Latin American music includes a wide variety of sounds that differ in many ways, from the instruments used to create unique sounds to the rhythm and associated dance moves. The music has evolved over the centuries and continues to change today.
History of Latin Music
Latin American music is influenced by indigenous, Spanish-European, African and, most recently, the United States of America cultures.
Original music in Latin America began with indigenous populations. These communities used very diverse materials to make instruments from natural sources. Instruments were created by making sounds from striking one material with another, such as rattles made of beetle wings, striking sticks, marimbas, split-cane clappers, hollow tree trunks, and bamboo sticks, gourds, and turtle shells struck with a stick or animal antler. Wind instruments such as flutes, trumpets, and panpipes were also common.
Little music documentation exists prior to the 1490s. However, when the Spanish arrived in the New World, they encountered three major civilizations: the Incas in present-day Peru, the Aztecs in Mexico and the Mayans in Mexico and present-day Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. There were many isolated tribes as well that all had unique music.
The era prior to 1492 and before the European-Spanish occupation of the Americas (voyage led by Christopher Columbus) is known as the ‘pre-Columbian era.’ Indigenous populations migrated from the Americas to the Caribbean around 1200 AD and existed for centuries. They had a rich musical heritage of performance chants in call and response style and music-dance ceremonies which were accompanied by maracas-style rattles, guiros, and slit drums.
Much of the Caribbean musical heritage was lost after the Europeans arrived due to conflict, forced labor, enslavement, and cultural abandonment as well as the spread of disease. For example, the Taíno tribes of the Caribbean consisted of 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 people before Christopher Columbus arrived, and by 1548 the native population had declined to fewer than 500 people.
Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing the Spanish language from the Old World (Europe) to the New World (The Americas and surrounding islands) beginning in 1492. There are controversy and heated debate surrounding this period in time, but history classes will claim this was the beginning of the exploration and settlement of the modern western world.
The Europeans introduced new instruments such as the guitar and other string instruments.
Africans were abducted from their homeland and brought by ships to the Americas- known as the slave trade. The Africans brought with them a rich musical background and influenced American music. Latin America is known for having the “largest concentration of people with African ancestry outside Africa.”
African music was very different from European music in many ways. One major way is that European music was written down and documented – therefore the musician could replay the same music again and again (such as written piano music). African music was passed down orally and this allowed for improvising and modification each time the dance or music was shared.
African music also incorporates interactive call-and-response styles. This means a soloist will sing a phrase and the chorus responds. As researcher Tim Marcus explains, the introduction of this technique sounded “different and unstructured to a European ear, but will sound completely structured and patterned to an African ear.”
Probably the largest musical instrument introduced from Africa is the drums.
Music continues to evolve, and a good example is the creation of Tejano (“Tex-Mex”) music which began in Texas and Mexico in the 1920s. The music began with the introduction of the accordion by German, Polish, and Czech immigrants.
Latin America music continues to thrive in the United States with Latino (someone from a Latin American country) and Chicano (someone from Mexico who grew up in the USA) influence.
¡Viva la música!
Latin American music is representative of generations of cultural and musical influences that originated and descended upon Mexico, Central America, South American and parts of the Caribbean.
It is hard to discuss Latin American music without considering Latin American dance – the two are interdependent. You can’t help but tap your feet or get up and dance when hearing Latin music due to its colorful, rhythmic, and inviting sounds.
Each country takes pride in its contribution to the Latin American music scene. For example, the marimba was created in Guatemala – and they celebrate Marimba Day!
Types of Latin Music
This list shows a wide variety of music in the Latino community. Of course, it is not all-encompassing since music, like language, is fluid and cannot be placed into a neat box.
What is your favorite rhythm or dance??
Comment below on what your favorite type of Latin music or who your favorite artist is. Or, sign up today for a free class and discuss music with one of our teachers!
A staple of the Central American diet, and the star of every Taco Tuesday, is the modest (yet truly remarkable) tortilla de maíz, or corn tortilla. While we are all pretty familiar with its taste and utility, we may not know much of anything else about this marvelous food. Do you know where the tortilla originated? Or how it’s been made since its creation? And why did copying the corn and tortilla-centered culture of the New World make Europeans deathly ill in the 1500s? The answers will surprise you as there is more to this common comestible than meets the eye.
Corn appears in history as a cultivated source of nutrients at least 8,700 years ago in Mesoamerica where the creation story of the tortilla begins. After the indigenous culture of these regions learned to modify teosinte, a type of wild grass, into corn, they began to process the corn into masa, or dough. They did this through an ingenious method called nixtamalization. They soaked the corn kernels in a limewater solution (from limestone, not the fruit lime), which removed the hulls, made it more easily digestible, and helped the ground corn form a dough (instead of turning into mush) for tortilla-making. The resulting mixture of masa is called nixtamal, an Aztec word for hominy. Interestingly, the chemical process of mixing corn with lime releases a crucial vitamin that is otherwise unavailable to the human body. When the Europeans learned to farm corn from the natives of the New World in the early 1500s, they failed to copy the process of nixtamalization. Eventually, high corn yields in European fields led to high corn consumption, and vast populations whose diets relied primarily on corn became extremely sick, often dying, from a severe type of malnutrition called pellagra.
The corn tortilla is an extraordinary human invention. Coined tortilla by the Spaniards who compared it to a smaller version of the torta (cake) they knew back home, this small round corn cake packs a hefty punch of nutrition. Thanks to the process of nixtamalization, tortillas are rich in minerals like calcium, iron, and magnesium and provide essential vitamins like A, B, and E. They are also a good source of protein and fiber. Indigenous cultures named corn, beans, and squash the Three Sisters, since they grew better together and created a perfectly balanced diet for health and well-being.
