Ask a Mexican on Día de los Muertos and a Pronunciation Lesson at Taco Bell's Drive-Thru

I was surprised, on a trip to Mexico earlier this month, that I only ever found the holiday referred to as "Día de Muertos," whereas in the States, I've only ever heard it referred to as "Día de los Muertos." I'm really curious as to why there's a difference north/south of the border. Do Chicanos include the "los" so that it better matches up with the English translation? Do Mexicans use the phrase so often that the "los" has just fallen by the wayside? Is "los muertos" actually more (historically?) correct grammatically, and that phraseology's been preserved in the remote reaches of New Spain? In Spanish, do you actually need the "los", or does the word "muertos" effectively include the article? I've asked friends, but no one seems to know the reason for the difference; knowing your love of etymology and history, I was hoping you could give a definitive answer. Sorry for the long letter!

La Catrina

Now, let's not put any blame on those mongrelizing Chicanos, one of whom (Michael Orozco) just helped the U.S. soccer squad save Mexico's ass from World Cup elimination by scoring a goal in Uncle Sam's Army's epic 3-2 triumph over Panama. Both "Día de los Muertos" and "Día de Muertos" have been used in Mexico since the 16th century, although I'm noticing Chicano yaktivists and their fresa cousins are preferring the latter, most likely because they feel too many gabachos now know about the holiday and prefer to use something they won't understand — kind of like how Mexicans began using gabacho once gringos started calling themselves gringos, you know? Both are technically right: "Día de Muertos" is the literal translation of All Souls' Day, the Catholic holiday from which Mexico's veneration of its faithful departed is partly derived (notice how it's not called "All of the Souls Day," even though that makes more sense). On the other hand, the day before Día de los Muertos, All Saints' Day, is almost universally known in Mexico as Día de Todos los Santos (which literally translates as "Day of All of the Saints") instead of Día de Todos Santos. Confused yet? Don't be: The Mexican propensity for elision is as notorious as our love for agave-based spirits and confusing the hell out of gabachos.

The other day, I went to Taco Bell and hit the drive-thru. At the window, I ordered something with jalapeños. When I spoke the sacred "jalapeno" word with my gawky gringo accent, the illegal Mexican at the cash register corrected my pronunciation by repeating the word slowly and condescendingly with his own accent — "hah-lah-pen-yo." Kind of annoying. True, I only suspect he's Mexican, and I suspect he's illegal as well. But I find his almost complete inability to speak English offers some kind of clue, wouldn't you say?

I wonder: Is this dude so ignorant that he doesn't understand that people pronounce words differently depending on where they're from? Or was he intentionally getting rude 'cause he just hates gabachos? Or maybe, he was kindly instructing me as to how words will be expected to be pronounced once the Reconquista fulfills its promise. I've seen the stats and I have no illusions; if you Mexicans keep reproducing like bunnies, y'all will eventually rule the whole continent.

Home Fry

Let's just set aside por un poquito your preposterous assumption that the guy taking your order is undocumented — Taco Bell uses E-Verify to ensure only legal citizens and residents prepare its slop. Guy took your order, right? Which means he knows English. If anything, the Mexican was being charitable — you're obviously the last gabacho left that doesn't know how to pronounce jalapeño correctly, which means you're as clueless about Mexican affairs as Damien Cave, the New York Times Mexico correspondent whose stories seem like press releases penned by the PRI.

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano