Mexico in Spain, an Unexpected Reverse Assimilation

Nopal plants growing wild below a medieval castle in Medellin, Spain. Pulse News Mexico photo/Allan Wall


When my two sons and I toured Spain last month, traveling from Andalusia in the south to the Basque Country in the north, we expected to see and experience a legacy of culture that has historically impacted Mexico and the rest of the Hispanic American world for more than five centuries.

What we did not expect, however, was to see so many traces of Mexican culture impacting Spain.

There are still strong cultural links between Spain and Mexico, but it’s not all a one-way street.

Of course, language is a key part of this bond, but it’s more than that. It’s the general cultural ambience, a multinational and historic overarching bond.

Having learned most of my Spanish from my Mexican wife, there is a distinctive Mexican tang to my pronunciation, and most people in Spain picked up on my son’s and mine accents.

And we found on more than one occasion that certain Spanish words take on more than one meaning, depending on where they are said.

One example: My younger son was at a McDonald’s in Spain, ordering ice cream. He used the word “nieve” as he would have in Mexico. The person taking his order didn’t understand him at first, as in Spain most speakers prefer the word “helado.”  It also turns out that in Spain “nieve” can refer to cocaine. Oops.

Overall, we got the impression that most Spaniards like Mexicans.  They might be afraid to go to Mexico, given the current surge in violence, which is understandable, but they don’t have anything against the Mexican people.

Several of them did, however, have some very critical things to say about the current Mexican government under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).  Mexico is “very badly governed” said one Spanish lady.

There are plenty of Mexican restaurants in Spain.  I found one in Sevilla, and several in Madrid, including a Mexican restaurant chain called “La Mordida.”  This chain has nine restaurants in metropolitan Madrid.

La Mordida’s décor is jam-packed with Mexican stereotypes: papel picado, Mexican flags, a calavera, images of the wrestler El Santo, the Katrina, el Chavo del Ocho, the Aztec Solar Stone and a live Mexican guitar player to serenade customers. (Well, actually, the guitar player was Peruvian. But he posed as a Mexican and that’s the point!)

Bottom line: There’s obviously a demand for Mexican food in Spain!

Mexico’s multinational Bimbo bread corporation is active in Spain. There were Takis and other Bimbo products in Spanish stores..

I also saw a sign for July 16 concert by Mexican singer Marco Antonio Solis, alias “El Buki.”  There is demand for Mexican music artists as well.

Another Mexican connection is the province of Soria, which we passed through.

Have you heard of Soriana, the Mexican department store chain?  It was founded by two Spanish immigrant brothers from the province of Soria. That’s why it has the name Soriana.

Historically, few Spaniards have migrated to the United States.  They generally preferred to immigrate to Mexico or another Spanish-speaking country in the Western Hemisphere, where they already knew the language and the general culture.

Today, there is significant reverse migration, Latin Americans from Spanish-speaking Western Hemisphere countries (including Mexico) migrating to Spain.

Spanish immigration and naturalization law even gives a preference to immigrants from the former Spanish empire, which includes most of Latin America.

The plant kingdom also displays a visible link between Mexico and Spain.

I refer to the nopal, the prickly pear cactus. This plant is native to Mexico, where it is a powerful nationalistic symbol of the country, appearing, for example, on the Mexican flag.

The Spaniards of the 1500s, either intentionally or unintentionally, brought nopal plants from Mexico to Spain. The nopal quickly took root in Spain and other Mediterranean countries, fitting in well with the Mediterranean climate and ecology.

We visited Medellin, the hometown of conquistador Hernán Cortés who, more than anyone else, was responsible for the current existence of the nation-state of Mexico.

So it’s fitting that, on the hill overlooking the town, I saw nopal plants, descendants of those brought from Mexico.

Securely rooted in this Spanish hill, the nopal plants are a living link uniting Spain and Mexico.

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