The traditional recipe for any tortilla includes corn, water, and lime (called cal in Spanish) to make the nixtamal. The women are typically responsible for making tortillas for family members or consumers who may buy from their tortillería (tortilla shop). They prepare a comal (a hot griddle made out of light sheet-metal), then dampen the nixtamal on a table, mix it well, and break off pieces to be formed into thin, circular patties. The process of creating perfectly round tortillas that are uniform in thickness is an art form that many women start learning at a young age. They lay the tortillas on the hot griddle for a minute or two and then flip them over by pressing lightly into each one with damp fingers. When the tortillas are finished, they gather them up while piping hot and store them insides baskets with thick pieces of cloth to keep them warm. Check out this video to see one of our own, Ashley, learn to process and make traditional tortillas in Guatemala!
Tortilla Variations by Region
While tortilla culture extends from Mexico to Argentina, it is much more frequently consumed in Central America. Specifically, in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, tortillas are eaten daily by the majority of the population. Costa Rica and Panama do partake in tortilla-making, but it is becoming less common and most people simply eat pre-packaged tortillas. Nicaraguans consume a thick, sweet type of tortilla called güiriles that they serve with crumbled cheese. Tortillas in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile are smaller than those in Central America. They have salty tortillas called sopaipilla and sweet ones that are boiled in sugar water. Many countries in Central and South America continue to make use of masa in different ways, crafting the corn dough into unique and culturally-defining foods.
Different Tortilla Dishes
Tortillas vary in size from 6 cm to over 30 cm, depending on the type of dish they will be used for. While the tortilla is often consumed on its own as a side dish to any meal, it is also modified to create specific dishes. Here is a list of dishes made with the tortilla, showing what they are and where they originated:
Tortillas in Guatemala
In Guatemala, where Homeschool Spanish Academy is based, the tortilla is a main staple of most people’s diets (along with beans and some type of meat). There is a tortillería on every corner, where some families go to buy freshly made tortillas los tres tiempos (three times a day). Other families buy corn to grind or grow their own in order to make masa nixtamalizada for their homemade tortillas. For each meal, the family gathers together with big piles of steamy tortillas packed away in canastas de mimbre, or wicker baskets. The amount of tortillas eaten by each person varies by preference, averaging from two to eight per person per meal. In many cases, the tortilla replaces use of a fork or spoon, as it’s used to scoop up black beans and rice (for example). It’s also frequently rolled up and dipped into savory dishes like a hearty guisado (stew) or jocón (tomatillo-cilantro spiced gravy).
Try Your Own Tortillas
Would you like to try to make your own tortillas at home? Check out this helpful recipe and with a bit of practice, you can make your own delicious corn tortillas for any dish. We hope you enjoyed learning about tortilla culture in Latin America. Sign up for a free class with a native Spanish speaker in Guatemala and let us know how your tortilla-making experience is going!Read More
Going abroad is a wonderful experience. It’s a great opportunity to meet people, explore new settings, and try out exciting food! If you’re reading this blog, I imagine you’re extra adventurous, because driving in a foreign country is a whole new world of freedom. I remember the one and only time I drove a car in a foreign country – I was terrified! We were coming back from doing some gardening with volunteers, and my boss at the time asked if I wanted to drive back. I couldn’t say no to that, so I hopped in the driver’s seat and took that old red car for a spin.
Luckily I had my boss, a local, to guide me through the traffic signs and give me cues on rules that I might not be aware of. This made my drive a lot less scary and a great experience that I remember to this day. If you’re driving alone it’s very important that you research topics like speed limits, driving requirements, driving age, and so on. Here’s a link to a page with useful information on driving requirements for different countries.
Basic vocabulary for driving and GPS navigation
Road signs in Spanish
Just like with local traffic laws, I always recommend that you study the local road signs before you drive anywhere. Below are some examples of traffic signs that change slightly or are nonexistent in the US.
Hopefully, you can figure out what this sign is asking you to do by just looking at it. If you see a red octagon with the word ALTO written in, it means you should definitely stop and look both ways before you carry on.
This is personally one of my least favorite road signs, especially if I’m in a crowded town. If you see an ‘E’ with a red slash across it, that means you can’t park in that area. Some countries will have a ‘P’ instead, so be on the lookout for both, since parquear and estacionar are synonyms for the word parking.
These black arrows on a red circle are there to let you know you absolutely must make a turn in the direction they suggest, or you’ll end up driving against traffic!
Ceda el paso
While the yield sign is the same as in the US, it’s always a nice reminder that these signs mean the same thing, since you might find the Spanish text to be confusing.
Límite de velocidad
Speed limits, or Límites de velocidad, are something to always look out for. Especially since in most if not all of the Spanish speaking countries we use Kilometers instead of miles. It’s important to keep that in mind as you drive!
No hay paso
If you find yourself on the wrong side of the road, this sign will let you know you need to turn around ASAP! No hay paso means ‘wrong way.’
Obra en construcción
Typically, the best way to know there’s a construction site ahead is the annoying traffic it will surely cause. The second best way, and the most reliable, is to look out for obra en construcción signs. These are typically yellow or orange and will tell you how far away the site actually is.
Ready, set, drive!
There are many ways to learn Spanish: traveling, studying, and practicing. Before you set out on the road, maybe you’ll want to learn some Spanish words for traveling to have under your belt, and if you’re unsure of where to go, I suggest you read up on our top 8 destinations for travel. Regardless of where you choose to go, you can still learn Spanish at Homeschool Spanish Academy. Try out a free class today, available anywhere with an internet connection!
Halloween is a celebration of all that’s scary. It’s one of the oldest holidays we celebrate and a personal favorite of mine! Traditionally, Mexico and Central America only celebrated Día de los Muertos on November 1st. Halloween has been celebrated to a lesser extent, and it only became a big holiday in recent years.
As the month of October creeps in, you can start to hear people talking about what their costume plans are and where they plan to show them off. Venues start scheduling themed events, costume contests with cash prizes, and spooky rock bands to entertain ghouls and ghosts all night long.
Popular Costumes in Latinoamérica
You’ve probably seen these in movies before, and there’s no going wrong when you dress as a Catrín or Catrina. On any normal day, Catrín is a word to describe someone who’s high class and elegant, but on Halloween, Catrín is the name of the traditional decorated skull costume from México. These costumes usually have the person wear a suit or a dress coupled with the makeup. If you’re in México, you can get your Catrín makeup in almost any street! It’s common for locals to go out and offer to paint your face for cheap, and they do a great job too. Don‘t worry, they also take hygiene into account.
- El Sombrerón
One of the old folk tales in Latinoamérica, El Sombrerón, is a short man with a huge hat that hides his evil intentions. Young girls beware, for he’ll perch upon your window at night and sing a hypnotizing serenade that will deprive you of sleep and hunger, ultimately leading to an untimely death. To rid yourself of El Sombrerón’s evil song, you must cut your hair short, for this will make him lose interest in you and move on to his next victim.
To dress as El Sombrerón, all you need is a Mariachi outfit with a BIG hat and a tiny guitar. Alternatively, you can dress in all white with a straw hat as well!
As the young man walks through the night, ready to go home after a night of partying, he finds the silhouette of a beautiful woman by the river, brushing her hair with a golden comb. Entranced by her beauty, he slowly approaches her. When he is close enough, the young man shrieks in fear as La Siguanaba reveals her face is actually a horse skull, and then he dies of shock as La Siguanaba devours his soul.
- La Siguanaba
If you want to dress as this character, all you need is a dress, a straight black wig, and a horse mask (you can even make a comical version of the costume using the famous internet horse mask!). It’s an easy costume that reminds young men to be loyal to their partners, for La Siguanaba hunts unfaithful men!
Words and Phrases to Celebrate Halloween
And how do you say Halloween in Spanish, you ask? That’s easy, Halloween! Just like ‘taco’ was adopted from Spanish to Egnlish, Halloween was adopted from English to Spanish. You’ll find some more common Halloween words and phrases below so you too can be ready to be scary with your Spanish speaking friends!
November 1st Is Also an Important Day in Latinoamérica!
If you’ve ever been to a graveyard you’ll know it’s not the happiest place to be in. Día de los Muertos changes that. Starting early in the morning, families visit their loved ones in the graveyard. They decorate the tombs and eat festive foods of all kinds, one of which is the famous pan de muerto, or dead man’s bread. Decorations are usually colorful and vibrant, like giant kites and sugar skulls. If you’re in México or Central America, I highly recommend you ask around about November 1st celebrations. Even though it’s mostly a family holiday, most towns make events open to everybody, and they’re usually a lot of fun.
Learning Spanish can be scary – make it fun by trying a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy and start practicing today!Read More
The government structure is probably not a fun topic for most people. If you’re like me, it brings back memories of my least favorite class in high school – U.S. history. I just could not get interested in the different acts passed, what order the presidents were in, or how the government came to be structured as it is today. I was, however, fascinated by world history; I loved learning about faraway countries and cultures, so different than my own.
Now, I have lived in Guatemala for over 5 years. When I first moved here, I thought that the culture wasn’t that different, but the longer I live here, the more I learn about what makes this culture unique – and one thing that stands out is the election process. Who knew that it was so interesting? I surely didn’t.
Before I go into those details though, let’s take a look at the general governmental structure in Guatemala and how similar it is to what we have in the United States.
Guatemala is considered a constitutional republic and has three governing bodies: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
As you might already know, Guatemala is run by a president and vice president, just like in the U.S. They are both elected for 4-year terms. Interestingly enough, the president is not allowed to run for office again, but the vice president is after a 4-year respite.
This branch handles the laws and is comprised of the congress. El Congreso de la República has 158 members, who also serve 4-year terms.
There are two groups that form the judicial branch: the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Justice. The Corte Constitucional has five judges that exclusively handle constitutional matters. These judges are chosen for 5-year terms by different government groups, one being the president. The Corte Supremo de la Justicia, which is the highest court in the nation, has 13 members who also serve for 5-year periods.
Besides the three main branches, there are numerous other officials who govern locally. Instead of states, Guatemala is divided into 22 departments, or departamentos, and each one has a capital. Be careful when talking about these capitals, though! In Spanish, you don’t use the word capital, but instead cabecera departamental, which means ‘department head.’ The president chooses a governor to run each of these departments. The people, though, elect mayors, or alcaldes, for each of the 340 municipalities in Guatemala. You can compare these municipalities, municipalidades, to the counties that divide each state in the U.S. The mayors are allowed to run for office as many times as they wish.
