Author Archive
Legends
Narrative

Legend of Lost Gold in Mexican Cave

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Mexico but he has lived in Southern California for nearly all of his life.

 

Context: I was talking to Fabian about Mexican stories and folklore.  He originally learned this story at age 13 from his mother when he went hiking in mountains in which the specific cave is supposed to be located.  His uncle had previously gone exploring and looking for the gold in this area.  The tale is well known in the informant’s state of Michocoan.

 

Item: “So there’s this famous bandit, and, um, he like stole a lot of gold, but the thing is, he disappeared all of a sudden along with all his gold.  They never found his body or his gold.  People think that he buried it in some tunnels in the mountains.  The legend around the gold is that you can only find it if you are looking for it by unselfish means.  People who have been looking to get rich have never found the gold, but, people who have explored the cave for fun have randomly stumbled upon gold coins.  And then at night, sometimes you will the bandit’s spirit running on his horse”.

 

Informant Analysis: Ghost riders are an extremely common phenomena in Mexican legends and tales.  Unlike in the U.S. where ghosts and dead spirits are seen to be creepy, dead spirits are common in Mexican tales.

 

Analysis: Many Mexican tales seem to have an emphasis on intentions and values.  The bit about only the unselfish/non-evil searchers being able to find the gold out of virtue seems to be a common thread in other cultures across the world.  Mexicans are highly religious in general and also place great importance on familial duty, honest work, and honor.  If you perform honest work then no one criticizes you while you can be ostracized for doing dis-honorable, illegal or morally question deeds.  This tale seems to celebrate the fact that if you have good intentions and live purely, that you will indeed sew good luck and receive benefits in the end.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas in Kentucky

Informant Bio: Informant is my mother.  She was born in West Virginia and spent her childhood moving around the country, eventually settling in Massachusetts.  She was exposed to many different traditions as she moved around the country as a child and still carries some with her to this day.

 

Context: I was interviewing my mother about traditions, stories and rituals she remembers from her childhood.

 

Item: “Our family was spread out across the US and Christmas was the one time that everybody went back home to be together, back in the Kentucky hills.  As a child I loved being with my many cousins.  It was a fantastic time.  We generally stayed with my paternal grandparents.    My grandmother woke up early Christmas morning and started preparations for the large Christmas breakfast.  Always consisting of biscuits, gravy, fried potatoes, eggs, sausage, fried apples and for the kids, my favorite – hot molasses and peanut butter sopped up with a biscuit!  After breakfast, the children opened presents.  Then my grandmother began the Christmas dinner.  They had a huge table; yet, the kids ate in the kitchen.  Actually, you were allowed to eat at the grown up table after you turned 13.  It was sad for me, when my older cousins left the kitchen table!  Dinner was incredibly good.  My grandmother and mom were terrific cooks.  After dinner in the afternoon, the kids got to play with the toys.  Then we began visiting other families in the community”.

 

Analysis: The Christmas breakfast was the first moment that all of the family members got to be together for; it was a celebration of the family being back together again.  The informant remembered the food the most vividly, maybe because the meals proved to be the most memorable times (when everyone was gathered around tables seated next to each other).

 

The fact that the children had to sit at a separate table until they were thirteen shows how, in the U.S., society truly separates childhood from adulthood.  With different schools, laws, and expectations, children do not get to have the privilege of a full life experience until they are old enough.  Thirteen years old seems a little young for the transition when compared to the voting age of 18, drinking age of 21 and other “marking” periods that occur much later in ones life, but, thirteen does represent a time in which most people have at least begun to hit puberty (and thus moved on from being a true child).

 

Christmas seemed to be a period of time that was sacrosanct.  Nobody missed it and it was a time when everyone came together.  The children were the ones who exchanged gifts while the adults merely treasured it as a time to be around their loved ones and catch up.  Despite the religious nature of the holiday, Church/religion does not seem to play a significant role in the informant’s celebration.

Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Funerals in Mexico

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a sophomore at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Mexico.  He has moved around both Mexico and the U.S., spending significant time in Illinois.  He currently lives in Southern California.

 

Context: I was interviewing Stan about folk beliefs and traditions that he has been exposed to.  He shared with me the characteristics of Mexican funerals.

 

Item: “Um, funerals really depend and vary from person to person and family to family.  The range of emotion is very great.  Everything is acceptable.  Hispanic people are very expressive with feelings: wailing, yelling, screaming, and, pounding on the casket (in Colombia) are all acceptable ways of expressing yourself.  There’s no real, like, ‘you have to act in a certain way,’ as long as you have respect for the dead.  One can grieve however they see fit.  Most of the time, there is a casket and subsequent burial.  Husbands get buried next to their wives, and, wealthier people sometimes have mausoleums.

