Need a Good Cry? In Mexico, a Town Picks the Best Person for the Job


MEXICO CITY — With the virus still raging, much of Mexico closed graveyards and canceled public festivities on the Day of the Dead, robbing many of the chance to collectively grieve those they’ve lost.

But one city, adapting to the pandemic, put its annual tradition of selecting the best mourner in the country online — and in doing so, gave Mexicans the chance to share in a good, cathartic, soul-cleansing cry.

San Juan del Río, in central Mexico, takes the country’s unique approach to death, which is embraced as a part of life, very seriously. One of its main attractions is a Museum of Death. And its annual competition for best mourner, created to honor the ancient practice of hiring weeping women to witness burials, drew hundreds of spectators.

Normally, the contestants would take turns crying in front of a live audience, but the risks posed by people wailing before a crowd of hundreds were too great. The virus has killed more than 92,000 in Mexico and cases continue to rise.

After checking with the contest’s sponsor, a local funeral home, the tourism bureau announced last month that they would accept video entries by email. Participants were invited to submit videos of themselves sobbing for up to two minutes, to be evaluated by a panel of judges. Twenty-seven contestants sent entries — double the number who took part last year.

Many of the participants took a melodramatic approach, setting their allotted two minutes of weeping at a grave site and scream-crying with the gusto of a telenovela star. Others went the comedic route, such as a woman from Aguascalientes who bawled about the apparent onset of menopause, addressing her tears to her wayward period.

”You were always so punctual,” she wailed. “And then one day, without saying anything, you never came back.”

“Laughing at death is part of Mexican culture,” said Eduardo Guillén, the head of the city’s tourism bureau. “It’s a way of confronting the problem and feeling less vulnerable.”

Mr. Guillén said that only women were invited to compete because of “tradition,” though he said the city was open to allowing male criers to participate.

For years, the contest was dominated by a mother-and-daughter duo who regularly won first place, but they didn’t enter this year — cracking the field wide open to newcomers from across Mexico.

Princesa Katleen Chávez Arce, from Baja California, won the top prize and a cash award of about $164. Ms. Chávez, an actress, had never tried professional crying. But this year, she said, gave her plenty of experience with the amateur variety. After she relocated to Mexico City to try to act in movies, the pandemic dried up her work opportunities. In September, she gave up and moved back home.

“The crisis hit me,” she said. “So yes, I cried, and for about a week I did absolutely nothing.”

In Ms. Chávez’s slickly produced video, she starts by giggling and then transitions into a sob while gazing at a dead man’s tomb near her hometown. “I asked for his permission before doing this exercise,” she said.

In second place was the unlikely Ma Silveria Balderas Rubio, whose daughters heard about the contest online and persuaded her to enter. Ms. Silveria, 58, said that she pretended to be one of the inconsolable grievers she has seen at funerals to get herself to emote enough.

“I have been to burials where people cry like that, and it makes sense, but I can’t cry that much,” Ms. Silveria said. “I cry, but not that much.”

Her performance, shot on a cellphone in a single take, presented a conundrum for judges. On one hand, it is as simple as can be, set in a sparse room without a coffin visible in the shaky frame. But Ms. Silveria’s anguished weeping, hyperventilated breathing and insistence that she “just saw him yesterday” seem startlingly real.

“The video is very homemade, and all she does is cry,” said Juan Carlos Zerecero, a local theater teacher who helped judge the competition. Still, he said, that is really the idea. “That’s what we’re asking them to do, no?” he said. “To me, she’s crying in a very truthful way.”

Ms. Silveria said that after watching the video she wished she had something more dramatic with her body, like some other contestants who “throw themselves at the tomb, grab the coffin and things like that.”

Perhaps the most relatable entry was put forward by Brenda Anakaren Torres Villarreal, who dedicated her video to crying about the year 2020. Ms. Torres Villarreal, 31, sprays her cameraman with disinfectant before removing a mask to shriek about how the year left us “depressed, out of work and in quarantine.”

Her inspiration, she said, was the unconscionable number of horrors that occurred this year. “It is without a doubt one of the worst years that we have ever lived,” she said. “If you’re not crying about 2020, you’re not crying about anything.”

But the point wasn’t to wallow, Ms. Torres Villarreal said. It was to laugh at all this misery.

“Mexicans always have the capacity to find comedy in tragedy,” she said, “to find the good part of it, even if that doesn’t exist.”

Source : Nytimes