Sadly, Guatemala has had a rocky ride when it comes to politics. If you would like a complete list of all the past presidents, click here. In short, ever since Guatemala’s independence from Spain in 1821, the government has been plagued by corruption. From 1960-1996, the country suffered from a bloody civil war, which the people are still recovering from. There have been multiple military takeovers and coups, the most recent being in 2015.
Each of these major historical events warrants their own blog to go into the detail of what happened, but we will go into more depth at a later date. The main idea that you need to understand in regard to politics is that this country has suffered a lot of corruption, and the people are tired of it.
Elections – A long and festive process
One way that the population is trying to combat this corruption is by forming their own political parties and promoting individuals who they believe to be just and fair. There are currently 19 political parties – yes, 19! New ones are constantly being created, and political candidates have run for president as part of various political parties. As someone who grew up in the States, I was shocked to hear how many parties there were – and just how many people supported each one!
If you look at this image of the preliminary results (with 97% of the votes counted, not quite the final results) of the most recent election, you can see that there were a significant number of votes for 10 of the 19 parties. Now, whether these results are accurate is a whole other question! What this shows, however, is that it is difficult for a president to be chosen by popular vote because the voters are splitting their votes between almost 20 candidates. This leads us to one of the most interesting things about Guatemalan elections (in my opinion!).
If one single candidate does not win 51% or more of the popular vote, the country will hold another election, or segunda vuelta, between the two candidates that won the most votes. This happens months after the first election, and the results can be quite surprising. If one person won 49% of the votes, and the next highest percentage of votes was 10%, those two people would go head-to-head in the segunda vuelta. It may seem unfair because there seems to be a clear favorite; however, the outcome is not a given.
Just like in the States, talk about the election begins long before the actual election day. However, in Guatemala, the campaigning begins only a couple of months beforehand. Now, these campaigns are very interesting. While the candidates do visit different cities and neighborhoods and give out free things such as food and building supplies, the general population also shows their support by heading a lot of the campaigning. They paint their favored political party’s logo on every possible surface, from houses and walls to cliff sides on the highway. They march (rain or shine) on the side of the rode and have parades with blaring music. All of this is done not only for presidential candidates but also for local mayors. As you might imagine, the campaign time is a bit overwhelming, since the election day is the same for the mayors and the president! With so many political parties and numerous candidates (both local and national), there are a lot of festivities leading up to election day.
As I have mentioned, I have lived in Guatemala for a good while now. I was here for the 2015 protests and removal of the president, as well as the following two elections. However, I did not pay much attention to politics during those first issues in 2015. I am now married to a Guatemalan who takes the time to answer my thousand questions about what is going on. So, in this most recent election of 2019, I was a lot more aware of what was actually happening.
Sandra Torres (UNE): 22.1%
Alejandro Giammattei (Vamos): 12.1%
Edmond Mulet (PHG): 9.8%
Thelma Cabrera (MLP): 9.0%
Roberto Arzú (Pan – Podemos): 5.3%
There are a couple of interesting things to note about this election. Firstly, the top two candidates who won the most votes are the ones who have their party’s logo on literally everything. As a foreigner, if you asked me to name some political parties, I would say UNE and Vamos, as I have seen their propaganda all over the country on every paintable surface. Guatemala is a developing country, and the adult literacy rate is only 79%. This means that a large portion of the country is not educated on political matters, and they will probably not read or research about current issues. So, in order to get the people’s votes, political parties make sure their names and logos are the most well-known across the country through visual propaganda and giving the people gifts. Throughout the campaigning process, both presidential and mayoral candidates were giving away food and construction materials to meet the people’s immediate needs and therefore win their vote.
Another important point is the number of votes that Thelma Cabrera won. Now, you may be thinking that 9% is almost nothing, but with 19 candidates and the largest percentage being 12%, Thelma’s 9% is noticeable. She is one of the very few Mayan women that have run for president, and she won a significant number of votes on her platform for indigenous rights. While she didn’t win, she sure made history in fighting for the rights of the indigenous people groups.
So, who won? Sandra Torres looks like a clear favorite in the primera vuelta, but did she manage to win again against Alejandro Giammattei? The answer is no. Giammattei won the segunda vuelta this past August with 58% of the votes. He will take office in 2020, while the current president, Jimmy Morales, continues as president for the rest of this year.
The Big Picture
As in any country, the factors contributing to different political views are countless. If you are interested in politics, I would encourage you to read further using the linked articles so you can learn more about the big issues being addressed by current Guatemalan politicians. Yes, some of these articles are in Spanish! This will be the perfect opportunity to strengthen your Spanish skills in a practical way! If you have any vocabulary questions while reading these articles, be sure to ask your Spanish teacher in your FREE trial class with us! ¡Sigue aprendiendo!Read More
Understanding the American banking system is complicated –even to English speakers who are reading English documents. Banking and lending institutions, along with credit card companies, make it so darn confusing to understand their jargon that it takes research and good guidance (albeit from someone who has your best interest in mind) to understand what is being said and the implications of the contract.
Successful bankers look for ways to broaden the market. It is evident that non-English speaking persons are underserved in this sector. If you want to expand your business and serve new markets, then learning another language and being able to explain complicated banking terminology is key.
Limited-English-Proficiency (LEP) Populations are Underserved
When a market is underserved, that means there’s an opportunity. According to the US Census Bureau, as of July 2018, 18.1% of Americans are of Hispanic or Latino descent, and there are 41 million native Spanish speakers in the USA.
Learning Spanish will help you serve this vast population.
For years, the United States Government has been receiving reports and complaints from non-governmental organizations and both private and governmental sectors that people who don’t speak English well, or at all, are negatively impacted when conducting financial affairs. Evidence has indicated that limited English has a direct relationship with limited financial literacy.