 

People who leave Mexico like to come back to be buried there.  Like, there was this famous Mexican song about this whole thing: Mexico my beloved, if I happen to die away from you, let them tell everyone that I am just sleeping till I come back”.

 

Informant Analysis: The family unit is really important in Mexico.  Religion is also important.  People always get anointed on the death bed as holy rituals are extremely important.  Your final moments and this tradition are important for the person to pass away with a clear conscience and be ready for final judgment.

 

Analysis: Death in Mexico is treated a little bit differently than here in the U.S.  Mexico has more of a tradition of being more open with the topic and treatment of death, seen with the Day of the Dead ritual, in which people celebrate the lives of their ancestors instead of grieving about their passing.  This is shown in the relative openness of grieving behaviors and emotions as compared to the accepted morbid mood that is expressed at U.S. funerals.

 

The significance of the song is that Mexican people have strong national and ethnic pride.  Even if they have left their native land, they still feel a strong connection to their true “home” and never forget their roots and heritage.  This is shown in their desire to have their final resting place be in the land of Mexico, being buried next to their family and closest partner.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

No Sea Voyage on Tuesdays

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a sophomore at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Mexico.  He has moved around both Mexico and the U.S., spending significant time in Illinois.  He currently lives in Southern California.

 

Context: I was interviewing Stan about folk beliefs and traditions that he has been exposed to.  He shared with me the following folk belief common among the people in Mexico.

 

Item: “El martes no te cases ni te embarcues” – never embark on a voyage on a Tuesday.  If you do, your ship will sink.  Even if you don’t believe it, people still don’t “test” it.”

 

Informant Analysis: Not sure about why Tuesday is bad, but people in his town heed this rule.

 

Analysis: Although the specific day of Tuesday might be related to some distant family member or someone in the village experiencing bad sailing luck on a Tuesday, the superstition has stuck around and pervaded in the town of the informant.  Most likely, empirical evidence would show no merit to the claim, but the people in this town must subscribe to the idea that the day of the week inherently has virtues or characteristics that are associated with it.

Folk Beliefs

Little House Elves

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Mexico but he has lived in Southern California for nearly all of his life.

 

Context: I was talking to Fabian about Mexican stories and folklore.  He shared with me the following folk belief common among the people in Michocoan.

 

Item: “There’s, um, little house elves, um, they are mischievous and moves things in your sleep.  If you wake up in the middle of the night you’ll find milk outside the fridge, your shoes or socks out in random places.  The people who do that are these mischievous little house elves.  People, um try and stay up and try to see if they can catch them”.

 

Analysis: It is a way of explaining how things seemingly disappear or how random things move.  The elf part is similar to the cobbler elves in the U.S., where they come out and do things but you never end up seeing them.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Mexican Egg Massage

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Mexico but he has lived in Southern California for nearly all of his life.

 

Context: I was talking to Fabian about Mexican stories and folklore.  He shared with me the following superstition that is prominent in his family’s village where his grandmother still lives.

 

Item: “If someone is feeling bad, not always, but sometimes.  What they do is they get this massage with an egg that has been dipped in holy water.  They just kind of rub it on your back, arms and stuff.  Then they make the sign of the cross on your back, chest and forearms.  It’s supposed to be a blessing kind of thing.  Once you’re done, you crack the egg in a cup of water.  When you do it, the egg, which has been shaken from being rolled around your body, has a very opaque yolk which kind of represents the evil from your body.  The yolk is then released from the egg, and, supposedly the evil, which is contained in that opaque yolk, is then released from the body and dispelled into the water.  This is usually done by older women.  There are some people that have a lot of knowledge/spiritual energy to them that perform a lot of these massages for people in the villages.  A lot of the older women – the grandmothers – mostly know how to do it.”

 

Informant Analysis: Many superstitions in Mexico involve direct contact and touching using crosses, since Mexico is such a religious place.

 

Analysis: This superstition seems to involve the idea of contagious magic, the idea that things that have been in direct contact can have influence and interact with each other.  The informant’s comment that many superstitions involve direct contact and touching seems to reinforce that Mexican beliefs heavily involve contagious magic.  It makes sense that Crosses are used due to the deeply religious nature of the country.

 

The opaque egg yolk symbolizing the presence of evil brings about the idea of order being good and disorder being bad.  Something being jumbled up represents disorder, something that civilization and society has tried to eliminate.

 

The fact that older women usually perform this ritual exhibits the very powerful position that they have in Mexican familial hierarchy, as they are revered as being knowledgeable and beyond reproach by anyone else in the family.  The informant recounted a time when he yelled at his grandmother and was ostracized from his extended family for months after.  It is possible to disobey/yell at other family members, but the grandmother is off limits, showing the position they hold in Mexican familial structures.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Quinceañera Festival

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Mexico but he has lived in Southern California for nearly all of his life.

