An old story that circulates wherever translators gather goes like this.
A Mexican who knew a little English owned a bar in a pueblo near the border. As a rainstorm was approaching, a gringo tourist hustled into the bar. The barkeeper was happy because he knew just what to say.
“Between! Between!” he shouted enthusiastically. “Drink a chair! Here comes the water zero!” (“Entre! Entre! Tomeunasilla. Ahivieneelaguacero!”)
Once in awhile, a person will ask me for a word-for-word translation. There may be such a thing, as the hapless barkeeper demonstrated, but the results are often not conducive to effective communication. “Just tell me what it SAYS,” shouts an exasperated client as I try to explain a complex and ambiguous passage.
A translator’s work is to get meaning from the source language and convey the same meaning in a different language. Often, the distance is not great between the words of one language and another language, but sometimes the search for meaning leads to something that is quite different from the source.
Use online translators and bilingual dictionaries with caution, and preferably with adult supervision–someone with enough knowledge of source and target languages to warn you of snafus like these:
“Enchufe de los Muebles del Hotel” (Hotel Furniture Outlet)
“Meat in your juice” (Carnes en su jugo)
“Foot of Lemon” (Pie de Limon)
“Hecho en Pavo” (Made in Turkey)
“Fresh picture” (Pintura fresca)
“Hierro chulo” (Cool iron)
“Pope with spicy Mexican sausage” (Papa con chorizo)
“To Rome” (aroma)
And from the Chinese translators
“Chicken rude and unreasonable” (Jerk chicken)
“I can’t find on google but it’s delicious” (Menu item in Chinese)
My Spanish teachers liked to show off their advanced knowledge of linguistics with long impressive words like esdrújula, sobreesdrújula, and penultimate. So, I gave up on comprehending those little marks and just did my best to learn words visually, accent mark and all. When in doubt I sprinkled marks randomly like salt and pepper to give my writing that Spanish-ey flavor.
There are many fascinating things that linguists know about language in general and accent marks in particular, but I will not go into that here because if your goal is to speak and understand Spanish in the real world, you can take courage from knowing that most Spanish-speaking four-year-olds and a few two-and-three-year-olds have already mastered more than you will ever need to know in order to reach your goal, and those pre-schoolers have not yet even heard the word esdrújula. If you forego the big impressive words, the facts are really very simple:
An accent mark on a syllable indicates that the marked syllable is to be stressed in the word. So canción will be pronounced something like this: kahn–SYON. Well, then, what about all those words that don’t have an accent mark? We can divide those words into two major groups:
Words that end in a vowel (a,e,i,o,u) or the consonants n or s. These words will be stressed on the next-to-last syllable. (Ricardo)
Words that end in any letter other than the ones in the first group. These words will be stressed on the last syllable. (arroz)
Accent marks have a few other uses, such as distinguishing between one-syllable words that are spelled alike but have different meanings, like sí (yes) and si (if).
They also indicate whether two vowels together make a diphthong (no mark) or should be pronounced individually (María).
(Insurgente mexicano ataca a soldado francés, Batalla de Puebla, 5 de mayo de 1862)
La evolución de Cinco de Mayo, de un reconocimiento de menor importancia en México, a una borrachera rampante latina-chicana-estadounidense es un misterio a los que vivimos en México. El 5 de mayo de 1862, un ejército insurgente mexicano venció sorpresiva y rotundamente en la ciudad de Puebla a invasores franceses bien uniformados y equipados. Sin embargo, en 1862 faltaba mucho para que la campaña de los imperialistas mexicanos y europeos para extender el Imperio Napoleónico hasta México fuera derrocada por completo.
Me irrita la emoción excesiva que rodea el Cinco de Mayo, pero a mí me irrita la emoción excesiva en general. Sin embargo, cuando me encontré dando clases de español en un pequeño pueblo tejano, era imposible escaparme del alboroto de Cinco de Mayo. En el colegio, se permitían festejos en el aula en determinadas fechas con fines didácticos y culturales. “A propósito, ¿cuándo es el Cinco de Mayo?” me preguntó el director, cuyos talentos radicaban más bien en las matemáticas que en lenguas y culturas extranjeras.
