MEXICO CITY — Whom would you build, if you had to make a monster of mythical proportions? An evil equal to a biblical scourge? A traitor to be burned in effigy whose fiery demise would cleanse our corrupted souls?
In Mexico, that would be Donald J. Trump. (J for Judas?)
Or at least a 10-foot-tall papier-mache version of him: eyes wide, mouth agape, with a painted-on business suit and golden mane. On Saturday night, just as every year on the day before Easter, Mexicans gathered on street corners and church squares to celebrate the Holy Week and set fire to their Judases, a popular ritual in this heavily Catholic country. Those demons are typically forked-tongue devils and flaming dragons, and often, like this year, reviled politicians.
“For Latinos here and in the U.S., he’s a danger, a real threat,” said Leonardo Linares, a 52-year-old artist who built a Trump effigy over the past week in his Mexico City studio. “He’s a good man to burn as a Judas.”
Linares, a jolly craftsman in paint-splattered clothes, presided over a block party that attracted hundreds of revelers, with kids chasing cotton candy wisps and pitched funny-foam battles. Linares and his relatives, who have been running this show for decades, chose the order of the Judas burnings, beginning with diminutive devils and wee minions and moving to the big dogs: President Obama with a cigar in his mouth and a Cuban flag, a black-clad Islamic State fighter with a kalashnikov, and the grand Trumpian finale.
All this Judas-burning is a symbolic attempt to destroy evil, a night of catharsis by way of pyrotechnics. The ceremonies take place across Mexico before Easter. Santa Rosa Xochiac, a hillside neighborhood to the southwest of the capital, has become one of the popular Judas-torching spots. More than a dozen groups spend months building their effigies, then parade them through the streets before rigging them with fireworks and sparklers and setting them ablaze.
“Mostly it’s devils, monsters,” said Ricardo Sanchez, a 27-year-old mechanic as he put the finishing touches on 20-foot-tall dragon. “One year we burned Osama bin Laden.”
Mexicans take special pleasure in skewering Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner who has threatened to deport millions of Mexicans and claims he will build a giant wall across the United States’s southern border and have Mexico pay for it. Since he launched his campaign last summer calling them “rapists” and “criminals,” Mexicans have fired back with a variety of satires. A pair of comedians put on a play, “The Sons of Trump,” featuring greedy villains bumbling around in blond wigs. Trump’s likeness has been crafted into pinatas and bashed, digitized into a video game character and pegged with tomatoes. His name is the brunt of folk-song jokes.
There has also been more earnest criticism, from former Mexican presidents and current senior government officials, who have warned that Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric is damaging relations between the two countries.
“He’s crazy,” said Alberto Rueda, a 30-year-old shopkeeper who attended the Trump burning in the La Merced neighborhood. “His ideas are not the solution. On the contrary. If he builds a wall, people will build tunnels.”
Linares, who has been building burnable Judases since he was a boy, has traveled extensively in the United States, including to Washington and New York, showing his art.
Making giant paper dolls has been a family business for decades, he said, and he has reduced many politicians to ashes over the years. Former president Carlos Salinas is a fan favorite, he said, along with corrupt former Mexico City police chief Arturo Durazo. His was not the only Trump on display. Fernando Padilla, 33, a neighbor, built a likeness of a Mexican drug lord riding an airplane while carrying Trump’s severed head in his hand.
“Latinos have contributed a lot to the United States,” Linares said. “Trump’s a buffoon. With him as president, the U.S. will lose a lot of credibility in the world.”
The mood on the street was a mix of neighborhood festival and war zone, with showering sparks, gigantic firework blasts that knocked people down, the whole street cloaked in a gunpowder haze.
The dolls seemed to stay in character. The Islamic State fighter exploded his payload in one chaotic blast; Obama’s fuse was lighted repeatedly but refused to blow. When it came time for the climax, Trump went slowly, gruesomely, one leg blasting off, then the other, as the by-then boozy crowd chanted “Death! Death!” When his head exploded, there were thunderous cheers.
Linares looked spent as he surveyed the carnage.
“We’re satisfied,” he said. “The people liked it.”