 

Context: I was talking to Fabian about Mexican stories and folklore.  He started mentioning how there are several important festivals/traditions one goes through in traditional Mexican culture, one of them being the quinceañera festival.  He then detailed his experiences going to close family and friends’ festivals throughout his life.

 

Item: “It’s a coming of age kind of thing for girls.  The way they work is there’s a royal core that is usually made of, uh, direct blood relatives (female and male) and also really close female and male friends.  There’s a chambelan which is the quinceañera’s escort which is either the boyfriend or girlfriend if they have one, or a close male relative or a really close male friend.  This is the quinceañera’s main escort for the night.  So, uh, it all starts off with a dance.  The dance varies, but the entire core people perform this choreographed dance that they do.  Once they are done, then the main guy and the quinceañera girl have a solo dance in the middle.  This is a little more elaborate and involves just those two.  It’s usually a waltz.  And then, um, the guy gives the girl to her dad and there’s a father-daughter dance.  And then, after that, like, there’s just kind of eating and kind of a regular party.  The main difference between celebrations comes from the type of dance that is performed at the beginning.”

 

Analysis: The quinceañera party helps celebrate a woman’s coming-of-age and sexual maturity.  The order of events in Fabian’s recounting parallels the path of the girl thus-far in her life.  In the beginning, all the close friends and family are involved in a special dance, showing how the girl has thus far been raised and been intimately connected with her close friends and family.  Then, the girl is given to the special chambelan who gets to dance with the girl, representing how the girl will move on from her childhood familial upbringing and find a suitable mate in society.  The subsequent father-daughter dance is an homage to the fact that the original man in her life for the past fifteen years has been her father.  This dance represents the fact that the father will continue to respect his daughter (but shifting from treating her as a little girl to treating her as a woman).  This celebration is a very important event in Mexican and Hispanic culture, and traditionally is maintained even for families that have moved to the United States.

 

In the Mexican tradition, the most important element of the quinceañera is a Thanksgiving mass that commences the celebration.  After this mass, the girl enters the banquet hall or wherever the celebration is being held.  Typically, the girl was not able to dance in public before the age of 15, so the dance with the chambelan is the girl’s first public dance.  Therefore, this event would be very important in the girl’s life and something that girls look forward to for months or even years prior.

This tradition has many parallels to the American tradition of a Sweet 16 party.  They both celebrate the coming of age of girls (marking the transition from child to woman).  Quinceañera’s, as written above, are elaborate celebrations held in banquet halls, and can be extremely formal and has a relatively set progression.  The sweet 16, a celebration of a young girl’s virginity, varies much more.  Although some folks make it a formal celebration, many times it is a more informal house party or get-together of close family friends and relatives.  At its core, the variations in sweet 16’s shows the diversity in American culture, while the relative rigidity of the quinceañera shows the more homogeneous Mexican culture (highly tied to Catholicism).

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Lightning Is the Devil Getting Whipped

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Sudan and they are Muslim.  Both he and his twin brother were educated in international schools.  He speaks Arabic and English.

 

Context: I was talking with the informant about traditions and rituals his family has.

 

Item: “Any time there is thunder during a lightning storm, every time you see a lightning crack it is the Devil getting whipped.  I don’t know why that is or where it came from, it’s more a, ‘don’t get scared by lightning, it’s just the Devil getting whipped’ kind of thing’.  My mother is the one who always says it”.

 

Analysis: This is an instance of people assigning meaning to a physical phenomena that they cannot explain.  It makes sense that an older figure (the mother) is the one who says this, as it is meant to comfort the children by using familiar (and acceptable) imagery.  It also allows people to feel a sense of connection and intimacy with God, as, lightning is a common and natural phenomena and for God to appear that many times implies he is watching over everyone.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection
Signs

Evil Eye

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Sudan and they are Muslim.  Both he and his twin brother were educated in international schools.  He speaks Arabic and English.

 

Context: I was talking with the informant about traditions and rituals his family has.

 

Item: “There’s definitely a good amount of people in Sudan who believe in black magic.  I don’t know what the population is but generally, it’s sort of accepted that black magic is real.  It’s an Islamically sanctioned concept; the Qa’ran mentions black magic.  So they believe that there are people who have like, certain powers and they can wish evil upon you.