This means millions of people are unable to make informed money management decisions and cannot effectively take proactive measures for their current and future financial health. It is crucial for everyone to understand their finances.
Some steps have been taken to reduce deceptive and abusive practices by the financial institutions, but more can be done.
A Step in the Right Direction
As an example, The Credit Card Act of 2009 was passed by the United States Congress in 2009 and took effect in 2010. This act directed credit card companies to make their statements more understandable with clearer disclosures about how to pay your bill on -time and the consequences if you don’t.
As part of the act, The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) was mandated to examine the relationship between fluency in the English language and financial literacy. Is there a disadvantage for non-English speakers in the US Banking System?
The study found that:
· translated financial materials may not be using colloquial or culturally appropriate language.
· Interpreters don’t always fully understand banking information or are not able to explain the material. Often times, assistance is provided from families’ minor children.
· Immigrants may distrust the U.S. financial system since it is different than their native country; therefore, they are more likely to use alternative financial services – such as payday lenders and check-cashing services – that often have unfavorable fees, terms, and conditions.
· Carrying debt can be viewed negatively, which deters some people from taking loans to purchase homes or cars and building credit histories.
· Limited English language skills may make one more susceptible to fraudulent and predatory practices.
We want to do business with those we like and trust, and we build these things through communication.
Opportunities Exist for Bankers
Since a limited number of bankers speak Spanish, families often rely on their young children to interpret complicated finance matters for them. This, compounded with the fact that some cultures mistrust government and banking institutions, leaves a large gap in potential home-buyers, responsible loan paybacks, and other banking relationships.
The US Latino market is a growing driving force in the US economy. Millions of people are building businesses, buying homes, and purchasing cars, which means they require financial assistance. If trust isn’t built and information isn’t shared between bankers and the Latino community, then the gap will continue to grow.
Did you know the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau monitors unfair practices, and as a result, deters most US banks from even advertising in Spanish? This is because if companies advertise in Spanish to attract new customers, then they need to offer 100% support throughout the entire process (cradle to grave) in Spanish – and most can’t do that…yet.
There’s No Time like Now
Latinos are underrepresented in banking and therefore seek out information from family first and advertising second. Their families are oftentimes not properly informed, and advertisements are mostly in English, causing people to feel confused and uneducated about the banking process.
Research shows that Latinos have a great interest in gaining access to more banking information in Spanish, such as:
· Latinos are 2x more likely than non-Hispanics to be interested in financial service ads
· 73% of Latinos think more commercials should be directed to Spanish-speakers
· 88% of Latinos think companies who make an effort deserve their loyalty
· 30% of Latinos would switch banks if Spanish mobile apps were available
What are you waiting for? Here is your chance to help an underserved community!
Expand your horizons today and take a free Spanish class with a native Spanish-speaking teacher in Antigua, Guatemala. Our excellent teachers can answer any questions you have of the Spanish-language banking system they use and how it directly benefits them!
September in Central America is as colorful as any other holiday should be. Weeks before the 15th, the streets, markets, houses, and cars become adorned with hundreds of flags. Cities are dressed in patriotic colors by their citizens. Schools start practicing for the parades and concerts, marching bands can be heard all around town getting ready for the big day when festivities will take place from Guatemala all the way down to Costa Rica. Wearing traditional outfits, eating local dishes, and going out in the streets to have fun are all commonplace practices shared across Centroamérica.
How did this holiday start? To learn this we have to go back in time, almost 200 years ago, before our independence was proclaimed.
A Brief History of Central America’s Independence
September 15, 1821 was an important day for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Through a relatively peaceful process, these nations claimed their independence from the Spanish government impulsed by the political chaos caused by Napoleon Bonaparte’s attack on Spain in the year 1808. On November 5, 1811, the first revolts occurred in El Salvador, and the rest of the countries mentioned followed suit. A meeting between colonial authorities, renown locals, and religious leaders culminated on September 15 with the termination of Spain’s dominion over the Central American isthmus (Panama was not included and had their independence a few years later). Some historians argue that Central America’s independence is often glossed over, and that the subject is much more complex in nature, so if you’re interested in the historical aspect of Central America’s independence, I encourage you to research and ask Centroamericanos to tell you their stories – most of us will gladly share what we know!
Now, almost two hundred years later, people all over Central America celebrate our independence with joy and pride on the 15th, each country having similarities as well as carrying unique flair to their celebrations. I’ve researched and talked to natives of each country to learn the different ways we commemorate our nations and share them with you so you can know what to expect if you’re visiting!
A torch across five countries
Every year, there’s a tradition in Central America where the people carry a torch from Guatemala to Costa Rica in a relay marathon, passing through El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The torch is a symbol of the messengers who rode on horseback spreading the news of independence across all five nations. The ‘flame of independence’ is lit at a monument in Guatemala City called El Obelisco almost a week before independence day, reaching Costa Rica’s old capital, Cartago, on the 15th. This tradition has been done over 50 times to this day. The first time the torch traveled through the 5 countries was in 1959!
Differences between countries
In Guatemala, the torches are central to our celebration. Not only does the Central American torch leave El Obelisco 6 days before the 15th, but we also do torch runs all across the country. On the days prior to independence day, the plaza at El Obelisco is filled with marching bands, food stands, merchants, and people carrying a vibrant livelihood that is then taken all over the country in the form of torches lit by Guatemalan citizens. From small towns to groups of friends and even businesses, these torches are taken to many hometowns in celebration of our free nation. So if you have to go to work on the days before independence day, be sure to leave extra early, because the streets will be filled with groups of people running about with torches in their hands!
