I was staying in a small mountain town in Jalisco, México, during my fifth birthday. Accustomed to games, cake and piles of presents, I remember feeling apprehensive as the neighborhood kids, invited or not, began arriving empty-handed and clearly more interested in the food Mom had laid out on a fold-up table than in paying their respects to the birthday boy.
Most of the party has been lost in the fog of time, but one event remains vivid close to four decades later: the breaking of the piñata. I wish that I could say that blindfolded I had hit the piñata myself and account for my ensuing failure by an inability to see… but that was not the case. Rather, I was on the sideline when with a tremendous whack an older boy split open the papier-mâché donkey, sending candy showering to the ground. Diving for the bounty, I suddenly found myself at the bottom of a mound of struggling children. I felt myself being crushed, suffocated, and began to cry. What felt like an eternity later, the mass shifted and I felt an older boy I knew pulling me off the ground before he dove back into the fray.
It seemed like even the smallest children had managed to emerge with their hands full of candy, but there I was, teary-eyed, without a single piece. This experience, as well as countless others since, have left me with an indelible admiration for the strength, tenacity and fortitude of the hardscrabble children of Latin America. Below, I have shared a few images of some of the types of children I am describing.
But how did my birthday end? Unfortunately for me, from among the dozens of children only two gifts were produced - both of which upon being unwrapped turned out to be soap.