 1979, the celebrations became political and anti-imperialist in nature. U.S. military hymns were replaced by Nicaraguan songs. Today, the celebration is more of a carnival-like event.

Nicaraguan poet Jimmy Avilés laments, “We have still not found a way to celebrate the day properly as Nicaraguans. It is an expression that we have still not defined ourselves as a country.”

The Liberty Torch illuminates Central America in September. Its magical glow unites nations and builds hope during this celebration spanning five countries with contagious patriotic partying to which all citizens of the world are invited."

Independence Celebrations of Five Central American Nations/By Tim Rogers


Bonnie said...

Hi Leonardo--This is special. I love seeing all of the pictures. I know that this is not the everyday practical reality of many lives, but still there is something very special about seeing the celebration and the joy unfolding.

We had two children in the high school band program (flute and oboe) and even though our home was a half mile from the school, you could hear the band practicing. That brought back memories.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Our village band practices on a soccer field about three blocks from where I live...regularly, I enjoy "practice" music and I find it invigorating to live in such a small place that takes such pride in tradition...we have processions regularly and of course funerals go right down the street with coffins being high carried on various strong shoulders...this month is San Miguels month (I think on the 27th)...San Miguel is the name of the village and so we are deep into the lovely sculpture of him being carried on in procession EVERY night as he spends nights here and there (and everywhere) throughout the village...the folks that host him for a night also host ALL commers and serve tamales and a hot fruit punch...lots of firecrackers and incense wafting around...I love it...btw this little pueblos marching band was lst in our Central American Region last year and this year 2nd...quite a feather in our collective headress!

Bonnie said...

Hi Leonardo--I sure it was a well-earned honor for them. It is a joy to see young people dedicated and enthusiastic about their music.

And just in honor of San Miguel, I have changed the picture. I have several icons stored on my computer but I don't actually remember where they came from. (So, St. Michael defend me if I am using this without permission.) When I pray for God's holy angels to guard and defend us, I'm usually thinking of St. Michael.

Lynn said...

Leonardo darling, I must do something suitable to celebrate. Can you ship me some plantains to fry for a nice casado plate? Okay, it's Costa Rican, but that's in Central America, too!

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Lynn, we had plantains for breakfast yesterday...they are so good with golden "amarillos" and baked or favorite "recipe" is Pastel de Amarillo"'s Puerto Rican, but few know it here and it's always a big hit...think layered "amarillos" with minced beef and cheese inbetween each layer...sprinkle cinnamon lavishly on buttered baking dish first, layer then pour beaten egg (yellow and white) over each level...bake in very hot oven about 30 minutes (chopped fresh cilantro if you like it).

Lynn said...

I need some ed-u-cation. How to pick out a decent plantain. About a mile from here is a fairly large grocery that caters to the Central American community, and most of their produce is some of the best around.

What should I be looking for in color, smell, firmness? Should I counter ripen them like bananas?

And then, frying technique? I'll be happy to do a feature if you don't want to do it here :-)

The beans, rice, marinated shrimp I know how to do...I just don't want to ruin the plantains.

The brunch dish sounds good...what type of cheese. Can wrap my mind around everything but the cilantro (in combo with the cinnamon, I guess). Hmmm...yum.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Dear Lynn,

The cilantro (chopped fresh) goes into the minced meat/ground round mixture with chopped green olives, a little diced ham, green peppers, onion, touch of sweet/any, tomato paste...I use any white or yellow cheese that I have at the moment (Monterey Jack is great/spicy Monterey Jack offers a extra zip)...Plantains should be ripe/blackish (for more sweet)...peal, cut long ways into three or four strips...fry in olive oil/other...turn, they get golden/browned fast...lift out and drain on paper towels (Dominicans boil them but I like the goldenbrownish look/taste).

The Cinnamon should dust the prepared/buttered baking dish (I use a spray version instead of butter)...then, layer and sprinkle the Cinnamon lightly on each layer and pour the egg mixture (like you would beat for scrambled eggs) inbetween too...I sort of decorate the top with Plantains in curves, more egg, dust with's fabulous and you can serve it with any wholesome rice (perhaps with red pimenta in it or yellow rice?).

They'll be wowed (btw, it's not really as good warmed up for left-overs and ought be surved bubbling and ozzing but the egg must be'll see, it's like a souffle).


Leonardo Ricardo said...

Lynn...really hot oven, almost max temperature to insure the fast/fluffy egg cooking (everything else is cooked already) just becomes like a layered cake and you cut it into squares and it's beautiful too.


Josh Indiana said...

Here I am in Indiana, eating the most Midwestern sandwich, a pork tenderloin, and reading about Central American independence and fried plantains.

Whatever is the Spanish word for "Yum"?

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Que rica!

mmmmmmmm que rica su comida!

Padre Mickey said...

We celebrate independence from Spain in November here in Panama because we were part of Colombia back then.
But independence is Independence.
¡Viva independencia!

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Hi Padre, I've been thinking about you and your tomorrow...blessings to you and yours.