Some places like Petén, a lush jungle with ancient ruins in the north side of Guatemala, are far away from the city. What happens if I live in Petén? You might ask. There’s no way a group of people would be willing to run almost 500 kilometers for a torch, so many different hub spots in the country serve as lighting beacons for torches. My dad used to run with the torch back in the day with his coworkers. They would run together and finally get to their office to have lunch there. Since my dad worked in the city and making such a short a relay run between El Obelisco and his office didn’t make much sense, they traveled to Antigua, a neighboring town, and ran from there to the city.
In El Salvador, it’s not unusual for the first section of the celebratory parades to have flags from the other four countries that share the independence date, each flag with its own dedicated car. “They signify how we are all connected as one, as centroamericanos,” as my El Salvadoran friend, who lives in Guatemala, said. He tells me that “In El Salvador, we have a strong sense of identity; we get along well and have very little conflict between one another. My family makes fun of me when I visit, saying my accent has changed, but as you can hear my accent is not Guatemalan. Yet, we have a strong cultural identity and a necessity to preserve what we are.” His accent really wasn’t Guatemalan, if I’m being honest, and his insight was a good indicator of how much he appreciates his homeland.
Independence day in El Salvador starts with parades orchestrated by schools across the country as well as a military parade. They all converge at the national gymnasium, where the president greets the students and the military puts on a show with parachutes and planes flying overhead.
Honduras is very similar to El Salvador; school and military parades are planned and inaugurated with 21 cannonballs shot by the military at 6:00 a.m., signifying the start of the festivities. That’s one loud way to wake up if you ask me! Honduras also has a beauty pageant aspect to its parades, with the palillonas. These are girls dressed in fantasy military uniforms, sporting batons that they wave around, and the best ones often end up featured in the newspaper the next day.
Nicaraguans are very organized and meticulous when it comes to celebrating their independence. We all decorate our streets as soon as September starts and celebrate for three days until the 15th. Nicaraguans go a step further, and schedule events all throughout the month in order to celebrate their independence! Ceremonies begin on the first of September with an inauguration that features politicians, ambassadors, and students in tandem with the marching bands that are reminiscent of these celebrations. The following days are ceremonies dedicated to the torch that has been traveling all the way from Guatemala, which Nicaraguans pass on to Costa Rica on the 13th. The next day, there is an event held to commemorate and give medals to the best students and teachers in the country, followed by marching bands from schools, the military, and even the police! Aside from the common practices across Central America, Nicaraguans have the tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence on all schools on the 15th.
Just like the torch travels through all five countries and arrives at Cartago, we finally arrive at Costa Rica, where the celebration begins with the receiving of the torch. Costa Ricans pride themselves on their pacifist beliefs, having no military forces to speak of. After 1915, the military presence in their parades started to fade away, until the abolishment of the army removed them altogether. This altered the focus of the independence day celebrations, moving it more towards the youth. The evening before the 15th, there is an event called Desfile de Faroles, or Lantern Parade, where kids from all over Costa Rica build glowing lanterns with recycled materials. They decorate the lanterns with patriotic symbols and enjoy the warm light of their artistic expression while enjoying the local food.
All these different ways to express freedom sure make me want to go follow the torch across all five countries! It’d be great to experience what is not just a celebration of our past, but a unifying act that connects us and our history. It’s very interesting to see how the differences in celebration are influenced by who we are and where we come from. The torch leaves from Guatemala, so we center our festivities around the act of lighting and carrying the torch. In Costa Rica, the celebration centers around receiving the torch.
So, in a way, Independence Day in Centroamérica is a series of parades, shows, and traditions led by a single flame traveling both in the torch and in the hearts of the citizens of Centroamérica.
You can also connect with Centroamericanos by learning to speak Spanish. We always have something nice to share, and it’s a pleasure to show other nations what we’re all about. Get a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy today!Read More
Do you remember the blog about ya where we introduced you to the first of many Spanish words that have multiple meanings? Today, we’ll continue exploring the phenomenon of words that are spelled the same but don’t mean the same thing! We can categorize these words as:
- Polysemic words – words that have one single origin, but when used in different contexts have different meanings.
- Homonyms – two or more words that are spelled the same but don’t have the same linguistic roots; they, therefore, have different meanings.
The difference between these two is that a polysemic word is one single word with two or more meanings that depend on context, while homonyms are two or more words that are spelled the same but mean different things because they don’t have the same etymological background. This means that homonyms are words that are spelled the same by chance, not because they have evolved from the same word.
For all you grammar nerds, Etymology is the study of the origin of words and their evolution throughout history.
We’ll start with our first polysemic word; this one has caused the most trouble to all my English-speaking friends learning Spanish! In Mexico and Guatemala, we use the word ahorita. This is the diminutive form of ahora – we sure love our diminutives! Ahorita is a colloquial expression, which means that we use it in informal speech. There are two reasons why this word causes so much trouble:
- As a part of informal speech, we use it all the time in conversations. So, it’s really easy to misinterpret it as we really use it so often!
- The meanings of ahorita are very contradictory. It can either mean:
- Right now, like right now, now. Right this second.
- Just a little bit ago.
- In a little bit, or anytime between 5 minutes and a couple of hours.
- In an indeterminate amount of time.
