Culture

What Is Pulque And Why Do People Either Love It Or Hate It?

Along with tequila and mezcal, pulque is the one of the most iconic Mexican alcoholic beverages. Its origins ago deep in history and speak of the indigenous past and present of the country.  This is what you need to know about this mythical drink that is making a comeback as a mainstream road to indulgence. 

So what exactly is pulque anyway?

 Pulque is beautiful in its simplicity. The drink is the fermented sap of the maguey or agave plant. It has a thick, gooey consistency that takes some time getting used to. It has a milky color in its pure state, but many pulquerias add fruit juices and honey to make it a curado or flavored pulque. This is how journalist Emily Sargent described pulque in The Times: “sweet, thick, syrupy agave juice served inexplicably in pint-jug portions”.

It was known as octli by the Aztecs and is surrounded by fascinating myths.

Credit: Instagram. @neomexicanismos

Pulque has been drunk for at least 1,000 years. The Aztecs believed that the liquid collected at the center of the succulent known as maguey was actually the blood of Mayahuel, the goddess of the maguey. It was also believed that if you got drunk on octli a rabbit would possess you. There were 400 rabbits known as Centzon Totochtin, and they were the children of Mayahuel.  Up to this day, some pulque drinkers spill some of their drink to the floor as an offering to Mother Earth. The word pulque is Mexican Spanish, dating in print to 1877. 

Pulque is a key element of Mexican popular culture.

Credit: Instagram. @celsotours

In particular, pulque is a constant in visual memories of the Mexican Revolution. Salud

There are even B-movies that honor pulque culture!

Credit: La Pulqueria / Videocine

In the 1970s and 1980s, low-quality films known as sexy-comedias-mexicanas showcased pulque culture in various films. The most famous is La Pulqueria, directed by Victor Manuel Castro and featuring la creme de la creme of Mexican comedians and the most famous boxer in Mexico’s history, Ruben Olivares. 

Pulque is now being consumed by Mexicans of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Credit: Instagram. @neomexicanismos

For decades, pulque was associated with the lower classes, which speaks of the sad but inherent racism that permeates Mexican mestizo culture. For example, it was common to see homeless men drunk on pulque featured in Mexican cinema. The drink has made a huge comeback in the past 15 years, and pulquerias, traditional dens where people meet to drink pulque, are popular amongst city dwellers of all socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Pulque production is mostly artisanal and “organic.”

Credit: Instagram. @estampas_de_mexico1

Rather than being distilled as with tequila and mezcal, the elixir that emanates from the maguey is left to be fermented. First, the sap is extracted from the center of the maguey and then placed in 50-liter barrels called tinas. After than, mature pulque, known as seed pulque, is added to jump start the fermentation, which takes from one to two weeks. The pulque maker needs to consider factors such as the weather and the quality of the sap to determine the exact fermentation period that stops the pulque from turning sour and undrinkable. It is more art than science. 

Pulque is the product of a long, natural process.

Credit: Instagram. @cocinafacil

Pulque is a labor of love. Each maguey plants needs to mature for at least 12 years before the sap can be extracted. After that, it produces sap for only one year at the most. That is a long wait, but the benefits are worth it. 

And hey, it brings some health benefits too!

Credit: Instagram. @bandita_chilanga

Of course you need to drink it in moderation, but pulque does bring important nutritional benefits. An academic paper states that for some Mexicans “pulque was the third most important source of iron (non-heme form), ascorbic acid, riboflavin, and other B-vitamins”.  Carnales, it’s science! 

Pulquerias usually have creative names.

Credit: Instagram. @semahernandez

Great names include “My Office”, “Memories of the Future”, “Drink and Go”, “I’m Waiting for You Here at the Corner”, and  “The Recreation Center of Those Across the Street”. A true testament of Mexican everyday creativity and knack for humor.

The state of Hidalgo is pulque heaven.

Credit: Instagram. @mexico_desdeadentro

Even though pulque is produced across the country, particularly the areas surrounding Mexico City, the state of Hidalgo takes the crown as the most prolific. There are about 250 pulque haciendas in the state. 

In Tlaxcala, the state government has organized a tour called “la ruta del pulque.”

Credit: Instagram. @enriquenoriega

You can visit different production sites… and perhaps be possessed by a rabbit if you drink a bit too much!

There is no right or wrong way when it comes to pulque-drinking receptacles!

