On September 16, Mexico will commemorate her fight for indepenence from Spain, which started 209 years ago, on September 16, 1810. The struggle would last for eleven years, ending on September 27, 1821, with the victorious march into Mexico City by the insurgent army under Agustin Iturbide. That part of New Spain which we know as Mexico had much more territory in 1821 than it does now. It encompassed a vast part of what are now the southwestern states of the United States, including my home state of Texas. We can’t know what might have happened if Spain had been able to keep her American lands, but we can be sure that our own stories would be quite different.


16 de septiembre

Map of Mexico in 1819

Guadalajara, Guadalajara (song)

Guadalajara, Guadalajara (gallery)

My First Year in Mexico

Progenitors of La Raza

English / Spanish Glossary of Edible Plants

Beyond Burritos and Margaritas: Mexican Foods You May Not Have Met Yet

HOME COOKING: Café de Olla


Fruit and Stuff

If you’re giving up meat, you’ll find useful information at Fruit and Stuff. If you’re not, so will you!




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My First Year in Mexico

“Aren’t you scared?” Alfonso, my new brother-in-law, asked as we concluded a family visit near the Texas border before my husband and I headed for the city with the strange-sounding name: Guadalajara.  Of all the things I had felt as I left Texas to move to another country, scared was not one of them.

The drive was long, but I was overjoyed to be in the interior of Mexico at last.  A twelve-week college missions trip in Juarez, barely across the Texas border, with a weekend side trip to Chihuahua, had made me want to see more. We stopped in Monterrey, where I met my husband’s Tia Chucha, then we drove on to San Luis Potosi, where we stopped for the night. I’m not sure that I clapped my hands like a child when we finally saw the lights of Guadalajara in the distance, but I was that excited.

Some friends who had already been there for a year invited us to stay at their house while we looked for an apartment, but we didn’t get their letter with the address of their neighbor who would give us the key. We knocked on the door of the house across the street to ask if perhaps they were the designated keepers of the key. They weren’t, but they insisted that we stay with them, and for a week we had a bedroom, breakfast and dinner with that generous family.

We found a place to live–a furnished third-floor apartment and took care of business at the medical school and the American School of Guadalajara, where I had been hired to teach sixth grade. The apartment was cool and comfortable, but it was too pricey for our budget, so we moved down the street to more affordable old-fashioned suites. Bathroom and kitchen were decorated with beautiful blue tiles, and the yard had full-grown banana trees.

In February, we heard there was a vacancy in an apartment building on Morelos Street.  The apartment was unfurnished, so it was less expensive than ours, just 600 pesos or 48 US dollars, and it was bigger, with three bedrooms, an open patio for washing and hanging clothes, and a maid’s room with its own tiny bathroom.  We moved in with a formica table, plastic-covered chairs, and a bed, gradually acquiring other pieces of furniture as we were able to pay for them. We found a woman to come clean the apartment once a week. When our first son was born, she came to work for us full time. Esperanza stayed with us through four more houses and fifteen years.

Teaching sixth-graders at the American School of Guadalajara was a challenge.  I had to master the science and math lessons just ahead of the students, since I was prepared to teach English and journalism.  The students spent half a day in an all-English self-contained classroom and the other half in all-Spanish.  I had two groups of all-English.

The school was a two-story cinderblock building around a large open courtyard with open-air hallways facing the courtyard.  Behind the buildings was an open yard with a soccer field, a volleyball court, and basketball hoops.  The office and library were near the entrance.  A teacher’s lounge, bookstore, and snack bar were located in the classroom building.

The students wore uniforms–dark blue pants and pinstriped shirts for the boys, pinstriped shirtwaist dresses for the girls, navy cardigans for all.  They were well-behaved.  Monday mornings students, teachers, and staff gathered in the courtyard to salute the U.S. and Mexican flags, carried proudly by as they were paraded by a color guard, chosen for their good grades and excellent citizenship..  They stood up when teachers entered the classroom, and they said “Thank you, Miss!” when they were dismissed. There was a break between the English-Spanish switch, and “lonches” (sandwiches made with a bolillo (French bread) split in half and filled with ham, lettuce, and jalapeno chiles) were available at the snack bar, along with other treats.  There was no formal lunch hour, since the students were out in time to go home for traditional mid-day meal around three o’clock.

Edna Mardus was the librarian. She was usually surrounded by kids, whom she knew well enough to make tailor-made recommendations of books she thought they would like.  My school librarians had always seemed to be in charge of protecting the books from our grubby hands!  In the teacher’s lounge, Edna had book recommendations for teachers too, and she always had interesting stories of her own to tell. So did her husband, Fred, who taught math, physics, and chemistry. Fred and his identical mirror-image twin were born in South America on February 28, 1904, to Hungarian parents.  He loved to tell what the one-in-a-bazillion odds were of someone like him and his twin brother being born.  In 1968, the whole school celebrated Fred Mardus’s 16th (64th) birthday.  The well-traveled Marduses were gifted storytellers.

