Image: Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Jill Biden, Arturo Sarukhan, Veronica Valenca-Sarukhan
Gerald Herbert  /  AP
President Barack Obama looks at his watch to note the date as he makes remarks during a Cinco de Mayo celebration in the Grand Foyer of the White House on Monday. At far left are Veronica Valenca-Sarukhan and Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan.
updated 5/4/2009 8:22:37 PM ET 2009-05-05T00:22:37

President Barack Obama's joke wasn't lost in translation — even though he referred to a Cinco de Mayo celebration as "Cinco de Cuatro."

Obama jumbled his words as he welcomed guests to the White House to observe the Mexican holiday, sending the crowd into laughter before he referred to the day correctly.

"Welcome to Cinco de Cuatro — Cinco de Mayo at the White House," said Obama, in what appeared to be an attempt to note they were celebrating on the fourth of May instead of the fifth.

Cinco de cuatro means "five of four" in Spanish.

"We are a day early, but we always like to get a head start here at the Obama White House," he said.

During the presidential campaign, Obama acknowledged his Spanish skills weren't great.

"My accent's always been good," he said. "It's just that I only know 15 words."

Swine flu fears
The holiday, which marks the Mexican troops' defeat of the French on May 5, 1862, was overshadowed by a swine-flu outbreak that started in Mexico and has spread around the world.

Obama pledged to work with Mexican officials to fight the swine flu and drug wars, using the early Cinco de Mayo celebration to underscore the challenges facing the neighboring countries.

"I know it's a tough time, on both sides of the border," Obama told lawmakers and other guests.

The president said the United States would "stand side by side" with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and the people of Mexico to overcome hardships, including an economic downturn that has hit both countries.

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"One thing we know: Good neighbors work together when faced with common challenges," Obama said.

Mexico's Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan said the holiday helps to show the depth of the two countries' friendship.

"No other bilateral relationship is more important for the security and the prosperity of the United States than its relationship with Mexico," Sarukhan said, "in the same way that the well-being of the Mexican people is inextricably tied to the fates of the United States."

Sarukhan said some Latino immigrants face obstacles when it comes to integrating in America. "Some would like to make these people invisible," he said. "This cannot stand."

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