Credit: Instagram. @nilsbernstein

You know how people get snobbish when you drink white wine with a red wine glass? Well, that is not the case with pulque, which you can enjoy in basically anything that holds the nectar from the gods. Each pulqueria has its own style when it comes to serving methods. 

You can even drink it directly from the plant when it has been naturally fermented.

Credit: Instagram. @neomexicanismos

Yes, even a used Coke bottle will do! Just look at this pulque master!

Or you can also drink it straight from a maguey leaf.

Credit: Instagram. @oscarlemuss

Can you think of a more Instagrammable way of doing this? We can’t!

Many Mexicans Are Calling Out Fragile Masculinity As Some Continue To Protest A Controversial Zapata Painting

Culture

Many Mexicans Are Calling Out Fragile Masculinity As Some Continue To Protest A Controversial Zapata Painting

Jorge Rivera-Pineda / Mexico Broadcasters

It is no secret that Mexican society is often affected by displays of homophobia. Even though there have been great advances such as the legalization of same-sex marriage in some states, the largely Catholic country is home of opinion leaders who are conservative and whose masculinity seems to be constantly threatened by anything that doesn’t spell out “straight.”

Added to this, Mexican political discourse is anchored in a solemn approach to institutions and the myths of the wars of Independence and Revolution, the two historical moments that have defined Mexican political life and foundational narratives for the past 200 years. So a recent painting hosted at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, perhaps the most iconic building dedicated to the arts in the Latin American country, made conservatives poner el grito en el cielo, as it dares to reimagine one of Mexico’s revolutionary leaders as a queer character.

For many, Zapata is akin to a deity and the image of heroic masculinity. The painting is, however, incendiary for exactly that reason, because it challenges notions of sex and gender in a day and age were some parts of Mexico are progressive while others remain under the dark clouds of discrimination and segregation of LGBTQ communities.

So this is the 2014 painting “The Revolution” by Fabian Chairez. 

The painting depicts a male figure who resembles the revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, a cornerstone of Mexico’s Revolutionary War. Zapata was beloved by indigenous populations and gente de campo who believed that other revolutionaries were forgetting the most marginalised sectors of society.

But there is a twist: here, Zapata is naked, wearing heels and being totally gender-non-conforming as he rides a voluptuous horse. Chairez told Reuters: “I use these elements like the sombrero and horse and create a proposal that shows other realities, other ways of representing masculinity.”

Definitely not your usual depiction of the times, but surely a piece that is confronting in the best possible way. The painting was chosen as part of an exhibition on the revolutionary hero, but things got nasty. 

Zapata’s grandchildren have spoken out against the painting in the most homophic way, and things got bloody.

Zapata’s family demanded that the painting be taken off the exhibition because it allegedly “tainted” the public image of their grandfather. Let’s take a minute here and think about this: it is actually the worst possible kind of homophobia, as it implies that being queer is wrong and that it would be a blemish on Zapata’s legacy.

There were protests inside Bellas Artes and university students defending the work and freedom of expression actually got into a fistfight with farmers who stormed Bellas Artes chanting homophobic slurs and threatening to burn the painting in a gross display of toxic masculinity and an Inquisitorial outlook on life and art.

As reported by CE Noticias Financieras, Federico Ovalle, leader of the Independent Central Of Agricultural and Peasant Workers, said: “The picture denigrates the personality and trajectory of the general and it seems to us that presenting this figure is grotesque, of contempt and contempt of the peasants of the country.”

Luis Vargas Santiago, curator of the exhibit ‘Emiliano Zapata after Zapata’, told Reuters: “Of course it’s fine if they don’t like the painting, they can criticize the exhibition, but to seek to censor freedom of expression, that’s different.” 

The painting can stay, but it is being censored anyway.

As reported by Agence France Presse, the authorities decided that the painting can stay, but with a caveat: “But the Mexican Revolutionary hero’s family will be allowed to place a text beside it stating their strong objections to the work, which shows Zapata draped suggestively over a white horse with a giant erection.”

And the image will also be sort of hidden from public view (which, to be honest, might only increase the influx of visitors to the exhibition).

As AFP continues: “Under the deal, brokered by the Mexican culture ministry, the painting by artist Fabian Chairez will also be removed from promotional materials for the exhibition, “Emiliano. Zapata After Zapata,” which opened last month at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.”

Even Mexican president AMLO, who has declared his admiration for the revolutionary hero, got involved, ordering his culture minister to get involved. 

