I celebrated my 73rd birthday last week in an unusual way, partly by chance and partly by design. Last year I bought into an unbelievably cheap deal at a Cancun, Mexico, resort with a wide range of available dates. Firming things up before the promotion expired, I planned my “feliz cumpleanos” south of the border plus Cinco de Mayo; the two events are back-to-back. I booked my flights out of Houston so I could visit my son there upon returning.
On several occasions over the decades in Mexico, Guatemala and on a mission trip to Colombia, curious locals have asked where I learned to speak Spanish. I guess I speak in multiple tongues. My Spanish is a mixture — una mezcla — of influences from teachers ages ago.
My small-town Louisiana high school surprisingly offered four years each in Latin, French and Spanish. I chose Spanish. My first two years were taught by Mrs. Eddy, a diminutive New Orleanian with a distinct crispness when speaking French or Spanish. Her English, though, was the typical, educated, middle-class New Awlins patois with its Creole and 19th Century American port city immigration influences. Junior and senior years were taught by Mrs. Broocks, who we teens fondly called “Our Miss Broocks” from the 1950s TV sitcom set in a high school. A native Texan with a degree from that big school in Austin, she must have taught us how to speak Spanish like Tommy Lee Jones.
At Baylor University I had two semesters. Ironically, no Texans taught me Spanish in Waco though the city is very much “deep in the heart of.” Rather Senora Rubio, a Cuban refugee, and Senor Sendon, a noble academic from Spanish coastal Galecia (where “c” is pronounced as “th”) were my professors.
Therein are the reasons for queries in Quintana Roo and elsewhere in Latin America.
Much of Mexico is Americanized. Literal signs of Yankee business invasion include Walmarts, McDonalds, Burger Kings, Dominos Pizza and 7-Elevens. For Mother’s Day (which is widely celebrated here) KFC billboards suggested treating Mama to a bucket, a groan-worthy theme straight out of the “Mad Men” era: Give mom the day off from the kitchen.
Even in this environment in Cancun, opportunities arose to use what I learned last century. Locals smiled at my attempts even if I improperly conjugated. And in spite of so much U.S. capitalism influence, I enjoyed a refreshing separation from my native country: No news barrage of the political craziness back home.
Demographers do not define Mexico as a Third World country, though the spaces one passes through from one tourist hot spot to another in Riviera Maya and Cancun may appear so. In contrast, the United States leads the world in most positive measures, but our divisive politics with unleashed verbal vitriol and lies proffered as truth are very much Third World Banana Republic(an). You doubt? If Jan. 6 rioters had been successful, Pennsylvania Avenue may now be branded in a MAGA dialect of “La Avenida de la Reforma.”
For five days I left all behind, vacated the mind and experienced new things — like swimming in a Mayan cenote and eating grilled octopus — with this self-bestowed gift. With compliments from the management, hotel room service delivered a tiny gourmet cake the evening of my birthday. The next day, Cinco de Mayo, was edifying. Way back on May 5, 1862, the Mexicans may have defeated the French in Puebla over unpaid bills, but now it’s just another day on the beach. And the fireworks that night? The waiter at my al fresco dinner table advised me they ignite most every Friday and Saturday. Thus, Cinco de Mayo is more an American holiday, especially on college campuses, than where it began. It’s a Yankee-dollar ploy to sell Mexican beer and tequila.
Later, in Mexico City, reality disembarked. Like the reverse of Richard Caton Woodville’s “War News from Mexico” painting hanging in Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, war news from America arrived. It was another assault-rifle shooting, this time at a mall I pass every time I visit Texas, most recently 10 days ago.
Of course typical, sickening and patent political responses emerged: “Not all the facts are in yet … We pray for the victims’ families … We must address these mental health issues.”
Our great nation is a vigilante battlefield. Republicans, largely in control or able to block changes, are not willing to act responsibly.
I recall a dialogue exercise phrase in Mrs. Eddy’s class we repeated while wearing those clunky headphones: ¡Que lastima! ¿Que lo ha pasado?
What a pity! What has happened?
Ted Talley is a resident of Bentonville who has lived in the Ozarks more than 25 years. His email is [email protected] .