They were the first of many people with amazing stories that I met during my years in Guadalajara.

Guadalajara, Guadalajara (song)

Different styles, one song–a tribute to the fragrance of Guadalajara’s rain-soaked earth and early morning roses, to the nearby places–Lake Chapala, Tlaquepaque, and Zapopan, where we couldn’t go sometimes because of the rain from the hills, to potters and mariachis and beautiful women wrapping their shawls around themselves. Guadalajara, the most Mexican of places.

Composed by Pepe Guizar in 1937

Guadalajara, Guadalajara,
Guadalajara, Guadalajara…

Tienes el alma de provinciana
hueles a limpia rosa temprana,
a verde jara fresca del rio,
son mil palomas tu caserio,

Guadalajara, Guadalajara
hueles a pura tierra mojada.

Ay ay ay ay! Colomito Lejano…
Ay! Ojitos de agua hermanos,

Ay! Colomitos inolvidables,
inolvidables como las tardes
en que la lluvia desde la loma
no nos dejaba ir a Zapopan.

Ay ay ay ay! Tlaquepaque Pueblito…

Tus olorosos jarritos
hacen mas fresco el dulce tepache
junto a la birria con el mariachi
que en los parianes y alfarerias
suena con triste melancolia.

Ay ay ay ay! Laguna de Chapala…

Tienes de un cuento la magia,
Cuento de ocasos y de alborada
s de enamoradas noches lunadas,
quieta, Chapala, es tu laguna,
novia romántica como ninguna.

Ay ay ay ay! Zapopitan del alma,
nunca escuché otras campanas
como las graves de tu convento,
donde se alivian mis sufrimientos

Triste Zapopan,
misal abierto donde son frailes mis sentimientos.

Ay ay ay ay! Guadalajara Hermosa…
Quiero decirte una cosa:

Tu que conservas agua del pozo
y en tus mujeres el fiel rebozo,

Guadalajara, Guadalajara
tienes el alma mas mexicana..

Ay ay ay! Ay ay ay! Ay ay ay! Ay ay ay!

Guadalajara… Guadalajara.

Progenitors of La Raza

The conquest and fall of Mesoamerican civilizations, celebrated by some, lamented by many, gave rise to a new race, la raza, the mestizo. The patriarch of this new race is Spaniard Don Hernán Cortés Monroy Pizarro Altamirano. The mother is a Nahua slave, first called Malinalli, later baptized Marina by the Spanish when they received her among a group of twenty female slaves. She had first been given to Alonso Hernández Portocarrero, but when he was called to return to Spain, Hernán Cortés took her as his slave, Nahuátl-Mayan interpreter, and lover. Their son, Martín Cortés, considered one of the first mestizos, was born in 1522. In addition to interpreter and lover, Malinalli eventually became war councilor, diplomat, and spy for Cortés .

Malinalli is known in history as Malintzín, Malinche, or Doña Marina. She was still a child when her life took an unfortunate turn as her father, a cacique of some influence, died, and her mother remarried and soon gave birth to a son. In order to establish that son as ruler, her mother sold Malinalli as a slave, and she eventually came to be owned by a Mayan ruler in the Tabasco region, where she learned the Mayan language. Her native language was Nahuátl. The concession of the twenty slave girls was made when the Spaniards defeated the Tabascans at the Battle of Centla.

Malinalli eventually learned Spanish, but she began her work as Cortés´s interpreter even before she had mastered his language, with the help of a shipwrecked Spaniard, Jeronimo de Aguilar, who had been held in captivity by Mayans and was rescued by Cortés in Cozumel. Malinalli translated from Nahuátl to Mayan, and de Aguilar translated from Mayan to Spanish. There is considerable evidence that Malinalli was much more than a simple translator and concubine for Cortés. The soldier and historian Bernal Diaz del Castillo called her a great woman. Indigenous drawings of the time seldom show Hernán Cortés without Doña Marina by his side, and she is even portrayed alone, directing events without him.

While much appreciated by the Spaniards, she has been maligned as a traitor to her own people, and even today, a person who reveres foreign cultures, goods, and people, is called in derision a “Malinchista.”Whether a hero, a traitor, or simply a victim of circumstances, this Mother of the Mestizo Race was surely a very intelligent woman whose strength and independent spirit were far ahead of her time and circumstances.

(PHOTOS: Malinche, Hernán Cortés Monroy Pizarro Altamirano, Martin Cortes, their son, the first known mestizo.)

Beyond Burritos and Margaritas: Mexican Foods You May Not Have Met Yet

Tortillas, beans, rice, and chiles are staples in Mexican households and Mexican restaurants all over the world, including Mexico, but Mexicans enjoy many exotic foods that you may not have heard about. Here are a few of them.


A deliciously sour-sweet watery and nutritious cactus fruit.


Smells like pineapple, tastes like strawberries and apple with a touch of citrus, with a creamy texture, like coconut or banana, and generous amounts of Vitamins B and C.


A delicious and nutritious edible “disease,” huitlacoche, the fungus known in English as corn smut, can bring a higher price than the corn on which it grows. Raw or roasted, it makes delicious tacos, quesadallas, enhiladas, and other delicacies.

Flor de Calabaza

This beautiful flower can be cooked or eaten raw, made into poppers, or used as an ingredient in vegetarian pozole.

Nopal y Tuna

It may look like something to avoid, but this is a feast in the desert. The tunas (cactus pears) taste as sweet as jam when they are ripe, and they can be found in an explosion of different bright colors. The leaves, known as nopales in the mercado, are a rich source of protein an fiber. They can be scraped, chopped, seasoned, sauteed, and enjoyed in a variety of dishes.

Café de Olla

Excellent Mexian coffee boiled with raw sugar and cinnamon. No cream needed.

In a medium saucepan, place 4 c WATER, 3 oz or 1/3 c PILONCILLO or DARK BROWN SUGAR, 1/2 STICK MEXICAN CINNAMON. Bring to a boil, turn heat down and simmer until the piloncillo is dissolved (about 7 minutes). Add 4 T GROUND COFFEE, turn off the heat, stir, cover, and steep for 5 minutes. Strain and serve.

English / Spanish Glossary of Edible Plants

The full and expanding original glossary is at Fruit and Stuff.

(PHOTO: Mercado Libertad, also known as San Juan de Dios, in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.)

When I moved to Mexico, I was surprised to be offered a number of fruits and vegetables I had never heard of, and, of course, I had to learn new names for foods that were familiar. This list includes the old and familiar as well as the new and exotic. Some plants have different names, depending on countries and regions. I have used American English and Mexican Spanish.

  • almond / almendra
  • aloe vera / sávila
  • amaranth / amaranto
  • apple / manzana
  • apricot / chabacano
  • artichoke / alcachofa
  • asparagus / espárrago
  • avocado / aguacate
  • banana / plátano
  • basil / albahaca
  • bay leaf / laurel
  • beet / betabel
  • blackberry / zarzamora
  • broccoli / brocolí
  • brazil nut / nuez de Brasil
  • butternut squash
  • cabbage / col
  • cactus leaf / nopal
  • cantaloupe / melon
  • carrot / zanahoria
  • cashew / maranon
  • cauliflower / coliflor
  • celery / apio
  • chayote
  • cherry / cereza
  • chia / chia
  • chickpea / garbanzo
  • cilantro / cilantro
  • cinnamon / canela
  • clove / clavo de olor
  • clementine / clementina
  • corn / maiz
  • cucumber / pepino
  • cumin / comino
  • date / dátil
  • dragon fruit / pitahaya
  • eggplant (aubergine) / berenjena
  • fig / higo
  • garlic / ajo
  • ginger / genjibre
  • grape / uva
  • grapefruit / toronja
  • green bean / ejote
  • guanabana
  • guava / guayaba
  • hibiscus / jamaica
  • hominy / maiz nixtamalizado
  • honeydew melon / melón chino
  • jackfruit / yaca
  • kale / kale
  • kiwi / kiwi
  • leek / poro
  • lemon / limon
  • lentil / lenteja
  • lettuce / lechuga
  • lima bean / haba
  • lime / lima
  • mamey
  • mango / mango
  • mushroom / champiñón
  • olive / aceituna
  • onion / cebolla
  • orange / naranja
  • parsley / perejil
  • pea / chicharo
  • peanut / cacahuate, mani
  • pear / pera
  • pecan / nuez
  • pepper / chile
  • pineapple / piña
  • pistachio / pistacho
  • plantain / plátano macho
  • plum /ciruela
  • pomegranate / granada
  • potato / papa
  • prickly pear / tuna
  • prune / ciruela pasa
  • pumpkin / calabaza
  • radish / rábano
  • raisin / pasita
  • raspberry / frambuesa
  • sesame seed / ajonjoli
  • spinach / espinaca
  • strawberry / fresa
  • sunflower seed / semilla de girasol
  • sweet potato / camote
  • tahini / tajini
  • tomato / tomate
  • turnip / nabo
  • walnut / nuez de castilla
  • watercress / berro
  • watermelon / sandia
  • zapote
  • zucchini / calabacita

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