29 May 2010

My guardian dear...

When I was a little boy and even today now that I am a big boy, when saying my nightly prayers I always include the "Angele Dei" or "Prayer to One's Guardian Angel". I am sure that you know it but in case you don't, it goes like this:

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God's love commits me here,
Ever this day, be at my side
To light and guard, to rule and guide.

If you are Latin buff you can say it in the original Latin like this:

Ángele Dei,
qui custos es mei,
me, tibi commíssum pietáte supérna,
illúmina, custódi,
rege et gubérna.

This prayer is about one thousand years old. It was written in the 11th Century by Reginald of Canterbury who was an English monk and poet. The Ángele Dei is found in Reginald's "Life of St. Malchus", about a famous hermit who was a friend of St. Jerome who lived in the fourth century. You remember St Jerome don't you? He was the one who first translated the Hebrew and Greek portions of the Bible into what we call "The Latin Vulgate Bible". He and St. Malchus were also really big on celibacy of which I must say that I am not a big fan. More to my liking is St Anselm who was a friend of Reginald and who was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. He was also a very smart man and is known as the father of scholasticism. Why do I like him so much? Because he was the archbishop who openly and bravely opposed the Crusades for which we are still reaping negative consequences to this very day.

I just happen to be the "padrino" (godfather) of a little four year old Mexican boy named Ian so I take special interest in guardian angels these days. As a matter of fact little Ian says a prayer to his guardian angel every night but the Spanish version of Ángele Dei is slightly different than the English version. It goes like this:

Ángel de mi guarda dulce compañía,
No me desampares ni de noche ni de día.
No me dejes solo que me perdería.

Dear guardian angel my sweet companion,
Do not forsake me night or day.
Do not leave alone lest I get lost.

In case you are interested, guardian angels have their own special feast day on October 2nd. Don't forget to take your GA to lunch on that day. Go ahead and order for your angel. Hint, hint...I think they like angel food cake and just in case your angel isn't hungry you can always eat theirs for desert.

Guardian Angels
- Don't leave home without them!

28 May 2010

God bless you!

When I was a kid growing up in the Catholic faith in Chicago, the priest was the one who did most of the blessing. Yes, we did say "God bless you!" whenever somebody sneezed and people did ask their parents for a "blessing" when they wanted to get married but mainly it was the priest who made the Sign of the Cross over anyone else other than their own selves. Here in Mexico, however, it is a little different story. I see people blessing each other rather frequently, especially older folks. In fact, my wife Gina and I bless each other whenever we are going to be separated. Whenever one of us leaves the house the other holds their right hand upright with palm facing to the left in front of the others person's face. Then as the giver of the blessing recites the prayer below and comes to the words of the Sign of the Cross, they make the sign over the other while at the same time saying the words. At the end of the prayer they keep holding the hand upright and the recipient of the blessing kisses the edge of the upright hand and then we give each other a sweet kiss on the lips before we part. If it is the will of God that something should happen to one of us after we part then this is how we would like to remember our parting moment.

Here is the prayer:

Yo te bendigo y que Dios te cuide y proteja por donde quiera que vayas, que te aleje de envidias y peligros, que San Pedro te cubra con su manto. Que vayas y regreses con bien a casa en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo. Amén.

I give you my blessing that may God watch over and protect you wherever you go, and keep you away from jealousy and danger, and that Saint Peter will cover you with his cloak. May you go and return home safely in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Now, before I get comments from conservative Catholics with their copies of "De Benedictionibus" in hand claiming that only a priest is authorized to make the Sign of the Cross in blessing, let me say that I am sorry if we step outside the rules once in awhile but I don't think that God is going to send me to Hell or extend my time in Purgatory for blessing my wife in His name. Not only that but after you read all the rules involving blessings you begin to wonder if people curse so much because it is less complicated. In any case let me take this opportunity to bless all of my readers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and I take full responsibility for the consequences.

27 May 2010

Thanks for the help!

I didn't start studying Spanish in earnest until I was fifty years old and now twelve years later I am still working at it. I don't think that there is an end to the learning so I have accepted the fact that I must learn something new every day and like the Beatles first sang in 1967 "I get by with a little help from my friends". Other than my wonderful wife Gina my best source of new words actually comes from my fellow bloggers. This week so far I have learned the word "farallón" from my friend Brenda of the blog "Brenda and Roy Going to Mexico". A "farallón" is a giant rock, usually by the edge of the sea. From my friend Don Cuevas of the blog "My Mexican Kitchen" I learned that the word "berros" means "watercress" and from Mindy at "The Rosas-Standring Family" I learned that the word "tábano" means "horsefly". My friend Alfredo of "The Diary of Alfredo" taught me that "polluelo" means "baby bird". I have always used "pollito" but a "pollito" is a young chick that has been out of the egg for awhile. A "polluelo" is a chick that just hatched out of the "huevo" (egg). Last but not least, my friend Benjamín Arredondo of "El Bable" taught me that "escupidera" means "spittoon". So there you have it folks...another good reason to stay alive. Everyday I look forward to capturing a new Spanish word and the hunt goes on and on. The great guru of positive affirmation, Émile Coué, use to declare, "Every day in every way I'm getting better and better". Thanks to my friends I can paraphrase that a bit and say positively that "Every day in every way my Spanish is getting better!"

¡Gracias Amigos!

25 May 2010

Virtually the Future

On May 23rd we encountered the thirtieth anniversary of Pacman. It is hard to believe that so much time has passed since that little video screen character came into being but the year 1980 is a dividing line of sorts where the coming of Pacman and the IBM Personal Computer changed everything. Pacman was really just a novelty but the IBM “PC” gave the average person the ability to go from “catch-up” and “always falling behind” to “real time”. As soon as the accountants discovered this and began using basic primitive spreadsheet programs like VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3 the “bottom line” moved up to “top dog” and accounting departments went from riding in the caboose to sitting up front in the locomotive.

Pacman and its earlier cousin Pong (1972) lead the video game parade but it wasn’t long before there were other video games. I remember how the kids (and their dads) queued up in the foyer of our local movie theater where the pin ball machines were placed to catch spare quarters in between movies. The young people were no longer gathered at the pin ball machines though. They were lined up in front of a primitive video game called “Space Invaders”. About that time a young man at the Union Pacific Railroad named Tom Campbell realized what a powerful hold that a video screen had on people. After all, the younger generation at that time had grown up staring at a television set. He developed a training program for the UP Mechanical Department employees called “Pacman Carman”. In railroad lingo, a “carman” is someone who repairs and maintains railroad cars. That is the field that I work in.

Up until “Pacman Carman” came along the UP training sessions were given in a classroom by an instructor who stood in front of a blackboard. Just like school teachers the world over some of the instructors were very good and could hold the students’ attention but there were also some teachers who were boring and the student’s attention would gradually drift away. Tom realized that if he put the best instructors in front of a camera and video taped the training session then they could replay the tape anywhere in front of any number of students and he could consistently control the quality of the instruction. After all, most of the students had been watching television since before they could remember.

Tom’s new idea worked like a charm. The training results improved dramatically and the training costs were greatly reduced. The students focused on the TV monitor and the training sessions could be replayed as often, and to as many people as necessary. No longer did they have to gather people into groups at a specific location at a specific time in front of an instructor. You could instruct just one student or you could instruct twenty students with just a video player and a TV set. Here we are thirty years later and we still do the same thing but now we have even more tools like the Internet and YouTube tutorials instead of just video tape.

I don’t think the story ends here, however. I think that we are about to enter the 3-D virtual world where you can see how things are assembled and disassembled in three dimensions on your computer screen. I was surprised to find that right now the Video Game Industry at twenty billion dollars annual revenue is bigger than the movie industry at only seventeen billion dollars. Today you can actually study video game design in college and start out earning a salary of forty thousand dollars per year right out of school. Just recently I started taking some formal art lessons. I only took a few because it was too boring. The teacher kept reminding me that I must follow the method of the old masters because that is the way to learn “art”. It struck me that I really don’t need lessons from the “old” masters but rather I need lessons from the “new” masters. I believe that if Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and their contemporaries were alive today they would probably be working at computers in the realm of virtual art. I always thought that if you wanted to know what the future would be like you could just take a video tape of the past and roll it forward. I don’t think that anymore. I think that the future is a whole new ballgame. Batter up!

20 May 2010

Let me see your rabbit!

When I was a little boy my friends and I would frequently challenge each other by saying, "Make a muscle with your arm and let's see which one has a bigger muscle". Then we would roll up our sleeves and flex our biceps and compare muscles with one another. In Mexico, however, the little boys (and sometimes big boys) don't say that. Instead they say "A ver tu conejo" or "Let's see your rabbit", the word "rabbit" in this case being synonymous with bicep as in "músculo del conejo" or "rabbit muscle". Why is this? Well, the best explanation that I can find is that he term "biceps brachii" by which the biceps muscle is known in medical terms is a Latin phrase meaning "two-headed muscle of the arm". This stems from the fact that the fact that the biceps muscle actually consists of two bundles of muscle, each with its own origin, sharing a common insertion point near the elbow joint. If you "make a muscle" with your biceps and turn your wrist one way and then the other way your bisceps muscle appears to run up and down your arm...like a rabbit.

Okay, if you don't believe me then put it to a test. The next time that you encounter a little Mexican boy say to him "A ver to conejo" and then watch him flex his arm and show off his biceps muscle. Hey...and don't forget to be impressed!

19 May 2010

Mango Mix

Today on Twitter my blogger friend Leslie Limon wrote: "My kitchen smells SO good! Onion, garlic and dried ancho chilies...SIGH!" Immediately I thought, "Yes that does sound good but there is something missing...mangoes. However, I am not talking about the yellow mango fruit that grows on trees. I am talking about green bell peppers. In parts of Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, and Missouri, green bell peppers were known as "mangoes". When the mango fruit was first discovered by Portuguese explorers in East India the only way that it could be exported or transported without refrigeration was by pickling in vinegar and brine. It became a favorite treat and later on people made imitation pickled mangos by stuffing green bell peppers or certain types of hollowed out melons with things like cabbage, onions, cucumbers, brown sugar, and spices spices and then pickling them. It must have been a popular dish because green bell peppers, which are technically a fruit and not a vegetable, became commonly known as mangoes in the above mentioned places. You can see the name "mangoes" on old railroad manifests in reference to bell peppers and some old timers still refer to bell peppers as mangoes.

That brings me to my main topic, "mango mix". I learned about mango mix from a friend who talked me into running a hamburger concession stand with him one time. When we were ready to fire up the grill I asked him what he wanted me to do and he told me to start making "mango mix". Apparently mango mix is an old standby among carnival and county fair concessionaires. If you chop up equal parts of onions and green bell peppers and throw them on a grill with a dab of lard it makes a smell that quickly travels far and wide and makes people very hungry. It really works too. Ever since then whenever I have given a backyard party or am in charge of cooking for a picnic I rely heavily on mango mix. You need to make a bunch of it and I always have a little pile bubbling away on the corner of the grill or in a little frying pan. It makes people crazy. It doesn't mater what you cook after that. After people have had a few beers in them and smell the mango mix they will eat just about anything with gusto. Not only that but they will rant and rave about your cooking and you will meet neighbors that you have never met before. They will come around because they just can't help themselves. Mango Mix...don't leave home without it!

One more thing. Leslie Limon has inaugurated a new blog called "Motherhood in Mexico". Check it out. It's a little bit of everything. She is a great teacher.

11 May 2010

Don't make me cry!

Today I learned of a little four year old boy whom I know who was participating in a kindergarten program for "El Dia de la Madre" (Mother's Day) and each child had to hand their mother a rose. When it came his turn to give his mother the rose he "rompió en llanto" and asked his mother in front of all the children and the other mothers if they could please go and live again with his father from whom she was separated. The phrase "romper en llanto" means to break into tears and "rompió en llanto" means that he "broke into tears". I have to tell you that so did everybody else including, no doubt, the angels in Heaven. Why, oh why, must we put little children through so much emotional pain?

