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 (albañiles) place it there themselves, a tradition they have followed for centuries, believing it brings blessings that protect them.
However, bosses are expected to provide construction workers with a special meal, or at the very least some snacks in observance of “their day.” Such meals often include cochinita pibil, chicharra, or relleno negro — accompanied by copious amounts of cola and several bags of charritos.
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, especially if they are foreigners not familiar with this tradition.
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As architects and engineers are conscious most foreigners don’t know what is expected of them on this day, they will usually inform them, or take matters into their own hands to keep the workers happy.
“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.