Mexican Earthquakes, Resilience, and a Dog Named Frida

Today, 19 September 2021, marking the 36th anniversary of the devastating 1985 Mexico City earthquake. Unfortunately, Mexicans have another, more recent seismic event on their minds, as well. But despite the jarring coincidence of a second major earthquake rattling the city on the exact same date, the 2017 Puebla earthquake presents a different kind of story than that of a disaster made worse by government inaction and ineptitude. It’s a story of courage, hope, and resilience. And the face of that story is a heroic dog named Frida.

Frida the rescue dog. Photo by Gobierno de la Ciudad de México, CC BY 4.0 

On Mexican Courage and Resilience in the Face of Disaster

Any earthquake is, of course, a huge tragedy for those who lose loved ones and/or homes. And the sensation of feeling the Earth below you shaking or the building you’re in swaying is pretty nerve-wracking, let alone witnessing entire concrete buildings collapsing to the ground! So the stories of people rushing in to try to help instead of running in the opposite direction in search of safety says so much about the nature of the many chilangos who did just that during the 2017 earthquake, a 7.1 quake, whose epicenter was determined to be just outside San Felipe Ayutla, Puebla, by the US Geological Survey.

Diego Luna says he was inspired by seeing Mexicans running into the danger zone to help:

A reporter from the Dallas Daily News also documented the resilience and solidarity of the Mexican people in the face of disaster and hardship, highlighting how a new generation of young Mexicans who weren’t around back in 1985 has taken it upon themselves to do whatever it takes to help their neighbors and move their country forward.  I mean, this snippet says it all: 

“’There is more courage in Mexico than in any other country I know,’ said John Womack, a historian at Harvard University and longtime expert on Mexico. ‘The resilience — strength of heart, corazon, courage — comes from family and from historically, for centuries, having to face disaster after disaster without much of a coherent state to help.’”

Volunteers moving debris in Colonia Obrera, Mexico City
Photo by ProtoplasmaKid, CC BY-SA 4.0 

Frida the Rescue Dog Goes Viral

The biggest hero to emerge from the 2017 terremoto was Frida the rescue dog. Frida became an international star after the Secretaria de Marina (SEMAR) posted this tweet about the loveable golden Labrador retriever several days before the Puebla quake, as she had been hard at work helping rescue people caught in the massive 8.2 Chiapas earthquake that had shaken much of the country on 9 September. 

Although there were other valiant rescue dogs that also helped save lives by going into dangerous situations in search of survivors, Frida was the most experienced among them. She and her handler, Israel Arauz Salinas, have even been honored with a statue in the city of Puebla along with a plaque that memorializes the pair as “symbols of the strength Mexicans can have when we decide to come together for great causes.” 

This article first appeared in on 9/17/2019.

10 Colorful Mexican Expressions to Liven Up the Conversation

One of the most wonderful things about Mexico is the way that the Spanish language is enlivened and enhanced to create a whole new lexicon that’s amazingly expressive, colorful, and distinctly Mexican. Beyond all the slang, there’s a wealth of Mexican expressions, sayings, and proverbs that provide everything from the wisdom of the ages to nonsensical wordplay, and they offer insights into the national culture – and make engaging in conversation with Mexicans all the more enjoyable.

Teotihuacan speech scroll
Image by Madman2001, CC BY 3.0

Mexican Sayings that Transform Negatives into Positives

Mexicans have a wonderful way of facing difficulty with a positive attitude, as reflected in these proverbs and common sayings:

1. “Al mal tiempo, buena cara”

Translation: “To bad times, a good face”
Meaning: Be positive!

2. “Tarde pero sin sueño”

Translation: “Late but without sleeping”
Meaning: I may be late, but I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed (Note: it’s particularly useful if you’re late because you did, in fact, sleep in.)

Tired worker
Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Mexican Sayings Involving Animals

 These sayings make creative use of animals to get their point across: 

3. “El que es perico, donde quiera es verde”

Translation: “He who is a parakeet, wherever he is, is green”
Meaning: A tiger never changes his stripes

4. “Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente”

Translation: “The shrimp that falls asleep is swept away by the current”
Meaning: You snooze, you lose. 

5. “Ahora sí vamos a ver de qué lado masca la iguana”

Translation: “Now we are going to see which side the iguana chews on”
Meaning: This expression meaning “we are close to knowing the truth” is a double entendre that works because in Mexico, the word “mascar,” which means “to masticate,” also means “to sense, anticipate” – never mind that iguanas don’t actually chew their food!

Photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash

Putting the “Mexican” into Mexican Sayings

Referencing Mexican drink, food, crops, and pop culture, these are some of the most Mexican of Mexican sayings:

6. “Para todo mal, mezcal y, para todo bien, también”

Translation: “For everything bad, mezcal and, for everything good, the same”
Meaning: Drink mezcal to drown your sorrows, celebrate your victories, and, well, just because

7. “El que nace para tamal, del cielo le caen las hojas”

Translation: “If you’re born to be a tamale, the leaves will fall from the sky”
Meaning: If it’s meant to be, the universe will conspire to make it happen

Tamales oaxaqueños
Photo by N. Saum, CC BY-SA 3.0

8. “Ya nos cayó el chahuiztl”

Translation: “Now the chahuiztle falls upon us”
Meaning: Chahuiztli is a corn fungus. But unlike huitlacoche, another corn fungus that’s enjoyed as a delicious delicacy, this one is a ruinous plague. And that’s why this Mexican expression is often uttered when something unpleasant or unexpected happens. 

9. “No hay de queso, nomás de papa”

Translation: “There is no cheese, just potatoes”
Meaning: This silly expression is a play on the words of the phrase, “no hay de qué,” which means, “no problem.” It’s a nonsensical phrase that originated from the nutty character Chaparrón Bonaparte in the Mexican sketch comedy show Chespirito.

10. “A darle que es mole de olla”

Translation: “Get working because this is mole de olla
Meaning: Mole de olla is a wholesome, spicy meat-and-vegetable soup that lends itself to a common saying that means something like, “Get to work because this is important, people are counting on us, and it will be worth the effort!”

These 10 colorful expressions help make Mexican Spanish so entertaining and fun. ¡A huevo!

The Curious Tale of the Strange Ajolote and the Fake MXP$50 Bill

There’s been some buzz recently about the new 50-peso note that will feature Mexico’s beloved ajolote, or axolotl in English, following the original Nahuatl word for this adorable little aquatic salamander that exists naturally only in the waterways of Xochimilco.

Ambystoma mexicanum
Photo by th1098, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Although it’s not slated to come into circulation for a few more years, of all the new bills that Mexico’s central bank is rolling out, people seem most excited about the one with the ajolote. Is it because this creature is so distinctly Mexican? Or is it just because it looks like it’s always smiling? 

The Endangered Ajolote de Xochimilco 

The Aztecs both mythologized and dined on them. Julio Cortázar was mesmerized by them. Scientists study them in hopes of discovering the secret to regenerating entire limbs. 

And what’s not to love about Ambystoma mexicanums, with their feathery gills, their varying colors, and their strange habit of living their whole lives in water despite having feet instead of fins? 

These amazing amphibians are not only weird and interesting, but they’re also closely associated with the world-famous Floating Gardens of Xochimilco. The gardens are actually artificial islets created by the Aztecs known as chinampas, and they have been recognized by UNESCO as “one of the most productive and sustainable agricultural systems in the world.”

Unfortunately, both the chinampas and the ajolotes are in danger of extinction. But increasing awareness of these cultural treasures and the need to preserve them is one of the main goals of Mexico’s new series of banknotes.

Familia G: Mexico’s Next-Gen Peso Notes 

Banco de México periodically introduces new banknotes to incorporate the latest security technology and to make the money more durable and usable. So in August 2018, they announced that they were putting the next generation of bills (series G) into circulation, starting with the new 500-peso note, which features images of la Reforma y la Restauración de la República on one side and gray whales on the other.

Mexican Series G 500-peso banknote
Screenshot from 

In September 2019, the new 200-peso note came into circulation. It depicts Mexican Independence on one side, and on the flip side, deserts, shrublands, and the golden eagle. 

As explained in the announcement, the front of each banknote denomination in this series will highlight one of the historical processes that formed today’s Mexico, while the back sides will showcase Mexico’s six major ecosystems, each represented by a UNESCO World Heritage site along with plants and animals identified with each. 

The Curious Case of the Fake 50-Peso Bill 

It’s not news that the new 50-peso bill will feature the ajolote, maize, and Xochimilco, as Banco de México already announced. (The theme for the opposite side will be Ancient Mexico and the Foundation of Tenochtitlán.) 

It’s also not news that they’ve decided on the design. More precisely, it’s fake news! 

According to the fact-checking site AFP Factual, the 50-peso bill hoax all started with a Facebook article that showed an example of what the bill *might* look like – a small detail that was overlooked when the story got passed around on social media and then picked up by numerous news publications.  

How ironic that, as the central bank puts out new bills to prevent people from creating fakes, they get caught up in a “fake news” story!

The good news is that Mexico’s iconic ajolotes de Xochimilco will get some well-deserved attention when the real bills come out in 2022. And Mexicans will get to show off their wonderfully weird endemic amphibians to the world.