Caguamas Before Dramas*

* Caguama: pronounced ca-wa-ma. 32 ounces (940ml) of beer, usually Tecate, Carta Blanca, Victoria, Corona Familiar, Pacifico or Sol. Not 40oz cuz Mexican beer doesn’t come in that size. A Caguama is a sea turtle (loggerhead). That’s how the bottle is shaped like a little turtle, if you’re drunk enough. In Spainish [sic] Caguama is translated to English as simply turtle. Thanks Urban Dictionary .

The other night I was sitting drinking a can of Victoria straight from the freezer, thinking about why I always pick it over the rest of the Mexican beers. I have a love-hate relationship with alcohol, especially beer. It has played such a huge role in my life, much more than I really thought about until I went tee-total for about 6 months last year. Alcohol is woven through society so much so that it is as familiar, unremarkable and hidden in plain sight as the fine ridges in the texture of our favourite jeans. When I first began to write this piece, I just intended to talk about the design of the Victoria label, but as I started to think about what those beautiful bottles are all about I realised there is so much more to say. So from aesthetics to advertising to all-consuming colonialism, let’s look at what Victoria has to do with every day life here in Mexico.

Victoria is a hugely popular beer, it is the third most highly selling beer in the republic and is also widely sold in the US.[1] It is the oldest beer in Mexico, having been brewed for over 150 years, and it even has its own museum in Toluca.

I first picked Victoria because I’m a sucker for a nice design, as I think most people are, hence packaging existing in the first place. There is no bottle of beer more beautiful than a Victoria; the crisp white and custard yellow design screen-printed straight onto brown glass is really striking. The swirling font is reminiscent of the iconic Coca Cola logo, which gives it a classic feel. Gambrinus is the cover-boy, cheerfully chugging from his tankard of beer, as he has done since the early days of the Victoria label.[2] I sat in a bar one night in Mexico City drawing the bottle of Victoria that I had just ordered on a brown paper bag in a blue biro pen. It looked beautiful even on a scrap of paper.

The beer can I drank from when I started thinking about this article featured something else though; the slogan ‘Ni clara, ni oscura, mestiza’ (Not light, not dark, mixed). At first glance the line refers to the amber colour of the beer. However, it is actually a reference to Mexican mestizaje and links to an interesting and slightly controversial advertising campaign the company launched last year, which centres on celebrating Mexican culture and identity, and at the same time emphasizing Victoria’s position as the most Mexican of the beers.

The ni clara, ni oscura, mestiza slogan is part of a range of concentrated advertising by Victoria, beginning with #LadyPrieta and moving into #LoChingónEstáAquí. You can’t escape these adverts. Lady Prieta was a viral campaign featuring a video of a white model losing her shit after being rejected in favour of a darker skinned model. People didn’t know it at first but it was soon revealed that it was all a hoax orchestrated by Victoria themselves, which succeeded in getting people talking and thinking about racism (at least on their social media accounts!). Now, #LoChingónEstáAquí uses the most Mexican adjective (chingón: meaning cool, assertive, edgy, the word is only used in Mexican Spanish) to accompany bright and vibrant adverts featuring plenty of Mexican imagery and symbolism (designed only by Mexican designers/artists).

Now, there is a lot to be cynical about here, so let’s begin. Companies subvert sociopolitical causes for their own means, jumping on bandwagons in order to sell more products. It’s ugly, superficial capitalism. For example, something I especially hate is chucking the word feminism / feminist at all sorts of products in an attempt to attract more women buyers. It isn’t feminist to buy something that will allegedly make you a supposedly ‘better’ version of you, because it suggests that being your actual, natural self isn’t good enough. Also, it makes it seem as though feminism is trendy, and therefore superficial, silly or shallow, and something that will go out of fashion – rather than being a legitimate political cause.

Furthermore, this is alcohol we are talking about. Alcohol is a known carcinogen[3]; withdrawal can kill (which is even more impacting when you think that withdrawal from heroin cannot)[4]; and one study called alcohol the most dangerous drug in modern society, well above heroin and crack.[5] Mexico occupies the tenth place in Latin America for alcohol consumption. But let’s give that some global perspective; Europeans drink more alcohol than anyone else, and in both the USA and the UK the amount of alcohol consumed per capita is way higher than in Mexico.[6] Despite these statistics, the adverts could be interpreted as suggesting the beer drinking is a core part of Mexican identity, which of course is not a flattering (nor accurate) image.

So taking all of this into account, what is there to like about the campaign? Well, I would look favourably on most things that celebrate non-white identities, especially in previously colonised countries. There is far too much white washing in advertising campaigns.[7] In Mexico, like many Latin American countries, the majority of the population is not white yet adverts are saturated with white people. Happy families enjoying nice things with their smiling Labradors are always white, and the worst is that these adverts are often accompanied by slogans about ‘deserving’ the nice home, nice car, etc. It gives the impression that you must strive to be whiter in order to be worthy of enjoying these pleasures.

Celebrating other identities is especially necessary in a campaign for beer, which is mostly consumed by working and lower-middle class Mexicans, who themselves are usually on the more mestizo end of the colour scale. What is seen in adverts and the wider media today just repeats the messages that colonisers brought with them in the 16th century, except now the messages are neatly packaged and pasted across billboards, instead of being violently beaten into people and written into law. Just as people consume products, they consume ideas. In my own experience since living here, I have noticed that Mexicans often repeat negative things about their paisanos and blame each other for their so-called ‘third world’ status. Mexicans are lazy, Mexicans don’t read, it’s Mexican people’s fault the country is fucked are all things I have heard often from Mexican mouths, and something similar occurred in Ecuador. Ecuadorians lie, they take advantage, they’re lazy; all things I heard from Ecuadorians themselves.

So, can we comfortably enjoy a campaign which celebrates the mestizaje of Mexican identity, even though the real point is to make more money for a company which sells carginogenic drinks? When I put it like that, probably not! But while capitalism and alcohol consumption skip along hand in hand merrily and quietly gluing society as we know it together, I think it’s fair to recognise that what Victoria are doing is important on some level. So let’s raise a glass, and drink responsibly, if we chose to drink at all, to celebrating identities that aren’t just white, and hope that we’ll start to see a bit more mestizaje in the media.

References:

http://durango.com.mx/cerveza-victoria-150-anos-y-sigue-siendo-joven/

http://tolucalabellacd.com/toluca/museo-cerveceria-victoria/

http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/articulo/nacion/sociedad/2017/06/27/cerveza-victoria-revela-creativa-campana-contra-la

[1] http://www.elfinanciero.com.mx/empresas/cuales-son-las-cervezas-favoritas-de-los-mexicanos

[2] https://cervecerosdemexico.com/2017/08/29/las-primeras-4-etiquetas-de-cerveza-mexicanas/

[3] https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/04/did-drinking-give-me-breast-cancer/

[4] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-addiction/201001/alcohol-benzos-and-opiates-withdrawal-might-kill-you

[5] https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20101101/alcohol-more-harmful-than-crack-or-heroin#1

[6] https://www.animalpolitico.com/2014/05/mexico-decimo-lugar-en-consumo-de-alcohol-en-al-oms/

[7] http://banderasnews.com/0902/edop-whitewashed.htm for whitewashing in media and http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2016/03/09/whitewashed-troubling-term-undermining-hispanic-latino-identity/47717 for the difference between media white washing and using the term when talking about personal identity.

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