Las Posadas combine Christmas, migrant stories
Popular ALAS program returns on Sunday
Author: Peter Tokofsky
Published: December 14, 2022
Each December,native Mexicans and others who observe the tradition take to the streets of Half Moon Bay to participate in Las Posadas.
After escaping hardship and traveling for several days to reach their destination, a young couple looks for suitable lodgings where they can comfortably raise a child. Time and time again, insensitive landlords turn them away. Finally the young man and woman find shelter in meager accommodations.
This scenario could easily describe the situation many immigrants to the Bay Area face as they attempt to find housing without having the necessary financial resources, credit ratings or relatives in the area. But at this time of year the search for accommodations also brings to mind the biblical tale of Joseph and Mary traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a safe refuge where Mary can give birth to the baby Jesus.
The biblical account is the basis for the Mexican Christmas tradition of Las Posadas. In communities throughout Mexico and neighboring countries, people dress up for the roles and reenact the story by visiting neighbors and asking for a place to stay. Playing their part, the proprietors at each stop heartlessly turn Mary and Joseph away. At the final location they are offered accommodations and the entire group celebrates with a meal while children attack a star-shaped piñata.
Although distinctively Mexican, Las Posadas have distant cousins in other house visiting traditions such as Christmas mumming in Britain and Krampus in Austria and Germany that help bring communities together for collective joy during the long, dark nights of winter.
If tradition is, as folklorist Henry Glassie writes, “the creation of the future out of the past,” then Las Posadas in Half Moon Bay offer an opportunity for immigrants to enact a better future for themselves. Roberto Gutièrrez Varea, a professor of performing arts and social justice at the University of San Francisco, says a public performance offers people who don’t have access to other forums a way to tell their stories to a wider audience.
For more than a year, a group of migrants have met with Varea on Monday evenings in Half Moon Bay after their days working as housekeepers, dishwashers and Ayudando Latinos a Soñar staff to create a play for public performance. “Teatro ALAS,” Varea explained, provides “a space for creativity for people who have very long and difficult work schedules.”
They did not plan on Las Posadas becoming their premiere performance. Scheduling challenges and COVID-19 have delayed any other appearances, so the group decided to tap into the Christmas tradition.
Their performance begins Sunday at 6 p.m. at Kitty Fernandez Park on Main Street. Everyone is invited. The group will make its way through town with stops at ALAS offices at 636 Purissima St. and at Mac Dutra Plaza before reaching Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church where members will finally encounter kind and hospitable hosts who offer them a place to sleep.
When the troupe of six immigrants stops to request hospitality, the verses they read will depict snippets of their own experiences reaching the U.S. rather than the traditional pleas of Mary and Joseph. Along the way the group will add to their migrant stories by mixing in Pastorelas, a similar Mexican tradition depicting the shepherds following the star of Bethlehem.
By transforming Mary and Joseph into Latin American immigrants coming to the U.S., Varea hopes the actors can convey a humanizing message that is very much a part of the Christmas season.
ALAS also plans two other, less public Posada events. On Thursday staff at the nonprofit will celebrate its volunteers with the Christmas drama. On Friday a group will bring the holiday spirit to farmworkers around Half Moon Bay.
Flyer posted by ALAS: