A Collision of Cultures
The naming of Mexico City is interesting: The city now known by that name was founded as Mexico Tenochtitlan in 1325 and a century later became the dominant power of the Aztec Triple Alliance, formed in1430 and composed of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, y Tlacopan.
At its height, Tenochtitlan had enormous temples and palaces plus a huge ceremonial center as well as residences of political, religious, military, and merchant citizens. The city had an estimated population of 100,000 and perhaps as high as 200,000 in 1519 when the Spaniards first arrived. Then everything changed- and it became “Mexico.”
Tenochtitlan had been built on a small island in Texcoco Lake in the Valley of Mexico. Testimonies from the time of the arrival of the Spanish conquerors account for the existence of a great lake dotted with a multitude of canoes and the island city, full of towers and fortresses and all gleaming white. The conquering Spaniards destroyed the island city of Tenochtitlan and began the process of draining the lake that surrounded it, utilizing the surviving Aztecs as slave labor. More to follow on the violent yet romantic early history.
In modern times, the Mexico City residents, known as "Chilangos," came to refer to it simply as "Mexico," which was certainly confusing for foreigners. When wanting to be more specific and less confusing, people would refer to Mexico City, the capital, as "el D.F.," for "Distrito Federal" or Federal District, much like the District of Colombia in the U.S. In more recent years, the government has chosen to call it by its more literal name, "la Ciudad de Mexico," or simply la CDMX, the acronym that is promoted by the Department of Tourism and plastered all over the city.
Bienvenidos a Mexico!
I first came to Mexico City in 1986 after having met a very beautiful 19-year old Mexican girl in Hawaii (this is not fiction!). That was the year that Mexico had hosted the World Cup of Soccer and the year after the horrific earthquake that devastated thousands of structures with an unfathomable loss of life. Not only were the deaths greatly understated, but thousands of people- bodies- were never discovered or even reported.
While this was the backdrop when I first arrived, both the World Cup and the earthquake had their place in the past, and I was more focused on getting to know my girlfriend's family and the Mexican culture, which happened to be one and the same! And while receiving a crash course in Mexican courtship, I was also beginning my Spanish Immersion Program, which would prove quite successful and convince me that one-on-one study with a professional instructor- who got to know me, how I learned, as well as my interests- combined with cultural immersion, was by far the most productive way to learn!
Prior to this, I had learned German, my first foreign language, the old-fashioned way: four years of high school, four years of college, and a couple of study-abroad programs, yet I still couldn't speak the language! Prior to marrying my Waikiki catch and going to graduate school, I worked in the travel business and luckily found myself based in Germany for two summers. That's how I became fluent in German- but it took ten years, full immersion, and a great deal of grief!
Through my Spanish Immersion Program, I learned how to speak better Spanish in 10 months than I had ever spoken German after ten years! When I arrived in Mexico City, I barely knew any Spanish, but I did know how to immerse myself in the culture and soak up the warmth and festive nature of the Mexican people!
The first day I arrived, Gaby and I (chaperoned by her brother, no joke!) visited the "Zona Rosa," a pedestrian zone in the city center filled with boutiques, bars, and excellent restaurants, many of which had outdoor seating; and I was mesmerized with the buzz of activity, the polite and efficient service, the foods, some of which I'd never heard of, and, umm, the time- it's was three o'clock in the afternoon- and the place was packed!
I soon learned never to pass up a meal because I kept thinking that there was another meal about to happen, but then they always seemed to evade me. With time, I became accustomed to the light breakfast, possibly a late morning snack, although I hardly ever partook, and the main meal of the day, "la Comida," beginning around 2:30 to 3:00 pm. And I'm not talking about a half-sandwich and salad!
These were full-on, multi-course meals that included a starter, salad, main course, and dessert, plus drinks- like beer, wine, and tequila- as if it were Thanksgiving every day! The Comida is also over which business is conducted, or at least friendships are initiated, also one in the same, as I later learned when my career brought me back to Mexico City. The evening meal is sort of an afterthought, much like a few hunger pangs that crept in after a heavy Thanksgiving meal that you might satisfy with a few leftovers. Restaurants are always open, though, and with a full menu!
I would often have this main meal, la Comida, at my future mother-in-law's house and that would also be multi-course, but more homestyle, hearty yet nutritious food, and without the drinks. This custom, like in many southern European countries, provided the chance to take a break from your hectic day and enjoy life, chatting with friends, family, or business associates while discussing anything besides work! With time I came to embrace it, not to mention that exploring different restaurants in a foreign city is a Spanish Immersion Program in itself!
I also learned that if my girlfriend's family or friends invited me out for a night of dancing, 1) there was no hurry because the clubs didn't open doors until 11 pm, and the dance floor not until midnight; and 2) I should eat something beforehand because I probably wouldn't see food until we hit the taco stands around five in the morning! For me, it changed my life.
The most memorable event of my first stay- and one of the most memorable of my life- was celebrating Mexican Independence Day with my new Mexican family, the whole family. Now, when I say Independence Day, it's not "Cinco de Mayo," but rather the 17thof September; and when I say "whole family," I mean four generations, with infinite amounts of food and drink, plus singing and dancing together, the likes I had never seen, nor lived. And, for this occasion, the guests came dressed in traditional, colorful outfits from different parts of Mexico!
I had been to Mexico before, across the border from San Diego and to a few beach resorts and fishing havens. But this was a Mexico I hadn't known: great grandparents to great grandkids, celebrating their rich and diverse culture until the wee hours of the morning (in this case, the power went out early, and everyone went home!). Oh, and did I mention that even though the actual holiday was the 17th, the party was the night of the 16th? No 4th of July afternoon BBQ- that was for the next day! A Mexican party is at night, although…
That very next day, on the actual holiday, as is typical in Mexican tradition, was the after-party, helping greatly to relieve an Independence Day party hangover! While I hadn't realized it at the time, I had experienced my own Mexico City Spanish Immersion Program in all its elements: I lived in a neighborhood flat, where I had to fend for myself; I had a private, one-on-one instructor, Estela, who later became my good friend; and I couldn't have been any more immersed in the culture than spending my midday meals and most evenings with my fiancé and her family.
We were married in Mexico City, moved back to the U.S. for my MBA Program at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix, then proceeded to have three boys, all of whom had their own "Family" Spanish Immersion Program. My wife was a native speaker, and I was fluent enough, so we decided to speak Spanish at home, my kids were learning Spanish even before they spoke English! Plus, they would spend summers with their family in Mexico, first in Mexico City and then later in Queretaro; theirs was a Spanish Immersion Program on steroids!
Fast forward a few decades since having first visited and subsequently lived and worked in la CDMX, and visited on many, many occasions; I now found myself visiting Mexico City and planning operations on behalf of Language & Luxury. I knew the city well; however, I now needed to find the right local team to ensure that our customers' Spanish Immersion Experience was top-notch:
- It was key to position Language & Luxury in such a way as to receive priority treatment from the accommodations partners, as well as vet a sample of homes to ensure luxury and above all, safety, cleanliness, and personal service!
- Also necessary was to evaluate language instructors, not only to validate their experience teaching adults, but also their professionalism and ability to provide Private, One-on-One Spanish Immersion Classes in the clients' homes or a neutral location like a café or hotel lobby!
- The ability to provide Cultural Activities was also a requirement, as part of the Immersion Program was getting out of your chair to join the Private Language Instructor in activities such as exploring an open market, visiting a niche museum off the beaten path, or sharing a meal in a restaurant where only locals dine (with myriad other activities available, especially in Mexico City). Thus, Cultural Activities are a tremendous aid to understanding the culture while practicing new expressions and vocabulary!
- Lastly, we needed to secure a partner to help coordinate Optional Activities and Intimate Experiences, as the Language & Luxury Immersion Program allows for ample free time to plan collaboratively with our clients according to their individual interests!
You may be a digital nomad, requiring free time for your work and online meetings, or you would like to see the city from a different angle, not only the more traditional cliché tours but also more intimate, personal experiences such as:
- A Private Helicopter Tour over Mexico City and the Valley of Mexico!
- Friday night out with a Private Tacos and Lucha Libre Tour!
- Hot air balloon ride over the Teotihuacan Pyramid Complex!
- Personal Gourmet Tequila Experience with a Tequila "Master" while dining at a Michelin Star Chef's restaurant!
The Language & Luxury® team that would help us to ensure a Luxury Immersion Experience for our clients was coming together! While there are always many details associated with luxury travel, and something may sometimes go wrong, the key is to having the right team members in place to ensure a successful Immersion Experience!
Pre-Hispanic and Early Colonial History – Spaniards Invade Mexico in the 1500’s
During the final stages of the Spanish invasion of the Aztec Empire, Spanish forces besieged and razed Tenochtitlan. The Spanish leader, Hernán Cortés, who understood the strategic and symbolic importance of the Aztec capital, founded the Spanish capital of Mexico City on that exact site.
He had the Spanish engineers construct the new political center literally on top of the Aztec ceremonial and political center. This became the Plaza Mayor, usually called the Zócalo in modern times. Some of the oldest structures in the historic city center date from the early conquest era.
The Spanish continued their explorations far beyond their annihilation oft he Aztec Empire. The Spanish soldiers were by far the first Europeans to visit the Grand Canyon. In 1540 (less than 50 years after Columbus), Francisco Vázquez de Coronado and his Spanish army traveled northward from Mexico City in search of the Seven Cities ofCíbola. After travelling for six months, Coronado’s army arrived at the Hopi Mesas, east of the Grand Canyon. Coronado sent Cárdenas, who was guided by the Hopi, to lead a small party of men to find are ported “great river.” Coronado hoped to find a navigable river that would serve as a waterway to the Gulf of California. The Hopi leaders advised their men to guide the unwelcome soldiers along an exaggerated path to the highest point above the river and to volunteer no information of value.
After a twenty-day journey, Cárdenas and his army arrived at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Approximately a mile down was the Colorado River below them. The Spaniards estimated that the opposite rim was eight to 10 miles away and that the Colorado River was no more than six feet across. Cárdenas ordered three infantrymen to climb their way down to the river. The men made it down to about 1,500 feet, a third of the way down until they saw that the Colorado River was a much wider waterway than they had estimated and that there was no way to navigate ships along these intense river. It would be over 200 until another foreign invader visited the Grand Canyon.
Back in Mexico City, many colonial-era buildings remained standing and have since been re-purposed as government buildings and museums. As the seat of the Viceroyalty of New Spain and the Archbishopric of New Spain, Mexico City was the center not only of political and religious institutions but also of Mexico's economic activity and the residence of social elites in colonial Mexico for three hundred years(1521–1821).
Great merchant houses were located here, and the economic elites of the country also lived in the city, even if the sources of their wealth lay elsewhere. The concentration of mansions and palaces in what is now the Mexico City historic center led it to be nicknamed the "City of Palaces," a name often attributed to Alexander von Humboldt.
It was also a major educational center: the University of Mexico was founded in 1553 as part of the complex of the Plaza Mayor. The crown-approved attempt to train Nahua men to become Christian priests saw the establishment in 1536 of the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco in one of the two sections of the capital governed by a Nahua city council (cabildo).
Many religious institutions for the education of the sons of Spanish elites were also based in the capital. Mexico City had the colony's largest concentration of those of Spanish heritage (both Iberian-born and American-born “criollos”), as well as the largest concentration of mixed-race population in the colony. Many indigenous people also lived outside the center of the capital.
The Conquistadors’ short-term strategy had been to demonstrate to the other pre-Hispanic civilizations of the region their power, building their city on top of the Aztec’s ruins as was a key Spanish conquering strategy. Another long-term strategy for Mexico City was to utilize it as their base of activity for their possessions and commercial activity in the Pacific.
The Manila Galleons, or Galeón de Manila, were Spanish trading ships that for two and a half centuries, linked the Spanish Crown’s Viceroyalty of New Spain, based in Mexico City, with their Asian territories, collectively known as the Spanish East Indies in the Pacific Ocean. The ships made one or two round-trip voyages per year between the ports of Acapulco and Manila.
The name of the galleon changed to reflect the city from which the ship sailed. The term Manila galleon can also refer to the trade route itself between Acapulco and Manila, which lasted from 1565 to 1815. The currency of choice in the Pacific at this time was the Mexican “Peso,” a pure silver coin that was mined in Taxco, relatively close to Acapulco, and carried throughout the Pacific in Spanish Galleons. Many still lie at the bottom of the Pacific.
The Manila galleons sailed the Pacific for 250 years, bringing to the Americas cargoes of luxury goods such as spices and porcelain in exchange for New World silver. The route also fostered cultural exchanges that shaped the identities and cultures of the countries involved, particularly Mexico and The Philippines.
Present Day Luxury Immersion Program
Three days in Mexico City!
What would your Mexico City Spanish Immersion Program look like?
First you would arrive to Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport, then proceed in your private transportation to your local home in one of the beautiful neighborhoods of Polanco, Roma, or La Condesa. Meet the local team and get ready for your Spanish Immersion Program!
Day 1-Meet Elena, Xinemi, or another of our professional instructors!
- Breakfast in your flat or a local café around the corner! Early mornings are quite cool but sunny in the Winter months of November through May, while a bit cloudy with daily showers in June through October. The clouds keep the Northern Hemispheric country from overheating during those months.
- Morning Class, 9:00 to 11:00 am at your flat or in another location of choice, followed by a Cultural Activity with your Instructor, perhaps a walking tour in Santa María La Ribera followed by Tacos at Mercado La Dalia (1.5 or two hours duration).
- Afternoon Highlights of Chapultepec! Visits to the world renown Anthropology Museum and the historic Chapultepec Castle, followed by an exceptional dinner!
Day 2-Private Hot Air Balloon Flight over Teotihuacan And Walking Tour!
- 5:00 am Departure! Private Flight in a hot air balloon enjoying a panoramic view of the Teotihuacán Valley and the incredible aerial perspective of the archaeological zone. Enjoy a toast while descending followed by breakfast at "La Gruta."
- Afternoon Private Tour in the archaeological zone, ending the afternoon visiting the Basilica of Guadeloupe.
- Attend the evening performance of the Folkloric Ballet by Amalia Hernandez, a glorious display of traditional Mexican dance, mariachis, and with exquisite costumes and choreography at the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes or Palace of Fine Arts in the historic city center!
Day 3-Frida Kahlo Museum and Anahuacalli Museum(Diego Rivera Murals)!
- Morning Class, 9:00 to 11:00, followed by a Cultural Activity with your instructor, perhaps visiting the Avenue of Composers, with a brief history of the street and its characters plus a tour of the design exhibition "Unpublished 2022." (1.5 or two hours).
- Lunch (comida) at the San Angel Inn, then walking tour through the neighborhood of Coyoacán, visiting the emblematic Casa Azul, where Frida Kahlo lived!. Enjoy an exclusive tour with the curator of the Frida Kahlo Museum for details of her clothing and history!
- Evening Dinner at a Michelin-Star Restaurant or a neighborhood “taqueria,” enjoying the spectacular food that Mexico City has to offer!
There is so much to see in Mexico City, so plan for AT LEAST a two-week visit to see the highlights and make the most of your Spanish Immersion Program!
Back to work for me for a couple days, then time to fly home, the highlight of the day being conversing with the colorful driver while maneuvering the busy streets making our way back to the airport, gleefully discussing the many great memories - especially those of the warm and welcoming Mexican people!