Mexico Culture Tips: May is a Mother!
In honor of Mother’s Day coming up in many countries around the world, what better country to focus on than Mexico. Here, the mother (madre in Spanish) is sacred and plays an integral and complex role in culture and language.

In honor of Mother’s Day coming up in many countries around the world, what better country to focus on than Mexico. Here, the mother (madre in Spanish) is sacred and plays an integral and complex role in culture and language.

Mothers in Mexican Society

The mother is arguably the most revered figure in Mexican family and society. She is the center of everything. It’s true that machismo still exists in both overt and invisible ways. However, projects to promote gender equality are taking hold in schools and advances are being made. While traditionally women stayed home to care for the house and family, many women today are not only working, but are also serving as the main breadwinners in the family. According to a 2013 study, 50.4% of women in Mexico hold post-graduate degrees.

Historical Perspective

Mexican writer and Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz linked the madre in Mexican culture to all things negative for two primary cultural and historical reasons:

1.  Mothers being viewed as those who must suffer, bear burden, and receive pain.

2.  The indigenous woman, La Malinche, who served as a translator to Hernan Cortez in the 1500s, and thus aided in the Spanish conquer of Mexico.  She had a child with him, one of the first known Mestizos, and has forever been considered a traitor and also a mother of Mexico at the same time.

Cultural Implications

Many expressions with “mother” cannot be translated literally, must be taken in context, and are ironically negative! For example, un desmadre (total mess), un madrazo (a punch), me vale madre (to not give a ****), no tener madre (to be shameless), estar hasta la madre (to be completely fed up), or the ultimate insult, chinga tu madre (**** your mother).

Slang terms related to father (padre) are usually positive, such as que padre (how cool). But a few related to the madre can be too. For example, poca madre (great), or está con madre (it’s amazing).

Mother’s Day in Mexico, which is always on May 10th, is a serious holiday. So when it falls on a weekday, most mothers do not go to work. Employers often allow people to take the day off, or work a half day, in order to be able to go see their mothers, share a big meal, and bring flowers, cards, and gifts. Some may even hire mariachi bands to deliver a serenata early in the morning. 

The Virgin of Guadalupe, a religious and patriotic symbol of mixed indigenous and Spanish blood. Her image can be seen in homes, churches, workplaces, and almost anywhere else throughout the country. She is often considered a mother of Mexico. And back to Octavio Paz who famously stated, “When Mexicans no longer believe in anything, they will still hold fast to their belief in two things: the National Lottery and the Virgin of Guadalupe. In this I think they will do well. For both have been known to work, even for those of us who believe in nothing.”

Mother’s Day Around the World

While many countries celebrate Mother’s Day on the 2nd Sunday in May, check out the list below for a sampling of when your international friends and colleagues may be honoring their mothers:

2nd Sunday in February: Norway

March 8th: Afghanistan, Albania, Croatia, Laos

March 21st: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE

4th Sunday in the month of Lent: UK, Ireland, Nigeria

1st Sunday in May: Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Romania

2nd Sunday in May: USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, China, Colombia, Cuba, Italy, Ecuador, Japan, Kenya, Philippines, Switzerland, Uganda, Turkey, Belgium, Brazil, Hong Kong, Denmark, Netherlands, Malaysia, Singapore, Uruguay, Vietnam

May 10th: Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador

Last Sunday of May: France, Morocco, Senegal, Sweden

3rd Sunday in October: Argentina

Last Sunday in November: Russia