El Pípila | Mexico | Living in Mexico

El Pípila

Driving down the libramientos (free highways), we often encounter large sculptures at entrances to cities. It seems like every town puts one up as soon as the taxpayers can afford it. No respectable city lacks its entrance monuments, no matter how shabby the rest of the place is.

Subjects include religious figures, Aztecs or Mayans, or national heros. One of the latter is Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro—a heck of a name for a simple laborer in the mines. His contemporaries must have thought so too, because they gave him a nickname: Pípila.

Pípila's claim to fame came early in Mexico's fight for independence from Spain. In Guanajuato, insurgents attacked Spanish loyalists who were barricaded in the Alhóndigo de Granaditas—the public granary. Pípila, a strong man, lashed a large flagstone onto his back for protection from the defenders' bullets and rocks, and then walked up to the wooden door of the Alhóndigo, smeared it with pitch, and set it afire with a torch. When the door burned through, the rebels rushed in and captured the fort.

Pípila was born in San Miguel de Allende and therefore is a suitable subject for a monument. When the new glorieta (traffic circle) was built a few years back, his statue was erected in its center, greeting travelers from Celaya and Guanajuato. At the entrance to San Miguel, this is what they saw.


Yep. Pípila's butt. I'm not sure how long it took for the inevitable reaction to set in, but Atención, the English-language newspaper, was able to get out an edition decrying the placement of the statue before city officials had time to react. The statue stayed in the offending position long enough for San Miguel de Allende to become a butt of jokes throughout the state.

Corrective action was, by San Miguel standards, swift. No more than a couple of weeks went by before Pípila's statue was rotated 180º so that visitors no longer would be mooned as they entered the city.


Unfortunately the statue still fails to convey the intended sense of heroic patriotism. Pípila is portrayed carrying about 200 pounds of rock on his bare back. Now, Mexicans are a modest people, a sensible people. No respectable Mexican goes into battle without wearing his shirt. Especially if there's gonna be a lot of rough stone scraping his skin.

Further undermining Pípila's look of courage and determination, he's carrying what appears to be a dish mop. You have to read the fine print to realize it's supposed to be a torch—tough to do while dodging loco drivers in the glorieta.

What else? Well, his six pack abs look like they came out of a comic book. And then, as if saving the Mexican Revolution wasn't enough to prove his manhood, the artist thought it necessary to provide viewers with another blatant cue. Check it out.

"Pípila" must be one of those New World words, because I can't find a translation for it in a Spanish-English dictionary. Maybe you can guess what means.

Whatever you guess, well, you would be wrong.

"Pípila" is a word in the Mayan K'iche' language (called Quiché in Spanish). A K'iche'-English dictionary compiled by Allan J. Christenson of Brigham Young University gives the meaning of "pípila" as "to rub, to masturbate." I'll bet no city official or other person involved in placing commemorative plaques around town knows this.