Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mexico's Symbolic Colors

In Mexico City drivers are aware of the color of the sticker on their car’s rear window. It’s the color assigned to the last digit on their license plates, one of five colors identifying which weekday their car is not to be driven in the city. Morning newscasters make mention of it much like the weather is reported in northern countries. This is just one of many ways, some subtle and some bold, that colors take on significance in Mexico.

The color of the trim in a metro (subway) station is understood by all passengers.  Each metro line has a designated color as well as a number.  Each station has a logo that alludes to the name of the station.  With twelve lines crisscrossing the city, color changes can get pretty subtle.  There is green, olive green, and chartreuse.  There is yellow and there is gold.  Nevertheless, using colors makes it easy for illiterate people to ride the metro -- they follow a color and watch for the picture that identifies their stop.  A station with two colors in its emblem identifies it as a transfer station.  There are some stations where three lines converge, with three colors in their emblems.

Intrestingly neither black nor white are used to identify metro lines.  Perhaps because black is identified with death and white is hard to keep clean.

The most frequently seen colors in workers' or union marches are red and black -- the colors of the working class.  A red and black flag draped across the entrance to a workplace indicates that its workers are on strike.  When Mexicans see television coverage of striking workers in the U.S., walking endlessly to nowhere on a picket line, they wonder why their northern counterparts don't just put up a red and black flag and take a well deserved vacation. 

In the United States, both major parties freely use the colors of the flag for political purposes. We see red, white and blue donkeys as well as elephants. Since the 2000 elections, states and counties voting Republican have been shown as red with Democratic places shown in blue. This seems strange to me since red is the only color that has had a longstanding political connotation in the U.S, with "Reds" meaning Communists.

In Mexico no party is allowed to use the colors of the flag in its emblem.  Each has its own distinctive colors. Frequently the parties are referred to by their colors rather than their name.  The PAN party, closely identified with the Catholic Church, uses the colors of the Virgin Mary's white dress and blue cape. It is referred to as the "albiazul" (blue dawn) party.  At first glance the PRI might seem to be using the colors of the flag. Close inspection of its emblem will show that it is red and green with no color in the center.  Nevertheless it is frequently refered to as the tri-color party.  The PRD's emblem is a yellow square with a black design similar to an asterisk in the center, leading it to be called the party of the Aztec sun.  That association with an Indigenous nation leads to the different factions within the party being referred to as "tribus" or tribes.  The only party with a color in its name is the PVEM, Mexican Green Ecological Party, the “partido verde”. Not surprisingly it's color is green.

Red and yellow belong to the Partido del Trabajo (the Worker Party or Labor Party). Orange belongs to the Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizens' Movement). Partido Nueva Alianza's (New Alliance Party) emblem is a white swirl in a chartreuse square. 

With that mind, you can quickly determine which party holds the municipal presidency or governorship when you enter a Mexican municipality or state. Look at the railings on bridges, the overpasses, or really any public works. The color they are painted will tell you the answer.

The hundreds of men attending last Saturday's presidential inauguration in the Chamber of Deputies and the National Palace appeared to be in identical dark suits. A few women in bright colored dresses were interspersed. A closer look, however, revealed each man with a colored tie and each woman with a colored shawl or scarf. You guessed it—the color symbolized their party affiliation. The PRI wore red, the PAN wore blue, the PRD yellow, PVEM green, PT red and yellow, Movimiento Ciudadano orange, and Nueva Alianza chartreuse.  Enrique Peña Nieto, who assumed the presidency that day, wore an elegant grey tie. He is the president of all Mexicans.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Felipe, Prince of Asturias sat next to each other at the National Palace, obviously enjoying each other's company. Prince Felipe wore the color blue of the flag of Asturias.  Did Joe Biden decide to follow along and use the color -- blue -- that US television has assigned to his party?

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