I am taking a break this month from Coffee Talk. I will be giving more time to a new blog that is designed to organize and synthesize information for people who are new to plant-based living or who are merely interested in it. Meanwhile, I am looking at Coffee Talk with an eye to improving it in all kinds of ways.

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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16 de septiembre

(PHOTO: Former President Enrique Peña Nieto concluding El Grito in 2015.)

At 11:00 p.m. on September 15, 2019, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will emerge from the National Palace to a balcony overlooking the lavishly decorated Zócalo and, for his first Independence Day celebration as President, ring the bell that Father Miguel Hidalgo rang in the town of Dolores during the first hours of September 16, 1810. Mexicans call this commemoration El Grito–The Shout.

Father Hidalgo rang that bell to call together the dissidents, some of them politial prisoners who, with his help, had escaped from prison a few hours earlier. He challenged them to join in the fight for independence from Spain.

After he rings the historic bell, President Lopez Obrador will recite a series of shouts, mentioning by name those first heroes of Mexican independence (“Long live the heroes who gave us our homeland!”) recalling the spirit, if not the exact words, of Hidalgo’s original Cry of Dolores. The crowd gathered in the Zócalo will echo “¡Viva!” after each line.

  • ¡Mexicanos!
  • ¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron patria!
  • ¡Viva Hidalgo!
  • ¡Viva Morelos!
  • ¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!
  • ¡Viva Allende!
  • ¡Viva Aldama y Matamoros!
  • ¡Viva la Independencia Nacional!
  • ¡Viva México!
  • ¡Viva México!
  • ¡Viva México!

The President will ring the bell once more, wave the flag, and join in singing the National Anthem with the thousands of people down in the plaza. The ceremony will conclude with an impressive fireworks display. The festivities conclude with a military parade the morning of September 16. A similar ritual is carried out by governors and mayors in state capitals and other cities and towns throughout the country.

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.

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.)

Curanderos, Shamans, and Plant-Based Remedies

Maybe everyone grows up with a narrow framework for deciding what is normal, what is exotic, and what is abnormal. I certainly did. When I moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, in my early twenties, there were many things about life there that seemed exotic to me. Some things, like mangoes and papayas, became normal to my expanding Texan mind, but wherever I look, even after many years, there are sights to see, foods to try, experiences to have, and ideas to explore that still amaze me.

Back in North Texas, sweet iced tea was the only tea I knew anything about, and home remedies were limited to merthiolate and mentholatum. We went to the doctor for just about anything that couldn’t be treated with those smelly substances. The doctor would prescribe dreaded shots, pills, or terrible-tasting liquids in mysterious-looking bottes. If all else failed, he (the doctor was always a “he” when I was a child) would put you in the hospital, cut some part of you open, do some sort of magic, and then sew you back up.

In Mexico, even though my husband was a medical student in a conventional medical school, I learned about a surprising number of alternative remedies that didn’t involve a health professional. In addition to Vicks Vaporub in Mamá’s ropero, there was manzanilla (chamomile) tea in the kitchen to relieve tummy aches and te de tila (linden flower tea) to calm down an overwrought family member. A savila (aloe vera cactus) plant in the patio was snipped as needed for healing gel to treat burns from the sun, the kitchen, or naughty kids playing with matches. American cough syrup reeks of eucalyptus oil, but in Mexico you can buy dried eucalyptus leaves in the mercado and make a potion to drink or gargle as needed. Common cooking ingredients like vinegar, cinnamon, and onions, do double duty as home remedies for all kinds of ailments. Agua de jamaica (hibiscus flower water) has medicinal uses, like lowering blood pressure, but it is more commonly just cooled, sweetened, and served as a beverage.

There is renewed worldwide interest in ancient healing practices, as chemically distilled herbs and other substances, what we call medicines, start to let us down. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and drugs with side effects worse than the diseases they purport to remedy make headlines and cause professionals and laypeople alike to wonder if we maybe threw out a lot of proverbial babies with the proverbial bathwater of old-fashioned remedies. Modern surgical techniques indeed work miracles, but at their very finest, they are alarmingly crude and risky and always leave a scar, no matter how imperceptible.

With renewed interest in healing foods and herbs comes a revival of interest in ancient healers throughout Latin America and wherever remnants of ancient cultures are kept alive. This revival has created a burgeoning industry of shaman-seeking tourism, and with it flourishing business opportunities for neoshamans and faux shamans. Nevertheless, among Mexicans, many city people and most rural residents know where to find at least one authentic curandero. I was shocked to learn that my educated cosmopolitan Mexican friends and family members, whom I saw as perfectly normal and modern by my small-town Texas standards, thought nothing of scheduling a limpia (cleansing) before moving into a new house or after a run of bad luck, and they knew exactly which shaman, or curandero, of their acquaintance could do it.