In order to understand what the other person means with ahorita, I’ve often needed to ask something like, “Are you leaving the house ahorita as in right this second, or ahorita as in a couple of hours?” I’ve also had friends who live only a 5-minute drive from me tell me they’ll leave their house ahorita, only to come to my house 4 hours later! And once they arrived, I asked them, “Weren’t you leaving ahorita?” To which they would usually reply with something like, “Oh, yeah, I did. I was just finishing something.”
As you can see, the meaning of ahorita greatly varies depending on the context. This can cause a lot of frustration not only for people who are learning about a new language and culture but also to people who speak the language as a mother tongue. Don’t ever feel bad about these misinterpretations! Remember that a language is not always an exact science!
While most of these words are not as confusing as ahorita, it’s important to know them before you encounter them!
Spanish Polysemic Words
As we mentioned before, a polysemic word has one single etymological origin and multiple meanings that vary depending on the context in which we use the word. Let’s have a look at some of these words:
As we mentioned above, homonyms are two or more words that are spelled the same but do not have the same etymological background, so they have various meanings. Let’s look at some of them:
As you can see in all these examples, there are many Spanish words that we spell exactly the same way but that have more than one meaning! We understand what these words mean because of the context in which we’re saying them. If someone said puedes bajar la llama de la estufa, they could mean two different things:
- You can turn the llama down on the stove, or
- You can get the llama off the stove
What is certain is that the person is most likely referring to turning down the flame on the stove, and not telling you to get the fluffy animal off the stove!
Let’s have a look at some more examples! As you will see below, there are times when more than one sentence makes sense. This is why the context is so important! If you’re sitting at a restaurant, you’ll more likely ask for a menu than for a letter or a card. And while a baby is sure mono (cute, lovely, or adorable), he can’t wear a monkey (monkey also means mono in Spanish – the right word here would be onesies).
Me duele la muñeca
- My doll hurts
- My wrist hurts
Me puede traer la carta
- Please, bring me the card
- Please, bring me the letter
- Please, bring me the menu
Me encanta comer falda
- I love to eat foothills
- I love to eat skirts
- I love to eat brisket
Mis plantas están verdes
- My plants are green
- My factories are green
- My soles are green
Las carpas son de agua dulce
- Tents live in freshwater
- Carps live in freshwater
El mono le queda muy bien al bebé
- The monkey fits the baby well
- The cute one fits the baby well
- Onesies fit the baby well
If you have any questions regarding the use of any words, remember that you can always schedule a FREE class with us and we’ll help you solve any doubts!
Get ready and put on your wetsuit because today we’re going to dive into the deep ocean of Spanish idioms and explore the colorfulness of the language. Just like with English, we use idioms all the time in Spanish, which makes them so important to learn!
But first, what is an idiom? According to Meriam Webster, an idiom is “an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically (such as no, it wasn’t me) or in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (such as ride herd on for “supervise”).”
Just so that you know exactly what we’re looking at today, here’s a list:
- Idioms in Spanish
- The literal translation into English so you can see how important it is to keep in mind that language is a lot more than just a translation of words. It is a common mistake to translate idioms word for word, so try to avoid that!
- The actual meaning in English
- An example of each one so you can learn when to use them!
Some idioms have an equivalent in English, while others don’t.
We’ll start with my all-time favorite idiom because I’m an avid cat lover, who is unfortunately allergic to cats. Oh, the ironies of life! Maybe it’s something good; otherwise, my house would be filled with cute, furry little creatures!
Isn’t this awesome? You’ve just learned 20 new idioms in Spanish that will help you communicate even better! Now book a FREE class with us so you can practice them and learn even more!
Central America is one of the most vibrant and diverse areas in the world to visit. While you’re challenging yourself to learn more Spanish, we hope that you’re dreaming of where it can take you! Combine your love of the language with a passion for exploration and you may find yourself on one of the best vacations imaginable. To help you out, we have compiled a list of some of the top travel destinations for you to investigate and to enjoy! Buen viaje!
Ambergris Caye is the largest island off the coast of the mainland of Belize. It has a little bit of everything to suit everyone’s taste, whether you are traveling alone, in a big group, or with family. Enjoy water activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, and parasailing. Then head to the jungle for hiking, zip lining, or simple nature walks. You will also find here the western hemisphere’s longest-running coral reef system that is full of underwater wildlife. Take advantage of all the natural beauty when visiting this gorgeous place!
How Safe Is It?
While traveling it is important to take safety into account and use common sense. This island is considered safe with some reported instances of theft (of passports or credit cards), burglary, and sexual harassment toward lone women. Always keep your personal items in a secure location and try not to flash expensive items while out in public.
The great majority of island dwellers speak English, but you will also hear Spanish and Creole, the local mestizo dialect. More than 80% of locals speak Spanish, so feel free to use it as you travel along!
The long, skinny island of Roatan sits atop the beautiful and ancient Mesoamerican barrier reef. Imagine soft sandy beaches, palm trees swaying with a light breeze, and crystal waters. This island has what you’re looking for, whether it be absolute luxury or simple budget travel and lodging. You will definitely want to get into the water however you can, so join a glass-bottom boat tour, rent a kayak, or charter a fishing trip! Once you’re ready to come back to land, plan a trip to the art or underwater museums, visit the iguana conservatory, go bicycling, or gather a group for mini-golf. The options for fun and entertainment are truly endless.
How Safe Is it?
While safer than mainland Honduras, we advise you to enjoy your travel experience more so on the west end of the island. Take greater precautions while visiting the east end of the island which is less developed and less populated.