So was Emiliano Zapata a queer revolutionary hero? Perhaps, but that is not the point!

For years, historians have tried to get a glimpse into the man who was Emiliano Zapata. Some claim that his overt displays of macho masculinity were perhaps a way to silence any rumors regarding his sexuality. But the point is that it does not matter, or it should not matter, for any other reason that historical accuracy. And it isn’t anyone’s business, is it?

One Of Mexico’s Most Important Former Officials Was Just Arrested For Allegedly Taking Bribes From El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel

Things That Matter

One Of Mexico’s Most Important Former Officials Was Just Arrested For Allegedly Taking Bribes From El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel

Celia Lucero

For years, conservative minded people in Mexico have defended the full frontal war that then president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa waged against the drug cartels from 2006 to 2012. This war continues today and has seen almost half a million people killed, countless abuses, displacement of whole populations and a diminished image of Mexico locally and abroad. Those who align with the supposedly incorruptible stance that Calderón took against organized crime claim that he was just doing a job that previous presidents had failed to do.

During this period government forces fought mainly Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, as well as new organizations in the state of Michoacan such as La Familia Michoacana and Los Caballeros Templarios. Strangely, the Sinaloa Cartel was left largely untouched and even expanded its operations during the Calderón presidency.

A recent high profile arrest could shed some light on why the war against the cartels has developed in a way that up until recently seemed to benefit the powerful organization built by Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán and his compadre Mayo Zambada. As The Guardian reports: “A 2010 analysis of crime figures by NPR found that only 12% of people arrested, prosecuted or sentenced for drug, organised crime and weapons offences had ties to the Sinaloa cartel”. This is peculiar, to say the least. 

Genaro García Luna, Calderón’s security chief, was arrested in the United States.

The charges emanated from the recent trial in which El Chapo Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison. The authority  claims that García Luna, who was infamous for the many human rights abuses that the State’s forces committed under his command, received generous bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel to warranty that their operations would not be threatened.

If true, this would be corruption at the highest levels of government and would justify fears that Mexico has become a Narco-State in which global trafficking networks are the de facto decision makers. He led Mexico’s federal investigation agency from 2001 to 2005. From 2006 to 2012 he served under Calderón as secretary of public security. So yes, cannot get more powerful than that! 

García Luna was the architect of the federal police, a force which coordinated with the Army and the Navy to fight the cartels.

If the allegations are true, it could mean that the whole State apparatus was created with a hidden agenda in mind, which would put the legitimacy of the institutional framework of Mexico during the FCH presidency on serious scrutiny. After the former security chief was arrested,  US attorney Richard P Donoghue said: “García Luna stands accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel while he controlled Mexico’s federal police force and was responsible for ensuring public safety in Mexico. Today’s arrest demonstrates our resolve to bring to justice those who help cartels inflict devastating harm on the United States and Mexico, regardless of the positions they held while committing their crimes.”

Of course, Calderón was quick to say he wasn’t aware of this happening

Former president Calderón, who is attempting to create his own political party alongside his wife Margarita Zavala, took to Twitter to say he was unaware of García Luna’s dishonest ways.

If this is the case then it would amount to the worst kind of incompetence on Calderón’s part. If he was indeed aware, however, well it would spell political and possibly legal disaster for him. Either way, this arrest could probably mean the end of Calderón’s political life.

By the way, he once said that nothing happens without the president knowing about it. The accusations are damning.

As summarized by The Guardian: “According to the indictment, cartel bagmen twice delivered briefcases containing millions of dollars to García Luna. In 2018, former cartel member Jesús Zambada testified at the trial of the Sinaloa kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán that he personally made at least $6m in hidden payments to García Luna, on behalf of his older brother, cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. In exchange for the bribes, the Sinaloa cartel obtained safe passage for its drug shipments, inside details of police investigations, and information about rival drug cartels, the indictment said.”

We wonder how many heads will fall as the ugly truths revealed during El Chapo’s trial keep resurfacing. 

Remember the Netflix show El Chapo? Well, it sort of showed these acts of corruption in an eerily similar way.

Credit: Netflix

As more information surfaces after the now legendary El Chapo trial, we stand in awe at how accurate the Netflix-Telemundo show was. In it, Calderón’s government strikes a deal with the Sinaloa Cartel through a shady political operative who had García Luna’s exact same job? Coincidence or was it un secreto a voces?