Organized by el Museo de Arte Popular, this massive parade every October showcases over 200 monumental alebrijes, or massive, phantasmagorical sculptures in vibrant color palettes. The oversized alebrijes featured in the parade are composed of a variety of materials, but many pay homage to Mexican folk artisans by employing cartonería, a traditional handcraft technique similar to papier-mâché (smaller-scale, more traditional alebrijes, like those by alebrije master and “inventor” Pedro Linares, are often made of wood, and sometimes a mix of cartonería and a wooden base). On top of a primary form, makers of these alebrijes then add intricate decoration, also in a traditional folk style, using brightly-colored acrylic gloss lacquer. Eventually the craftsmen layer on a varnish such that these monumental alebrijes can be displayed outdoors. Many alebrijes are part animal with human-like traits, appear to be chimera-like monsters, and most also incorporate aspects of pre-Columbian religions and legends. Others play to contemporary societal themes, my favorite in this category being one titled “Selfibrije,” a creature posing in the all-too-familiar pose of taking a selfie.
Various organizations and businesses spend up to several months envisioning, constructing, and decorating their alebrije, and then march with their group come mid-October. The high-energy procession begins in the center of the city in the Zócalo and proceeds down Paseo de Reforma, past the Angel de Independencia. I planned to follow the parade from the Zócalo, but I was running behind schedule and instead stationed myself at the Angel de Independencia, where I caught most of the parade (as with most things in Mexico, the parade was running an hour or so behind schedule, and since the street Paseo de Reforma had to be reopened for traffic by 2pm, parade organizers were rushing the marchers along, encouraging them to run their alebrijes down the street–quite the chaotic scene, and they were moving so quickly I had trouble snapping shots of all the alebrijes I enjoyed). The Angel turned out to be a popular viewing spot, with a hundred or so onlookers crowding the stairs on the pedestal of the monument and hundreds more on the street surrounding the landmark. Right past the Angel where the parade technically ended, the monumental alebrijes were parked along the sides of Paseo de Reforma where they will be displayed for a few weeks.
As expected, many children were in attendance, vocalizing their wonderment in unrestrained “oohs” and “aahs.” And their adult chaperones were similarly enthralled, emphatically cheering alongside their children when chants of “al – e – brijes” began. Folk dance groups, individuals in traditional dress, and bands accompanied the alebrijes and contributed to the festive energy. My many years of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City gave me the impression that I knew what to expect from a parade of this scale, but the commercial Macy’s parade pales in comparison to this spectacle featuring handcrafted masterpieces, honoring traditional techniques, and presenting alebrijes in a publicly accessible context (alebrijes of various sizes became souvenirs of wealthy tourists, but this parade enables appreciation of a wider public).