Although most islanders speak English, a big group of mainland Hondurans finds their way there for work. This means that even though English is the most commonly-spoken language on this island, there are plenty of opportunities to use your Spanish. Keep in mind that the English you will hear is a unique dialect of the region and might not be what you’re expecting!
This little town in Costa Rica, often simply called “La Fortuna,” is 10 kilometers away from one of the most popular and powerful volcanoes in the country: Arenal Volcano. Until 2010, it was the most active volcano in all of Costa Rica. With more than a million visitors per year, this area provides plenty of entertainment for all types of tourists. You will find amazing spas that take advantage of the natural thermal waters from Arenal and various hot springs to enjoy. Go sightseeing at the miraculously tall waterfall, La Fortuna Catarata, that towers upward of 70 meters. For more adventure and physical activity, try horseback riding, canoeing, fishing, hiking or jump onto a canopy tour!
Is It Safe?
If you plan on traveling between towns (Monteverde to La Fortuna, for example) by bus then you will definitely need to keep an eye on your bags! If you can avoid it, try not to put them in the rack above your seat. Aside from this important detail, traveling around this area is safe if using common sense.
Most locals do not speak English and they will expect that you have brushed up on your Spanish skills before trying to communicate! Check out our Travel Spanish Guide for useful phrases you can practice on your plane ride.
Panama City shines bright as a bustling metropolitan area where international bankers and businessmen wine and dine. Luckily, it is also accessible for the budget traveler if you know where to look and you know how to negotiate taxi fare! After a day or so of cultured exploration, non-stop traffic and crazy city life, take a day trip to the beach on the Carribean or Pacific shore or watch the boats come and go through the famous Panama Canal.
Is It Safe?
In areas like this with a highly concentrated population, it is important to keep a vigilant eye. Beware of service guides who wish to give you a tour. Often they will begin the ‘tour’ without your consent and soon become aggressive when asking for payment. Keep your belongings tucked away in an inaccessible pocket or bag.
Spanish is the national language of Panama, while around 14% of inhabitants speak English. Make sure to practice asking for directions, ordering meals, and checking into hotels or other lodgings. Improve your skills even more by joining one of the various Spanish Schools offered in Panama!
Granada is a calm and relaxing place with plenty of architectural beauty. You will see attractive and colorful colonial buildings everywhere with horse-drawn carriages moving in between. Take a stroll on land or visit Lake Nicaragua and take a boat tour. For even more adventure, climb one of the nearby volcanoes or go hiking in one of the wildlife preserves.
Is It Safe?
In Granada, violent crime is extremely low, and as a traveler, you will only need to worry about pickpockets. Sometimes, due to civil unrest, Nicaragua will close its borders to travelers and so it is necessary to check on its status before planning your vacation.
Very few locals speak English,so Granada is an excellent place to challenge yourself to speak more Spanish. Bring a travel guide along with you in order to have the phrases you need at your fingertips!
In Southwestern Nicaragua, located along the shore of the Pacific Ocean, sits the colorful town of San Juan del Sur. The temperature stays at a fairly warm temperature for most of the year with a bit of cold from November to January. It has several different beaches to choose from that combine perfectly with hot weather. No wonder it is considered a hub for beach parties! Surf the waves, go swimming, sunbathe your heart out, and then go investigate the giant Jesus statue that overlooks the village.
Is It Safe?
San Juan del Sur has grown in popularity over the years, which means that there are more opportunistic types who are attempting to prey on visitors. Again, it’s a place where common sense will keep you out of trouble. Avoid being out at night on your own and keep all of your belongings in a safe spot.
San Juan del Sur is a fantastic place to build your Spanish skills through one of their tailored Spanish school options. From one-time lessons to immersion and community outreach, there is a way for everyone to learn.
Quirigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Guatemala, the heart of the Mayan civilization. This amazing archaeological site has ancient carved monuments that show Mayan mythology and important historical events. Visit one of the many museums that explain more about Mayan history and provide fun small-scale models of what the area looked like long ago.
Is It Safe?
While touring this ancient city, it is necessary to keep items of importance in a safe space. Other than possible theft, there are no other major precautions to take.
While you can get a tour guide to bring the city to life for you in English, you could just as easily ask for a tour in Spanish! Expand your vocabulary through a real-life history lesson! After you visit Quirigua, take a bus to any of these other incredible destinations in Guatemala and head over to Homeschool Spanish Academy for fun and practical Spanish lessons.
La Ruta de las Flores is called la ruta because it is just that: a route. It is a passage of blooming flowers that grow along 20 miles of five main colonial towns and coffee plantations. The best time to go in order to see the blooms is between November and February. There are plenty of other activities to explore along the way including a 7-Waterfall hike in Juyayua, ziplining in Apaneca, and going on a coffee tour in any of the other villages along the route.
Is It Safe?
Exploring this route is traditionally done by chicken bus, where you will need to exercise caution with your personal belongings. Make sure to keep them close to your body and, if possible, avoid leaving them in the rack above the seats.
You will have many chances to use your Spanish! In each of the towns along the route, you will need your skills to order food, talk to locals, find lodging, learn more about the history of the towns, and ask for directions.
Best Trip Ever
Now that you are equipped with all the best travel destinations in Central America, you can start packing. You can practice your Spanish while you explore some of the greatest spots between North and South America. Want the best Spanish learning experience before your trip? Take a class with professional, friendly teachers at Homeschool Spanish Academy for an awesome head start to your travel. Enjoy the best trip of your life and maybe you’ll be able to add even more great destinations to our list!Read More