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My First Spanish Lesson in Mexico City: Difunto

Difunto. It means deceased or plainly dead. I am aware that this is not the most pleasant word to learn while traveling. Besides, my Spanish is pretty good and I already knew this literal definition. It’s the metaphorical definition as used in Mexican slang is what I learned on my first week in Mexico City that I am focusing on here. Just bear with me.

My Spanish teacher during my days in La Roma and the woman who is credited with teaching me “difunto” was Eva, my AirBnB host. Eva is a woman in her early 50s and lives in the first floor apartment of an old building with neighbors she describes as “traditional.” Eva is by no means a traditional woman. She makes kambucha and kefir, composts her organic waste, and has a turtle living in the back patio. Teamed up with her neighbors she greets by saying “hola, vecina,” she created a little garden by the sidewalk.

Eva spends her days doing all kinds of community projects in the neighborhood she loves. Her apartment has two extra bedrooms, which she rents out to travelers and students. With over 100 reviews on her AirBnB listing, it is obvious that she has been doing this for a long time. “It makes me be less possessive about my things,” she said as we chatted about the inevitable relinquishment of control over one’s life it entails to constantly have guests.

Before I arrived, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be the only guest in Eva’s home. Riccel and Madhura, two 19-year-old sophomores from Georgia Tech, shared another bedroom. It had already been a month since the girls, as Eva called them, had arrived in Mexico. Strangers at first, they had become “hermanas” with Eva as their Mexican older sister. All three were my guides, giving me tips on where to go as we had organic granola Eva prepared every morning. Having grown up in a house full of women, I felt right at home.

One night, we were gathered around Eva’s dinner table, talking about love. “Difunto,” Eva said to summarize the place of an ex in her life. In addition to its literal meaning, difunto can be utilized to speak of a person that no longer necessitates any space in your life. Kind of like when you say to a lover: “You’re dead to me.”

Maybe it is because of their flair for the dramatic that I warmed up to Mexico and Mexicans from day one. Maybe it was because of my Sephardic blood that my new word acquisition got me so excited. It reminded me of a song in Ladino called “Adio Querida,” in which a woman sings goodbye to her lover and instructs him to “Look for another love, harm other doors, wait for another passion, because “para mi sos muerta.” In other words, difunto.

Riccel and Madhura taught me a word, too, but it wasn’t exactly in Spanish: Turnt or in its Mexican variation “turntisimo.” The girls, still underage as far as American drinking laws are concerned, were taking me out for a night out in Mexico City.

“You gonna get turnt?” Madhura asked.

“Turnt? Is that English?” I asked. In my college days, no such word was thrown around parties or beer pong tables. “Turnt,” they said, you know, dance on tables, make out with Mexican boys, get smashed, break plates… upsthat’s in Greece, not in Mexico!

“Let’s get turntisimo,” I said and we left Eva’s cozy apartment.


P.S. Adio Querida is a folk song in Ladino or Judeo-Spanish, the language spoken by Sephardic Jews who left the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century. It is the native language of my grandparents. Here are the full lyrics written in its Ladino spelling:

adijo, adijo kerida
no kero la vida me l’amargates tu

tu madre kuando te pario te kito almundo
korason eja no te dio para amar segundo

adijo, adijo kerida
no kero la vida me l’amargates tu

va bushka te otra amor, aharva otras puertas
aspera otra ardor ke para mi sos muerta

adijo, adijo kerida
no kero la vida me l’amargates tu