Mérida, Yucatán — At construction sites everywhere today, a religious symbol can be seen at the highest point, commemorating El Día de la Santa Cruz, or the Day of the Holy Cross.
This is not a courtesy from the property owner or their bosses. The workers place it there themselves, a tradition they have followed for years, believing it brings blessings that protect them.
Sometimes the cross is plain, but more often it is covered with flowers, construction paper or colorful ribbons, that the workers bring in themselves. The property owners are not consulted, and are often surprised to find a cross at their work site.
Even for the less devout, the May 3 tradition holds deep meaning for workers who face daily hazards with little reward.
“The truth is … there is little to celebrate with what they pay us. We barely have enough to support the family.” exclaimed José Bacab, 50, who travels daily from his Acanceh to Mérida along with his companions.
Their work is difficult. Alcoholism is common among work crews, Bacab admits.
“Usually after Saturday at noon, when you have your salary, there is no shortage of people who start to encourage everyone to take ‘only two’ at the cantina, but they end up all drunk and the one who says no (to more drinks), immediate teasing begins,” he adds.
Aside from an early-morning Mass and the hoisting of the cross, the day continues like any other. There was a time when the day also meant soft drinks, chicharra and cochinita, but that part of the tradition has faded.