Los alumnos de preparatoria no perdonarán nunca a la profesora que pasa por alto una oportunidad para traer comida al salón, así que yo, a regañadientes, planeaba una fiesta para celebrar el Cinco de Mayo en honor a taquitos y Coca-Cola. En el closet, mi antecesor había dejado papel cortado en rojo, verde, y blanco, unas banderas mexicanas, y unos serapes y sombreros cuyos días de gloria habían pasado ya hace mucho tiempo. Desempolvé todo y puse a los alumnos a decorar el aula para justificar una pequeña fiesta en horas cuando, de manera contraria, hubiera sido prohibida.
Mucho antes de aceptar dicha asignatura docente, yo había vivido en México, donde el Cinco de Mayo no es un día de fiesta oficial. Los profesores de historia mencionaban la Batalla de Puebla en sus clases, en televisión se proyectaban documentales anticuados, y los periódicos sacaban uno o dos comentarios editoriales de sus archivos. En la Ciudad de Puebla, sitio de la batalla, hay conmemoraciones modestas. De vez en cuando, el Día del Trabajo, primero de mayo, que sí es un día feriado oficial, se juntaba con un fin de semana y el Cinco de Mayo de modo que daba pretexto para un puente, siempre recibido con regocijo por profesores y alumnos quienes en mayo luchan para sobrevivir el final del año escolar. Tal es la emoción en México para el Cinco de Mayo.
Determinada que los alumnos cuando menos comprenderían que el Cinco de Mayo NO es el Dia de la Independencia de México, yo buscaba la única herramienta docente a la cual prestarían atención durante una fiesta: una película. Encontré una que era entretenida e informativa, cuando menos para mi y algunos adolescentes aficionados de la historia mundial. En Juárez, lanzada en 1939, Bette Davis, estrella icónica con ojos enormes de los primeros días de la industria cinematográfica, destacaba en el papel de la hermosa Carlota de Bélgica, también de ojos enormes pero de triste porvenir, quien junto a su igualmente desventurado archiduque de Hapsburgo, Maximiliano de Austria, ocupaba el trono imperial en el Castillo de Chapultepec desde 1864 hasta 1867, cuando el Presidente Benito Juárez, finalmente victorioso, trasladó el sede de su gobierno desde su carroza al Palacio de Gobierno en la ciudad de México, y ordenó la abdicación del Emperador. Cuando Maximiliano rehusó por cuestion de honor, Juárez lo mandó a fusilar junto con Miramón y Mejía, sus fieles generales imperialistas.
El caso es que la victoria sorprendente en Puebla el 5 de mayo de 1862 había sido tan amarga como dulce. Los franceses y los imperialistas redoblaron sus esfuerzos, empeñándose aún más en prevalecer en el continente americano. La película detalla más o menos fielmente la lucha de México para mantener su independencia, y los hechos de Benito Juárez, celebrado como heroe de aquella lucha. Juárez era un gran admirador de Abraham Lincoln, un detalle que no ignoraron los cineastas.
Como estudiante del español en la secundaria, me había fascinado una ilustración en el libro de texto de Carlota luciendo un vestido de muchos olanes y una diadema que relucía en su hermosa cabellera. México, a solo un día de viaje de mi pueblo en Texas, ¡había sido gobernado por unos verdaderos Emperadores quienes vivían en un verdadero castillo, el de Chapultepec! Pasarían muchos anos para que yo me diera cuenta que esa noticia no era nada buena.
“Mamá, ¿qué onda con eso del Cinco de Mayo?” me preguntaban mis hijos poco después de trasladarnos a Texas desde Guadalajara. “La profesora de español quiere que les expliquemos a sus clases como celebrábamos esa fiesta asombrosa en Mexico.”
“Díganles,” les dije, “que la celebrábamos más o menos como se celebra aquí la Batalla de Gettysburg.”
Mexicanos en todo el mundo fuera de Mexico ahora celebran el Cinco de Mayo, en compañía de no-mexicanos quienes buscan una excusa para beber tequila y comer guacamole. Conmemoran una batalla mexicana, mientras que en México la gente hace lo que hace en cualquier día común y corriente.
Joanna C. Cooke says, “I am a passionate artist who believes in re-using and up-scaling outdated things people get rid of to create new and beautiful projects.”