The phrase "romper en llanto" is a good phrase to learn although you can also say "romper a llorar" and "estallar en llanto".

Here are some examples you might use:

Me hizo romper en llanto.
It made me break into tears.

Lo hizo romper en llanto.
It made him break into tears.

La hizo romper en llanto.
It made her break into tears.

Ella estaba a punto de romper a llorar.

She was at the point of breaking into tears.

Please don't make anyone break into tears...especially little kids. Like your Mom always said, "It just isn't nice".

Oops...one more thing. Be careful. The word "llanto" means "crying". The word "llanta" means "automobile tire". Isn't Spanish interesting?

09 May 2010

Mother's Day in Mexico

Monday, May 10th is Mother’s Day in México. It is always on the 10th of May. In the United States Mother’s Day is always on the second Sunday of May. In 2009 the second Sunday of May fell on May 10th and so last year the people of both Mexico and the United States honored their Mothers on the same day. That won’t happen again until the year 2020. Why does Mexico celebrate Mother’s Day on a fixed date and the United States celebrate Mother’s Day on a variable date but both in the first half of May? Originally they celebrated on the same date but things got a bit confused along the way. The important thing is that Mothers get their due. Let’s take a look at how the whole thing got started.

First of all, celebrating motherhood is nothing new. The practice goes way back in history all over the world. In England it evolved into “Mothering Day” which was a Sunday in Lent when servants were given the day off to return to their ancestral home and visit their mothers and share time with their families. The practice did not fare well in the American colonies at first and it wasn’t until after the bloodshed of the American Civil War and during the Franco Prussian war that an interest in celebrating Mother’s Day was revived. A lady named Julia Ward Howe, who in 1861 wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, made a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870. She called on mother’s the world over to come together and protest the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mothers. Her motive was not so much to revere motherhood as it was to use motherhood as a catalyst for peace. During the ensuing years the celebration of Mother’s Day was disorganized and sporadic but the seed that Julia Ward Howe planted began to grow.

At the same time that Julia Ward Howe was writing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” there was a lady in West Virginia named Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis who was organizing women to work for the well being of their communities by holding “Mother's Work Days”, which were days when groups of women dedicated themselves to campaigns involving better hygiene, sanitation, and medical care in the small communities of rural West Virginia. During the Civil War she helped not only her neighbors but wounded soldiers from both sides as well and through all that she managed to keep peace among the various political factions in her neighborhood. Taking their cue from Julia Ward Howe, a women’s group led by Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis began to celebrate an adaptation of Howe’s idea called “Mother’s Friendship Day” in order to re-unite families and neighbors that had been divided between the Union and Confederate sides of the Civil War. Her many humanitarian efforts were only cut short by her death on Tuesday, May 9th, 1905.

After Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis died, her daughter Anna M. Jarvis campaigned for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in remembrance of her mother and in honor of peace. The idea for Mother's Day came to Miss Jarvis on May, 9th 1907, the second anniversary of her mother's death, which happened to fall on a Thursday. On May 10, 1908 which was the second Sunday in May, the first official Mother's Day celebration took place at Andrew's Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. From there the idea spread from state to state and foreign countries as well, including Mexico. In 1912 West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother's Day, and in 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed it into national observance, declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. This may be where the fixed date versus variable date separation took place. What had been originally celebrated May 10th had now been officially transferred to the second Sunday.

In Mexico City in 1917 a young man of 28 from the State of Puebla named Rafael Alducin Bedolla founded what was to become an important newspaper called Excelsior. In April of 1922 he invited all interested parties to a convention to propose a nationwide holiday in Mexico dedicated to Mexican motherhood. As a result of this convention the first official Mexican “Día de la Madre” was celebrated on May, 10th, 1922. Guess what…it was a Wednesday! Why they didn’t follow the second Sunday idea we’ll probable never know. If anyone does know, please tell me. Father’s day in Both Mexico and the United States is celebrated on the third Sunday in June. This year Father’s Day in both countries will fall on June 20th.

