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Amid woes, Mexico finds way to become numero uno


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POSTED: Tuesday, September 08, 2009

MEXICO CITY » If the Guinness Book of World Records ever creates a category for the country most obsessed with being in the Guinness Book of World Records, Mexico will surely be in the running.

As August came to an end, tens of thousands of Mexicans danced to Michael Jackson's “;Thriller,”; clawing at the air, grabbing their crotches and marching like zombies while being led by a Mexican Michael Jackson impersonator who goes by the name Hector Jackson. A light rain did nothing to curb the enthusiasm of the participants, who were of all ages. Many turned out wearing aviator glasses and white gloves, or had fake blood splattered on them.

While still under review by the Guinness adjudicators, it appears that Mexico clearly amassed enough “;Thriller”; dancers to best the previous record set by 242 college students in Virginia in May. In fact, the old record was child's play for Mexico, which brought together 12,937 official participants at Mexico City's Monument of the Revolution.

“;This positions us as a grand city where grand things happen,”; gushed Alejandro Rojas Diaz, Mexico City's tourism secretary, who organized the event. It also attracted 30,000 or so onlookers, many of whom were moving to the music as well.

Yes, Mexicans takes their records seriously. Days after the “;Thriller”; event, mariachi musicians gathered in Guadalajara, where their traditional form of music first began, to beat the record for the most mariachi musicians ever gathered in one place. In all, 549 horn blowers, bassists and violinists turned out in suits and sombreros at the International Mariachi Festival, playing the classics, “;Cielito Lindo”; and “;Guadalajara.”;

In many ways, it has been a rough year in Mexico, with the swine flu outbreak, the economic crisis and continuing violence tied to the country's drug cartels. But it has been a good year for records, from the largest meatball to the biggest smooch fest, with many other bests in between.

On Aug. 1, Mexico won the record for the longest catwalk, when promoters in San Luis Potosi set up a fashion show featuring 81 models, each of whom had to strut 4,332 feet and two inches, which far surpassed the previous record of 3,645 feet.

Days later, while the models were probably still recovering from their near-mile trek—in heels—Mexico produced the largest meatball in the world, which weighed in at 109 pounds. Prepared by the chefs at the Ritz Carlton in Cancun, the meatball was supposed to promote a film based on the children's book “;Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,”; about the mythical town of Chewandswallow who are amazed at all the food that rains down from the heavens. After Mexico's record was confirmed, besting a modest 72-pound, 9-ounce meatball, the giant mass of beef was served to onlookers.Months earlier, in January, the record-breaking focus was on dessert. Chef Miguel Angel Quezada and a team of 55 chefs in Mexico City created the world's largest cheese cake, using almost a ton of cream cheese and yogurt, 551 pounds of sugar and 331 pounds of butter. It took 60 hours to create the more than 2-ton monstrosity, which was chopped up into 20,000 servings.

Mexico also set a kissing record this year, as 39,987 people locked lips on Valentine's Day in the Zocalo, which happens to be among the largest city squares in the world. The Mexican smoochers beat a British record of 32,648 kissers, which had held since 2007. A few months later, the Mexican government began discouraging people from kissing for fear of spreading swine flu.

Not all of Mexico's record breaking attempts go as planned. In January, Mexico's National Association of Matadors declared that Michel Lagravere, a 11-year-old known as Michelito, had set the record at his age for the most baby bulls killed in a two-hour fight. He brought down six of them.

But Guinness refused to recognize the effort, declaring on its Web site that, “;We do not accept records based on the killing or harming of animals.”; Michelito was defiant though, saying in his high-pitched voice: “;It's all the same to me because in the world of bullfighting the record is now part of history, although it may not be for Guinness.”;

No record holds forever, of course. Manuel Uribe, a Mexican and the world's fattest man in 2006, slimmed down from 1,230 pounds to about half that, losing the title. He has told reporters that he now hopes to return to the record book, as the person who has lost the most weight.

And some records are not the kind a country is necessarily proud to embrace. Forbes magazine declared Joaquin Guzman Loera, who runs one of Mexico's fiercest drug cartels, to be the world's richest trafficker.

It was the prolific business of Guzman and other traffickers that led the Mexican government to set another record, that of the largest cocaine bust in history. About 26 tons of the drug were recovered in November 2007, inside 21,116 wrapped packages, in the Mexican port of Manzanillo.

More records still emanate from the United States than any other country, a Guinness spokesman said, but Mexico is trying, often with the participation of the government. The “;Thriller”; dance began as a citizen effort on Facebook, but was soon joined by the Mexico City government, which provided publicity, security and toilets.

Mexico's record-breaking frenzy, analysts say, reflects the desire for world-class status, and its acknowledgment that on many fronts it is not yet there.

“;It's a way for us not to think about all the difficulties, the conflicts, the killings, the economic crisis,”; said Rocio Valdez, 25, a receptionist. “;Yes, we're in bad shape, but if we can make the biggest taco in the world. ...”;

Actually, Mexico already holds that record, with a 1,654-pound flour taco made in Mexicali in 2003.