Joanna is a Canadian artist who now makes her home in Puerto Morelos, Mexico. “Some challenging experiences gave me a greater knowledge of what life is about and taught me to follow my dreams and never give up,” she adds. Joanna describes her early life on Canada’s west coast in British Columbia as that of a “fairly untamed, creative beach baby.” She envisions making a more beautiful world, re-created in part from objects that people discard. She shares that vision in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, where for the past decade she says she has “found a place where her heart, soul, body and mind flourish and yearn to be.”
She continues, “My work with the Shamans as a Solar Initiate of the Itza Maya is very profound and has left an impact of the greater wisdom of the cosmic universe and knowledge of the ancients. My studies as a Mayan Day Keeper (keeping track of the days of the Maya calendar) for close to 15 years has gifted me with a resonance to the stars, a deeper connection to all living beings, plant, mineral, human, animal, earth sky and water, and myself.” Sacred Geometry is a common thread of Joanna’s work in familiar forms like sunflowers, as well as abstract complex geometric designs. She finds inspiration in “the mystery of the ocean, the warmth of the sun, and the light of the stars and moon in the night skies.”
Her formal education includes Color Therapy and Crystal Therapy. She mentored with Canadian artists James Picard and Robert Genn, and studied at San Miguel de Allende and Langara College. At Vancouver Community College she learned jewelry design and goldsmithing.
Her paintings and art installations have been exhibited in Canada, Mexico, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States. Her labyrinth work was featured on HGTV’s “That’s Clever” and in an article in “Labyrinths of British Columbia–A Guide for Your Journey.”
I joined Joanna and an enthusiastic group of women one balmy Tuesday afternoon at La Sirena Restaurant. A long table, set with easels and canvases was ready for us on the restaurant balcony with a view of the turquoise water of the Caribbean. She provided brushes, paint, water and a painting for inspiration. The restaurant served cocktails and wine. With Joanna’s gentle encouragement and as much or little instruction as we wanted, each of us produced something that looked a little like her professional rendering of the lopsided lighthouse, icon of Puerto Morelos. The damaged lighthouse commemorates the fishing village’s “Never Give Up” spirit after Hurricane Beulah almost erased it from the map in 1967. We relaxed bodies, minds, and spirits, focusing on the magic of paint, brushes, canvases, and our own hands to create beautiful and satisfying shapes and colors.
Artsy Cocktails is just one of the many ways that Joanna C. Cooke shares her gifts and insights in the Riviera Maya. She offers classes, workshops, retreats, private sessions, 3D installations, and collaborative projects. Her long-term visions and goals include the creation of an Artists’ Retreat Center in Puerto Morelos with a focus on healing and learning to re-use resources. A limited number of her paintings are displayed and available for purchase at El Nicho and Chilpayas restaurants. Her future plans include creating functional and decorative home art from garbage and beach finds for a gallery space opening soon in Puerto Morelos. and leading a community project to create a house in the jungle using only garbage.
JEWEL OF THE MUDRA by Joanna C. Cooke
Joanna says she has been brought to Puerto Morelos “as if by a hand of fate over the past decade.” I wonder if that hand of fate brought me to the balcony of La Sirena Restaurant on a balmy Tuesday afternoon.
“Soy una artista apasionada. Creo en el uso de
objetos descartados para crear cosa nuevas y hermosas,” dice Joanna C.
Cooke es una artista canadiense quien hoy en día vive en Puerto Morelos, México.
“Algunos desafíos en la vida me hicieron ver con mas claridad el sentido
de a vida y me ensenaron que debo seguir mis sueños y nunca rendirme.”
Describe su infancia en la costa oeste de Canadá como la de “una niña de
playa no muy domada.” Su visión es de un mundo más hermoso recreado en
parte de cosas que la gente suele tirar a la basura. Comparte su visión en
Puerto Morelos, México, donde por una década ella dice que ha “encontrado
un lugar donde mi corazón, alma, cuerpo y mente florecen y añoran estar.”