Armando Gonzalez-Stuart, a researcher at The University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) has published a beautiful, informative, and useful book with the title Plants Used in Mexican Traditional Medicine. It has a brief history of traditional medicine in Mexico, an alphabetical list of plants used for healing, with their scientific names, some of their common names, and photographs of most of them.




Vacationing together in Cancún seemed like a splendid idea, so Dad bought the tickets and made hotel reservations for himself, his wife, their daughter and her brand-new husband. After weeks of anticipation, the day arrived and they headed happily to the Mayan Riviera. Their joyful family vacation was cut short, however, when they reached the Immigration station. The daughter’s brand-new husband would not be allowed to leave the airport and would be escorted to the next available flight back to where he came from.

A few years earlier Dad had been in a much less splendid mood when he found out that Daughter, who was still in her teens at the time, and her teenage boyfriend were “together.” A dad from earlier times might have fetched a shotgun, but this twenty-first century father went to the courthouse and charged the boyfriend with statutory rape. The girl was underage, so no matter how loudly she protested that she had eagerly consented to their togetherness, the charges held, the boyfriend was punished, and his name was written down on the Interpol List of Sex Offenders, barred until further notice from international travel. In the intervening years, the boy and girl had grown up and got married, and everybody was happy. Until they arrived at the Immigration station in Cancún. Dad had repented long ago for being such a hothead, and he told his karmic tale with doleful humor to people sitting around as they waited sadly to board their return flight.


Another bride, older but not wiser, was infuriated when her honeymoon plans hit the Immigration wall because her obviously experienced groom had earned a place on The List by togethering with a less-than-willing woman. He had failed to tell his bride about that faux-pas. “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do,” she shouted as they walked the jetway to board their return flight much sooner and less tan than anticipated.


Everyone in the family knew about Grandpa. He had been wild and reckless in his youth, had raped a girl, had done time, and had spent the thirty years since his release building a productive, respectable life and family. His life had been productive enough to bring the whole extended family on a Caribbean vacation. Grandpa had no idea that although he had paid his debt to society for that long-ago crime, his name had not been erased from Interpol’s List. The extended family sadly waved goodbye. Grandpa insisted they should go ahead and enjoy their vacation without him.


There are some injustices and oversights to be dealt with on the home front. No one welcomes predators, but the definition of predator may need refinement, and communication between passport agencies, airports, and airlines should be improved. Sex crimes are not the only crimes that can land you on a list of the Unwelcome, but, as in the case of the hothead father-in-law-to-be, they are more ambiguous than, say, homicide, larceny and money-laundering, and they sometimes keep you on the list much longer than other offenses. Unexpected deportations are inconvenient for families and for airline employees who deal with them and can incur unwarranted expenses for families and for the airlines.

Meanwhile, if you or someone you travel with has ever been accused of a crime, it’s a good idea to check your status before forking out a load of cash or credit for a fun trip to the Mayan Riviera or anywhere else.

This website has some helpful information.



MAY 2019

This is the third issue of Coffee Talk online, published monthly on the first of the month, now featuring some of the articles in Spanish as well as English. Articles from months past can be found in the Archives. Thanks for stopping by. I would love to hear from you with a like, a comment, a question or a suggestion. Happy Month of May!




The evolution of Cinco de Mayo from a minor Mexican patriotic recognition of the Battle of Puebla into an out-of-control United States-Chicano-Latino drink-fest is puzzling to people who live in Mexico, where the battle took place.




Joanna C. Cooke believes in re-purposing discarded things to create new and beautiful objects. Originally from British Columbia, Canada, this gifted artist/ healer now makes her home and shares her skills and wisdom in Puerto Morelos, Mexico.



It was a tiny house in spirit and square-footage if not in style or name. The twenty-first century terms minimalism and tiny house were far in the future, but my grandmother was already living the lifestyle.



Baking bread is a perfect way to revive an ancient tradition on a leisurely afternoon. Here are a few recipes for small quantities of yeasty delights made from scratch and by hand–one loaf or enough rolls for a small family.



If it happens in the country where you live, you have an upset stomach. If you are in Mexico, it is Moctezuma’s Revenge, also known as turista.


maggie and milly and molly and may by e. e. cummings





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(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.

Lectura sugerida: Abraham Lincoln and Mexico por Michael Hogan

Un corto antiguo de la película Juárez

Un documental excelente sobre los Emperadores de Mexico y los 60 años de locura de Carlota

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