There are various way that Mexican people celebrate Mother’s Day depending upon their local customs. Here in Irapuato, Guanajuato, where I live, it is the custom to stand outside of the mother’s house after midnight and sing “Mañanitas”, a very old traditional song. It is usually reserved for the Blessed Virgin, Mother’s Day, and birthday celebrations. If the people are wealthy they may hire Mariachis to do their singing or perhaps a small “Norteño” type band. Some people who are not so wealthy group together and go in turn to the houses of each of their mothers with the men singing one part and the women singing another part. It is very beautiful. The night doesn’t end until everyone’s mother has been serenaded. On the morning of May 10th the mothers usually attend morning mass at their local church and after mass the children treat mother to breakfast. In the afternoon everyone gathers at the home of the oldest mother in the family and the ladies make chicken with mole sauce, jalapeños, corn tortillas, and red rice. If they don’t want to cook they send out for “carnitas” which is another favorite dish and it is served with refried beans, tortillas, and rice. Afterwards there is a desert of either ice cream or cake or both. Oh, yes, I almost forgot…there is generally plenty of tequila too, usually served with the carbonated soft drink “Squirt”. It is a special time that reunites the family with the mother at the center. Here is the Mother’s day version of “Mañanitas:

Las Mañanitas Del Día de la Madre:

Estas son las mañanitas, que cantaba el Rey David.
Hoy por ser día de las madres, te las cantamos a ti.
Despierta Mamá despierta mira que ya amaneció.
Ya los pajaritos cantan. La luna ya se metió

Que linda está la mañana en que vengo a saludarte.
Venimos todos con gusto y placer a felicitarte.
Ya viene amaneciendo. Y a la luz del día nos dio.
Levántate Madre mía. Mira que ya amaneció.

05 May 2010

Cinco de Drinko Revisited

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the Cinco de Mayo origin and celebration. I decided to repeat my post of 2008 for those who may have missed it.

What started out in the United States as a celebration of pride for the Mexican people has been turned into a celebration of alcohol thanks in large part to the three biggest domestic beer companies; Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and Miller (an
d also Jose Cuervo Tequila). Because of their scramble to sell products, Cinco de Mayo has become one of the top sales periods of the year for the alcohol industry. The commercialization of Cinco de Mayo started because Coors Brewing Company wanted to improve its image among Hispanics. In the 1960’s Mexican Americans began boycotting Coors because under the leadership of the far right wing conservative Joseph Coors the company had been discriminating against workers on account of race. The Coors brewing Company was finally charged in 1969 with racial discrimination and found guilty a year later. You remember the late Joseph Coors don’t you? He was a founding member of the ultra conservative far right think tank known as the Heritage Foundation. He not only provided the funds for a building to house the organization but he donated $250,000 to cover its first year budget as well. He was also a also member of Ronald Reagan's millionaires club “kitchen cabinet” and helped finance Reagan's political career as governor of California and U.S. president. His own brother once said that he was farther to the right than Atilla the Hun.

In 1985 the National Council of La Raza, the American GI Forum, and later the League of United Latin Americans Citizens signed an agreement with the Coors Brewing Company to stop the long-standing boycott of Coors Beer in exchange for more than $350 million in donations to Latino organizations. That is when alcohol sales first started to overshadow the pride of the people. When Coors and the Latino organizations began cozying up to one another they both saw a gleam in each other’s eye. Not wanting to be left behind, Anheuser-Busch and Miller soon followed suit and now the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) (among others) receive lots of money from the alcohol industry. Sure, the money does some good things. Budweiser gives millions of dollars in donations to the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the Coors provides money for videos and literacy classes for Mexican immigrants, and Miller sponsors the Mexican National Soccer Team and various educational programs. However, The damage caused by alcohol in the Latino community is a terrible and growing problem. Such a health crisis by any other cause in any other community would be labeled a catastrophe and politicians would make it a major issue. The problem is that the alcohol industry is strong and the Latino community is politically weak, especially now because of the illegal immigration issue, so nobody says much about the increasing alcohol addiction and abuse in the Latino community. There may be a few alcohol-free Cinco de Mayo events, but the vast number of celebrations are still “Drinko” de Mayo.