trabajo con los Samanes como Iniciada Solar de los Maya Itzá es muy
profundo,” sigue, “y ha dejado un impacto de la sabiduría mayor del
universo cósmico y de conocimiento de los antepasados. Mis estudios como
Guardadora de Días Maya (siguiendo los días del calendario maya) durante casi
15 anos me ha otorgado resonancia a las estrellas y un nexo más profundo a
todos los seres vivientes, plantas, minerales, humanos, animales, tierra,
cielo, agua, y a mi misma.” La Geometría Sagrada es un hilo común en el
trabajo de Joanna, manifestándose tanto en formas conocidas como el girasol como
en diseños geométricos complejos. Joanna se inspira en “el misterio del
mar, el calor del sol, y la luz de las estrellas y la luna en el cielo
formales incluyen Terapia de Color y Terapia de Cristales. Sus mentores son
James Picard y Robert Genn, artistas canadienses. También estudio en San Miguel
de Allende y Langara College. Aprendió diseño de joyería y orfebrería en
Vancouver Community College.
y construcciones artísticos se han exhibido en Canadá, México, Japón, Holanda,
Suiza, y los Estados Unidos. Sus laberintos se presentaron en el programa
“That’s Clever” de HGTV y en un artículo en “Labyrinths of
British Columbia–A Guide for Your Journey.”
Me reuní con
Joanna y un grupo entusiasta de mujeres en La Sirena Restaurante un martes
tropical. Ya estaba preparada una mesa larga con caballetes y lonas en el balcón
del restaurante con vista de las aguas turquesas del Caribe. Joanna nos
proporcionaba pintura, pinceles, agua, y una pintura para copiar o para
inspiración. Nos sirvieron vino y cocteles. Con la mano suave de nuestra
maestra y cuanta instrucción deseábamos, todas terminamos con algo que parecía
cuando menos un poco al imagen profesional del faro chueco, símbolo de Puerto
Morelos. El faro dañado conmemora el espíritu de “Nunca rendirse” del
pueblo de pescadores cuando el Huracán Beulah casi lo borra del mapa en 1967.
Las participantes nos relajamos en cuerpo, mente, y espíritu, enfocándonos en
la magia de pintura, pinceles, lonas, y nuestras propias manos para crear formas
y colores hermosos y satisfactorios.
Cocktails (Cocteles Artísticos) es solamente una de las muchas maneras en que
Joanna C. Cooke comparte sus dones y sabiduría en la Riviera Maya. Ofrece
clases, talleres, retiros, sesiones particulares, instalaciones de tres
dimensiones, y proyectos colaborativos. Su visión y sus metas a largo plazo
incluyen la creación de un Centro de Retiro para Artistas en Puerto Morelos con
un enfoque en salud y en usar cosas descartadas en nuevas formas. Un numero
limitado de sus pinturas se exhiben y se pueden comprar en los restaurantes El
Nicho y Chilpayas. Sus planes para el futuro incluyen la creación de arte
funcional y decorativo para el hogar, utilizando basura y cosas encontradas en
la playa. Este arte se podrá ver en una galería que está próxima a abrir en
Puerto Morelos. También tiene en la mira un proyecto comunitario para crear una
casa en la selva utilizando basura solamente.
que una mano del destino la ha traído a Puerto Morelos durante la década
pasada. Yo me pregunto si esa mano del destino fue la que me trajo al balcón de
La Sirena un martes cálido por la tarde.
(Mexican insurgent attacking French soldier, Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862))
The evolution of Cinco de Mayo, a minor recognition of the Battle of Puebla, into a United States-Latino-Chicano drink-fest is something of a mystery to people in Mexico. On May 5, 1862, an insurgent Mexican army surprisingly and soundly drove impressively equipped and uniformed French invaders out of the city of Puebla. However, in 1862, the attempt to extend Napoleon’s Empire to Mexico was far from over.
I am annoyed by excessive excitement surrounding Cinco de Mayo, but I am annoyed by excessive excitement surrounding anything. However, when I became a Spanish teacher in a small Texas town, I could not escape Cinco frenzy. The school allowed Spanish teachers to have classroom parties for cultural objectives on certain days. “When is Cinco de Mayo anyhow?” the principal asked as we worked out the calendar for a new school year.
High school students will never forgive a teacher who passes up an occasion to bring food to class, so I reluctantly planned a Cinco fiesta for the sake of taquitos and cokes. I dug red, white, and green cut paper, some Mexican flags and a few overworked serapes out of the closet to justify a little feast during otherwise forbidden school hours.