 

Now it’s not just black magic or evil.  I know my aunt always wanted a son so she went to this man who believed he had magic and he was like ,’ok I’ll make sure you get a son in your next birth’, and she did.  She kept going time after time and she ended up having 5 sons.  So Sudanese people do believe that some people possess a positive type of magic.  Typically, it’s like weird old men who have these powers who live in a secluded part of the city.  People take that really seriously.

 

Now, the people there also believe in the evil eye.  If someone is jealous of you, then that jealousy will cause you to face some sort of unfortunate event.  So if you are successful and people are jealous of you, you might get cancer, get in a car accident or in general face some unfortunate event.  My mom always says there is this word that you can say when someone gives you a compliment that will protect you from the evil eye.  I can’t remember exactly what this saying is, uh, but my mom swears by it”.

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to note that one of the first things the informant says is that magic is an Islamically sanctioned concept.  This acknowledgment shows the importance of their religion and how Islam and the Qa’ran define both spiritual and also secular values.  The belief in the evil eye seems to be an interesting concept.  The phrases one should say for protection from the evil eye upon receiving a compliment may be seen as trying to encourage humbleness and level-headedness.  Those who try to set themselves apart and rub in their wealth or success will be punished by the jealous, so overt and egregious displays of success are most likely frowned upon.  Also, it seems that women have a more prominent role in promoting these folk beliefs and superstitions, which could be due to societal convention or the informant’s personal family.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Weddings in Sudan

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Sudan and they are Muslim.  Both he and his twin brother were educated in international schools.  He speaks Arabic and English.

 

Context: I was talking with the informant about traditions and rituals his family has.

 

Item: “Before the actual wedding, there’s this thing where everyone goes to the mosque and watch the Imam (who is kind of like a Muslim priest) bless the couple so the marriage is Islamically legitimate.  Everybody watches that happen so, you’re kind of obligated to go to that.  Then there’s the actual wedding celebration, and the thing is by the wedding celebration you’re already married.  So the wedding celebration is just a big party, and Sudanese weddings are really odd.  They take place in these large tents with lots of fans.  Like, they’re huge; I’ve never been to a Sudanese wedding that had less than 400 people.  The point of it is that you don’t just invite your close friends and family, that’s not gonna fly with Sudanese people.  You gotta invite your friends and family and then their friends and family.  I’ve gone to these weddings where it’s like a third degree connection to the couple.  Which is hella weird, you’ll get people who invite you and say just bring whoever you want.  My mom goes to a lot of these.  You know, females always engage in this kind of stuff so yeah she goes to a lot; my dad really doesn’t give a crap.

 

I usually don’t like to go, cuz they’re so loud.  There’s just really loud music playing the whole time and there’s really not a whole lot of interaction either.  You sit at a table with like six other people and there’s like 50 tables and you get a plate like halfway through the wedding so you’re already starving, and it’s just like a sandwich with some meat in it, like a beef sandwich, falafel or two and dry chips with Pepsi.  It’s never good food, honestly I feel like there’s one company in Sudan who caters all these weddings because it’s way too similar every time.  Um, so the food I’ve never really been a fan of, personally.  And you can’t really talk to people cuz the music is really loud.  The bride and groom sit in the middle of the whole party, most of the time just sitting down while people go  up to them throughout the night to give their congratulations.  These are three-four hour events that usually start at 10 and go until 2AM.  So they’re really late.  At some point during the wedding, the bride and groom are expected to dance and that’s always a fun time.

 

Now there’s this thing, and I’m not sure how many cultures do this, but the makeup that the bride has, like, it makes her a lot more lighter than she actually is.  Her face will be so much whiter than normal.

 

Analysis: My analysis of the makeup aspect is that there’s some kind of inferiority complex or self-hate related to having darker skin; whiter skin is seen as more beautiful.  This is why brides will be a lot more whiter skinned during weddings.  I doubt that anyone would ever acknowledge this if you asked them the reason, but this sort of thing has been seen across cultures and throughout history.  It is especially prevalent in many South Asian weddings.

 

It is interesting that the weddings are so open and that it is open to pretty much the whole town.  I imagine this means that weddings largely dominate the social scene as you could probably be invited to at least one or two per week.  I think the informant’s experience, being a children at most of these, probably tainted his viewpoint and led to his dismissal of weddings in general.  More than likely he was placed at the table with other children or random people and he therefore does not appreciate many of the more rewarding aspects of this type of ceremony.

 

Like many cultures, religion is a dominant and even defining aspect of life for the Sudanese people.  Nothing happens without first making sure that Islamic conditions are met.  Government statistics say that 100% of Sudan is Muslim, which, although it may not be completely true, does highlight the homogeneous nature of the country.  This homogeneity may also contribute to the relative openness of the weddings, as many people have congruent viewpoints, values and expectations as opposed to the massive diversity we find here in the U.S.

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