The truth is that Cinco de Mayo has been promoted by alcohol advertising into a major holiday like Mexican Independence Day but in Mexico Cinco de Mayo it is not a major holiday at all. It's mainly celebrated in the City of Puebla, where it commemorates the Mexican army's defeat of French invaders on May 5, 1862. The real Mexican Independence Day is Sept. 16, 1810, when a priest from the city of Dolores, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, began the fight for independence from Spain. That war continued until Sept. 27, 1821, when the treaty of Córdova was signed that recognized Mexican independence and established a constitutional monarchy. The monarchy lasted only until Dec. 1, 1822, when Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana rose up to proclaim the republic. In 1824, the Constitutional Congress established the Mexican Democracy. The first years of democracy were very difficult and the fledgling Mexican democracy certainly didn’t receive any help from the United States. When the Mexican government began placing restrictions on Anglo settlers coming to its Texas territory and prohibited slavery, the Americans living in Texas declared independence from Mexico. By 1845, after nearly ten years of sovereignty, Texas became a part of the United States. In an effort to gain more land and resources, the United States began the Mexican-American war in 1846 under the ambitious president James Polk, and by 1848 more than half of the land that is the current American Southwest had been taken from Mexico. After the 1846 Mexican-American War, Mexico entered a period of great political and financial hardship. In 1861 Mexican president Benito Juárez was obligated to suspend payments on debts owed to Spain, England, and France and these three nations made preparations to invade Mexico to recoup their losses. England and Spain accepted offers to negotiate repayment of the debt but France under Napoleon III did not and France opted to try and take over Mexico while the U.S. was involved in the Civil War.

France sent a large force to invade Mexico at Veracruz and it came to pass that on May 5, 1862 an army under the command of French General Carlos Fernando Latrille, Conde de Lorencez, came head to head with a rag tag Mexican army under command of General Ignacio Zaragoza and his mix of career army officers, a handful of Mexican army regulars, peasant farmers, and Zacapuaxtlas Indians. By the end of the battle there were 476 Frenchmen dead and 345 wounded. The Mexicans had only 83 dead and 130 wounded even though the French outnumbered them more than two to one. The extraordinary thing about the battle was that the French, who had one of the best trained and best equipped armies in the world, were defeated by a much smaller force of poorly trained and poorly equipped Mexicans. What made the difference? Much has been written by military historians about the details of the battle so there is no need to go into it here. However, the arrogance of the French and their disdain for the Mexicans was countered by the humility, perseverance, and pride of the Mexicans. It is just another case of David versus Goliath. The French eventually won all the rest of the battles by sheer force and installed their puppet Emperor, Maximilian. By then, however, the Northern U.S. Army had grown to a size and strength that made it inadvisable for the French to aide the Confederacy. The Mexicans had kept Napoleon III from supplying the confederate rebels for more than a year, thus allowing the United States Union Army to smash the Confederates at Gettysburg 14 months after the battle of Puebla, which essentially ended the Civil War. Union forces were then rushed to the Texas/Mexican border under General Phil Sheridan, who made sure that the Mexicans got all the weapons and ammunition they needed to expel the French.
Well, whatever became of Zaragoza? After his famous victory the heroic General Ignacio Zaragoza was visiting his sick and injured soldiers and he contracted typhus fever and died at the age of 33. Some historians say that Texas born Ignacio Zaragoza should be considered an American hero as well as a Mexican hero for delaying the French and preventing them from aiding the Confederate army. I say, ¡Viva México!, ¡Viva Zaragoza!, ¡Viva America!, ¡Viva Cinco de Mayo!

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About Me

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.