Long before taking that Spanish job, I had lived in Mexico, where Cinco de Mayo is not an official holiday. History teachers mentioned the Battle of Puebla in their classes on that day, television stations projected stock history documentaries, and newspapers published a perfunctory editorial or two from their archives. In Puebla, where the battle took place, there are muted celebrations. Sometimes May 1, Labor Day, which is a holiday in Mexico, and May 5, Mexico’s semi-holiday would come together with a weekend to give a pretext for a puente, a five-day weekend bridge, always welcomed joyfully by teachers and students struggling toward the finish of another school year. That was the extent of excitement about Cinco de Mayo.
Determined that students should at least know that Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day, I searched for the only teaching tool that students will possibly pay attention to on party day: a movie. I found one that was both entertaining and enlightening–at least to me and a few adolescent history buffs. Juarez, a 1939 release, featured Bette Davis, big-eyed iconic film star from the early days of cinema, as the beautiful but unfortunate Charlotte of Belgium, who, with her hapless Hapsburg husband, Maximilian of Austria, occupied the imperial throne in Chapultepec Castle from 1864 to 1867. That was when President Benito Juarez ordered the execution by firing squad of Maximilian, who refused to abdicate even in the face of defeat.
You see, that surprising Mexican victory back on May 5, 1862, in the city of Puebla, had been bittersweet. It was followed by a long, hard struggle to drive out the invading French. If, like me, you are a somewhat lazy aficionado of history, a Napoleonic Time Line might be just what you need to better understand what was happening in Mexico while our ancestors north of the border were killing each other over the legality of trafficking in human beings.
The celebrated victory at the Battle of Puebla had the unhappy short-term effect of causing the French, backed by Mexican Imperialists, to dig their heels in even deeper, wanting to prove they could prevail on the American continent. The movie provides more or less true-to-history details about Mexico’s fight to remain independent, and about Benito Juarez, the leader who is celebrated as the hero of that struggle. Juarez was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, a detail not lost on the moviemakers.
As a ninth-grade student of Spanish, I was fascinated by a textbook picture of Carlota in overlapping ruffles and a crown. Mexico, just a day’s drive away from my home in Texas, had been ruled by a real Emperor and Empress, who lived in a real castle at Chapultepec. Many years would go by before I knew for sure that this was NOT a good thing.
“Mom, what is the big deal about Cinco de Mayo?” my kids had asked just after we moved to Texas from Guadalajara, Mexico. “The Spanish teacher wants us to tell her classes how we celebrated this amazing festival in Mexico.”
“Tell them,” I said, “that you celebrated it pretty much the same way they celebrate the Battle of Gettysburg.”
Mexicans all over the world, with the exception of Mexico, now celebrate Cinco de Mayo, joined by non-Mexicans looking for an excuse to drink tequila and eat guacamole. They commemorate a battle that happened in Mexico, while Mexicans themselves are doing whatever they do on any other ordinary day.
She was beautiful and intelligent, a reporter for the New York Times Magazine on assignment in Mexico. He was handsome and dynamic, the beloved Governor of Yucatan. It was Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1923.
Documents, letters, newspaper clippings, and her autobiography, Peregrina, Love and Death in Mexico, give testimony of their passionate love, their high ideals, their good deeds, and their plans to be protagonists in a glorious future for Yucatan and for Mexico. The mutual attraction was powerful. On Valentine’s Day, 1923, the same day that the governor welcomed her party from the Carnegie Institute to Yucatan to begin extended studies of the recently discovered Mayan ruins, he called on her and invited her to go for a walk, see one of his administration’s model socialist villages, and “enjoy the unusually beautiful sunset.”
That was the first of some three hundred fifty days that would be engraved on Alma Reed’s heart, days that inspired and haunted her until the end of her life–three hundred fifty days of intense research and writing, trips, elegant luncheons, dinners, parties, impressive personalities, incredible adventures in the Mayan jungle, vows of undying love, flowers, gifts, passionate letters, and plans for a San Francisco wedding and life as First Lady of Yucatan in Felipe’s Villa Aurora. These days and her plans were cut short when the governor was assassinated on January 3, 1924, just a week and a half before their scheduled wedding.
