Let it Burn

Let it Burn

Let it Burn 1080 729 Victoria Buitron

When the clock strikes twelve, the few cars on the road come to a halt close to the sidewalk until the fires lining every street stop spitting debris. For weeks, Ecuadorians work on their monigotes, or effigies, for this precise moment. These temporary sculptures everyone calls años viejos—old years—are molded with plywood, cardboard, and newspaper into anything that represents the past year. Local politicians, Betty Boop, Jon Snow and Daenerys on a dragon, Julian Assange, Michael Jordan and his alien teammates from Space Jam. In the hours before the burning, men dress up as widows in borrowed black dresses. Blood red lipstick smears their cheeks by suppertime. Friends hold a rope from corners of a street to stop traffic. Then the widow seduces the driver, asks for pity, or simply demands ten cents. Even five-cent coins add up to buy explosives and gasoline. One year, an uncle recovers from the verge of death due to prostate issues, and his friends sculpt him, add a wooly wig to mimic his tight black locks, place his doppelganger on a wheelchair, tape a catheter to his crotch, and parade him around a soccer field. When midnight comes, they burn him to ash on the street.

It’s Jr.’s turn to choose this year, and once he decides he wants the squirrel from Ice Age, we make the año viejo as big as a preteen. Dad buys a premade plywood skeleton—the hardest part. Jr. and I crumple up old newspapers to perfect the mold, slather glue, then wait until it’s dry so we can paint the eyes and bring life to its face. I mention the monigotes as tall as buildings on the famous street in Guayaquil—art created for destruction—and how people surely start working on them in July. As my father kneels under the fierce December sun, trickles of sweat dampening his tanned forehead, I ask him why we blow up days of hard work.

“Well, why is life hard and then we die?” he says.

We work in silence after that.

A few minutes before the new year, my father begins puncturing the effigy with a knife so my brother and I can force the firecrackers deep inside. Then we all gather our sulfur-stuffed creations by the sidewalk, pyrotechnics drowning out our shouts. At midnight, a man from each home places a monigote in a designated mound. At the end of the bellowing countdown, the fastest man pours gasoline, throws a lit match, and runs away from the sanctioned arson brightening the neighborhood. Mom and Dad only let us watch from behind our gate—afraid a nail might become shrapnel and stab our throats. Standing in my yard, I can hear children wailing because they’ve grown too attached to their Spiderman. But everyone watches the burning. Even toddlers. We watch what we’ve created turn to dust, if only to continue the tradition of letting the past go up in flames.

Header photograph © Galduryndari D.

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