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The history behind los locos

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

The tradition of los locos (the crazy people) emerged from the fertile orchards of old San Miguel; it dates from the time when large areas of land were planted with cherry, pear, apple and guava trees, whose fruit later was made into candy.

Every year, on the Sunday after June 13, to celebrate the festivity in honor of St. Antonio de Padua, los locos, whose patron saint is St. Pascual Bailón, take to the main streets of the historic center with showy and colorful disguises that range from fairies to quinceañeras and from catrinas to witches; others dress up as celebrities or politicians. As the locos dance to a wide variety of musical rhythms, they toss candies to the onlookers who gather on the sidewalks early in the morning to get a good spot and watch the parade.

Blessing of the harvest and the cuadros

The area that nowadays comprises El Obraje, El Parque and Barrio of San Juan de Dios was the most fertile land in the city, and in addition to large orchards the families in the area also had their own

small orchards at home. In early May—which was the end of the rainy season at that time—the orchard workers (taught by the friars of the church of San Francisco) used to go to the church of the Tercera Orden, next to San Francisco, to dance in honor of San Pascual Bailón and ask him for a bountiful harvest and a better year. In the afternoon, after the dances, the friars accompanied them to the orchards to bless them, after which the harvest began.

The locos parade is not as old as some people believe; although we do not know exactly when it started, it began sometime in the 19th century. Members of the cuadros de locos (groups of crazy people) told Atención that the dancing orchard workers at the church of the Third Order attracted the attention of curious people, and as the years passed the crowds grew, overwhelming the dancing space. For that reason, the orchard workers (hortelanos) decided to dress as scarecrows in their ritual, and later they also brought in raccoons, skunks and opossums to scare the crowd and make space for dancing. That is why the onlookers started calling them “los locos.”

The music for the dances was supplied by a drum and a flute called a chirimía. Later, the orchards started to decline, and only the tradition of dancing in honor of St. Pascual Bailón remained. Those involved formed the first cuadro of locos, called Cuadro del Parque, led by Antonino Velázquez and several coordinators. Later, because of disagreements, the group decided to split and form new cuadros, such as the Cuadro Nuevo of Primitivo Luna in 1961, the Cuadro Antiguo (formed around 50 years ago), and the newest one, the Cuadro of el Tecolote. Currently, every cuadro of locos includes 13 groups formed by different families who have been in those cuadros since the beginning.

The first image of St. Pascual Bailón used in the locos parade was a painting on brass belonging to the locos of Cuadro del Parque. In the 1950s, when that cuadro split up and new cuadros were formed, the painting was handed over to a family not connected to the Cuadro del Parque. Later, the painting passed into the hands of Cuadro el Tecolote.

The locos and the fiesta of St. Antonio

The Cuadro del Parque has participated since the early 1950s in the festivity of San Antonio de Padua. Its members used to leave dancing from calle Terraplén, where the image of St. Pascual Bailón was displayed. Then they danced through Centro, tossing fruit to the crowd to announce and invite them to the fiesta of San Antonio.

Doña Angelita Martínez is 83

years old, and since the passing of her husband, Primitivo Luna, is in charge of the Cuadro Nuevo. She said that the locos parade as we know it now started approximately 30 years ago, when a priest from the parish of St. Antonio invited the four cuadros of crazies to attend a mass at the esplanade of that church and have just one parade. They did so, and the first big parade left from the Puente de Guanajuato, moving toward Centro.

Juan José Montiel has participated for 45 years in the festivity of San Antonio and remembers that in the past the esplanade of the church was not paved and those in charge used to build a corral on the esplanade where the locos danced and a heifer was released. According to Montiel, there were around 20 locos, his parents among them, all dressed as marotas (grotesque women).

There was also a dance of hortelanos. “The men used to wear colorful shorts and shirts as well as bells on their shoes. Women wore all kind of dresses and carried baskets with fruit and small dishes. All of them danced to the rhythm of the chirimía and the drum,” said Montiel. Jorge Baeza from the Cuadro Antiguo confirmed this information.

Baeza told Atención that the Cuadro Antiguo was formed approximately 50 years ago and currently is made up of 13 families. He said in addition that in that cuadro every year they try to preserve the tradition by wearing costumes similar to those used in the past and to wear artisanal masks. Baeza commented that the music of the chirimía and the drum was replaced later with wind instruments and finally, due to the high costs of the bands, which could charge up to 15,000 pesos for the event, with recorded music. He commented that his grandmother, who is also in charge of the cuadro, heads their group, playing a drum as in the past. This is also the only group that features a torito (ox) made of cardboard and moved by a dancer. This cuadro is the biggest because it is the “pelotera,” meaning it includes all those who do not belong to another cuadro. It has up to 2,000 members, but the cuadro is not responsible for those participants.

Artisanal masks

Don José allowed me to enter to his papier-mâché workshop, where he designs and constructs colorful artisanal masks of all sizes. He said that he has instilled in his family the tradition of dancing in the locos parade, and his daughters have danced for 25 years. This year, his family group will feature characters from the movie Despicable Me.

To make the masks, Montiel first sculpts a form with Play Doh; later, this is covered with plaster to make the mold on which the paper mask is created. The mask is extracted from the mold, dried and painted white, and finally colors are added.

The party and the route

The celebration in honor of St. Antonio started a few days ago, and each day pilgrimages have arrived at the church from different communities in the city. The final pilgrimage will be held on Friday, June 13, and it is called Pago de Mandas. The pilgrims, members of the cuadros, crawl more than 500 meters on their knees to thank the saint for granted miracles.

Before the parade on Sunday, June 15, a mass is held at the esplanade of the church for all the locos, while many groups start gathering on Salida a Celaya. The parade starts at 11am and leaves from Salida a Celaya next to the convention center and passes along Ancha de San Antonio, Zacateros, Canal, Hernández Macías, Insurgentes, Pepe Llanos, Mesones, Núñez, San Francisco, Plaza Principal and portal Allende, ending in Cuna de Allende. After the parade, the locos dance in the church from 4–7pm. At 10pm the celebration ends with fireworks.

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