The melancholy ballad “Peregrina” had been composed and dedicated to Alma at Felipe’s request, immortalizing their brief, passionate love affair, and Alma’s unforgettable beauty. It makes me cry whenever I hear it.
There is little doubt that what Alma Reed and Felipe Carrillo Puerto experienced during those three hundred fifty days was profound and real. Why, then, can’t I simply tell the tale and enjoy a good love story, like Pride and Prejudice, The Notebook, or Romeo and Juliet? I can’t, because, unlike fictional characters, the protagonists of this tragic love story lived real lives, and their lives were intertwined with other lives and other stories that should be told.
Some of those other stories are of the legacies of the lovers themselves, independent of their passionate affair. Felipe’s story goes back thirty years before that fateful St. Valentine’s Day to his youth in Motul, his participation in the Mexican Revolution that overthrew the dictator Porfirio Diaz, his overwhelming mandate for the governorship, and his leadership for reforms in education, women’s rights, prisons, labor rights. To this day, his accomplishments reverberate in the Yucatan Peninsula and beyond.
Alma had already been honored by Mexican President Alvaro Obregon for her successful intervention in the unjust execution of a sixteen-year-old Mexican who had been unjustly tried and condemned to death in California. Because of a barrage of articles by Alma Reed, not only was the execution stopped, but a law was passed prohibiting the execution of anyone under the age of eighteen. Her story reaches forward more than forty years after Felipe’s death. Contributions to history, art, and culture were recognized by the governments of Mexico and Greece in her lifetime. She was part of a lively movement of artists and writers in New York City. She wrote books and articles. She played a significant role in bringing muralist Jose Clemente Orozco to international attention, sponsoring shows of his work, publishing a book about him, and helping him economically as he struggled to remain true to his vision. Later in life, she returned to Mexico, where she wrote for the English-language Mexico City News. These stories are sometimes overshadowed by their compelling controversial love story.
The force of the attraction between the lovers is not diminished by the fact that they were a worldly-wise man almost fifty and a well-traveled divorcee of thirty-three, not an awkward youth and a virginal maiden, but that fact does raise questions about the years leading up to February 14, 1923.
There is the story of Isabel Palma. She and Felipe had been married on February 18, 1898, almost twenty-five years before his legendary first encounter with Alma Reed. In her autobiography, Alma recounts how he spoke candidly about his estranged wife, who was living in Cuba at the time, and his four children, including a married daughter. Alma in turn told him of her brief marriage to businessman Samuel Payne Reed in San Francisco.
When Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Alma Reed met, this charming man of “rare physical beauty,” already had a long-standing reputation as a womanizer. He had very likely moved far beyond the limited world of his distinguished but provincial Isabel when he frequented Mexico City night spots with the well-known American writer Katherine Anne Porter. She describes “dancing the tango and all the latest dance steps” with Felipe in 1921 and 1922.
A philanderer’s love can be very real. He is addicted to the hormonal high that accompanies “falling in love,” a high that fades with familiarity. Falling hopelessly in love makes a good story, and many of us believe in it when we are watching a movie or reading a novel, but love is not something you fall into. It is something you commit to, and when being there for the beloved calls for more than flowers, poems, and moonlight walks, a philanderer often scrambles to escape from the love-pit that he has fallen into. The person who is loved by a philanderer may eventually find herself forced out of the role of Dearly Beloved and into the role of Wronged Wife.
Alma Reed was not a home-wrecker. Third parties can get into a marriage only after it is already wrecked. Felipe and Isabel knew the reasons for their separation. We can speculate.
Alma kept those three hundred fifty fantastic days close to her heart. Felipe’s sudden death freed her to dream forever of an idyllic life at Villa Aurora. She would never know, and we can never know, how her love story might have turned out if Felipe Carrillo Puerto had survived.
I have been a teacher, university administrator, and translator in Mexico, Texas, and Massachusetts. I have traveled in Central and South America, Europe, Asia, the United States and Mexico. I grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas, attended Midwestern University, then received a bachelor’s degree in English, education, and journalism from Baylor University. I have a master of education degree and doctoral studies in Spanish literature from Texas Tech, with additional studies in translation, French, Portuguese, website design, and art at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, Boston University, and the University of Texas at Dallas. I am the mother of three and grandmother of seven. I have lived in Cancun, Mexico, since 2017.