5 Myths + Misconceptions About Puebla, Debunked
When I arrived in Puebla in 2007 to study Spanish, I’d never been here before; I’d only taken beach vacations south of the border. In fact, until I began researching my trip, I’d never even heard of Puebla before — or so I thought. I quickly realized that two of Mexico’s best-known cultural exports to the U.S., mole poblano and Cinco de Mayo, were products of Puebla. Right. How could I not have known that?
Mexicophiles of the world, I hear your collective sigh. (Believe me, these days I’m right there with you.) But, in my experience, many foreign travelers have yet to connect those same dots, and those who do too often bungle the information. So, to celebrate my five-year anniversary here this week, I thought I’d try to clear a few things up. Here are five common myths and misconceptions about Puebla, debunked.
Myth 1: “Puebla” is synonymous with “pueblo.”
Given that many nouns in Spanish have both masculine and feminine forms, it’s easy to see how non-native speakers could confuse the two in this case. Puebla’s sister city of Pueblo, Colorado, doesn’t help the matter, either. For the uninitiated, pueblo is a common noun in Spanish that means “village” or “town” or “the people” in general. Puebla is a proper noun, the name of a state in Mexico and its capital city. Although it’s often mistakenly referred to as a “small Colonial city,” Puebla is the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis, with a population of more than 1.5 million people (comparable to Philadelphia). However, Puebla’s quaint and historic downtown — a UNESCO World Heritage Center — often makes this big city feel like a small town.
Myth 2: “Poblano” is a type of mole and chile pepper.
This statement is correct but seems to suggest that the Spanish adjective only applies to food, which is incorrect. Poblano describes any person or thing that comes from Puebla, including mole and chile peppers. My husband is poblano (m.), and Talavera pottery is poblana (f.), respectively. Mole poblano — never pablano — is a popular sweet and savory sauce from Puebla, the recipe for which typically calls for dried Poblano peppers (a.k.a. ancho chiles). It is not the only type of mole made in Mexico. When you visit Puebla, try manchamanteles and pipíanes rojo and verde, too.
Myth 3: Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s independence from Spain.
Cinco de Mayo’s popularity in the United States and worldwide as a fiesta honoring Mexican, Mexican-American, and Latino pride has caused considerable confusion about the origins of the holiday. By all historical accounts, Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s brief but heroic victory over France in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Unfortunately, the governor of Puebla — who spent some $62 million in public money to fête Cinco de Mayo’s 150th anniversary this year — now plans to move the state’s official Independence Day celebration to the Cinco de Mayo battle forts this fall. Don’t be fooled: Cinco de Mayo (May 5) is not Independence Day (Sept. 16).
Myth 4: Puebla is a “day trip” from Mexico City.
Some well-known travel guides assert that you can easily see Puebla in a day if you’re staying in Mexico City, just 75 miles away. Do not trust anyone who says this. Yes, it’s true that it only takes about two hours to get here from the DF on the bus — and even less time by car — if there isn’t much traffic in either city. However, as a visiting producer for México Travel Channel told me last week, “We’ve been here for several days now and barely scratched the surface. There’s so much to see.” You need at least a long weekend to explore Puebla and neighboring Cholula, and even more time if you want to visit worthwhile outlying destinations, such as Atlixco and Cacaxtla. Otherwise, you’ll wish you stayed longer.
Myth 5: Puebla and Poblanos are very reserved.
Locals joke that there’s a church in Puebla for every Poblano, which suggests that the city is fairly religious. Pardon the cliché, but don’t judge a book by its cover (even if it is the Bible). On any given day, for each Catholic temple you pass you’re likely to spot a shameless and very public display of affection. The oldest cantina in town is mostly open on weekday afternoons. Women who dress rather conservatively during the day wear scandalously little to go out at night. In other words, the upper crust of society may try to “keep up appearances,” but it’s all smoke and mirrors. The reality is that Poblanos are typical urban dwellers who appreciate tradition yet embrace the latest trends. What the city of Puebla lacks, like much of Mexico, is diversity. This seems to be changing, due in part to an influx of residents from other countries and states of the republic and an increasingly vocal LGBT community. It’s also worth noting that in July’s federal elections, the progressive candidate won the majority of votes in Puebla, not the traditional PAN or PRI. Although Puebla isn’t as liberal as San Francisco, my previous home, it isn’t Provo, Utah, either.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd
To read more about Puebla, visit The Blog.