Author Archive
general
Legends
Myths
Narrative

The Church on the Hill

The following are the informant’s exact words:

“This is a story that my grandmother tells. It’s a pretty popular story, umm… that involves that… Juan Diego, a young man’s name… a peasant and a Mexican. And when she tells it, it is that he is walking one day, uhh… and the Virgen di Guadalupe appeared to him and said, “I’d like you to build me a church, here.” It was a particular hill I believe. And uhh… and he was like, “Well okay, I guess”. And ummm…  then he goes to, I believe, the power that be, the kinda Catholic Church, the bishop. And he says, “Okay well we need to build this church because the Virgen di Guadalupe appeared to me and said she wants a church.” And, uhhh, the bishop, because of, you know,  the lowly statues of this peasant, Juan Diego, said, “Well you know, why should we believe you, you need to have some proof, you need to find some proof.” So he’s kinda turned away. And the next day, or I don’t know, a week later I suppose, he’s walking by the same place, but he actually tries to go a different way, he’s kind of trying to avoid her I think (laughs), but she appears again! And she’s like, “Hey, why are you trying to avoid me?” You know. And he proceeds to tell her, ummm, you know, “They don’t believe me, you know, there’s no proof.” And she says, “Well, climb up on this hill and uhhh pick some roses, and uhh pick these roses umm to bring to this bishop.” And umm so he does that, he picks these roses. And he carries them in his ‘thilma’, in his shirt, uhh kinda like this, like makes a kind of pouch with his shirt and carries them. And then goes to the bishop and says, “Okay, she appeared to me again.” And uhh the bishop’s like, “Well where’s your proof?”And so he, he drops the flowers from his shirt. And you know, he’s thinks like, here’s my proof, the flowers, the roses. But actually, the roses, being carried in the shirt, had stained his shirt, his ‘thilma’ and there was an image of the Virgen di Guadalupe. And then the bishops all got down on their knees, because this is a holy thing, you know, and imagine this miracle, ‘milagro’, and so he got down on his knees. And there’s a church there today, right this is a church, a famous church, and that’s the story of that church.”

The informant said that his grandmother told him the story when he was much younger. The informant is half Mexican, and he included several Spanish words in his retelling of the story. The story seems very personal to the informant, because he learned it from a cherished family member and it ties back to his heritage. However, he said that he could not remember the name of the church, though he knew it at one point. Thus, the story meant more to him as a tale in itself, tying back to his grandmother, his Mexican heritage, and his religion, than a tale about a specific church. When he was telling it to me, his voice became more excited towards the end of the tale, when Juan Diego’s proof succeeds in convincing the bishops to believe him and build the church. The informant believed in the tale and regarded it highly.

Many narratives have meanings beyond the literary plot. This narrative has ties to heritage and religion. The informant, living in Los Angeles, doesn’t often get to celebrate his unique heritage and religion, and narratives like this help to reaffirm some of his beliefs. The story venerates both the Virgin of Guadalupe, the new Catholic church, and the efforts of a poor peasant man following the will of God. Thus, it is held dearly by a religious common-man. I found the tale interesting, more so because of the informant’s enthusiasm and emotional connections to it. I don’t know if I believe that the roses stained the shirt in the form of the Virgin, but I believe that something similar could have happened, or that the stain could have looked similar to her form. In any case, the connotations of the story are more important that it’s actuality. I think this legend is a good example of the strength of Mexican heritage and familial ties, the prominence of Catholicism in Mexico and its emotional power, and the tendency of legends to connect with the common-man.

It should also be noted that I didn’t know how to spell some of the Spanish words, specifically “thilma”, and I couldn’t find it online. I spelled it phonetically.

 

Game
Humor

Queso Hand Trick

“So you write ‘Queso’ on your fingertips (Q-thumb, U-index finger, E-middle finger, S-ring finger, O-pinky). And then you would say, ‘Que’ (put down the ring finger and pinky) ‘Es’ (put down the thumb, index finger, pinky) ‘Eso?’ (put down the thumb and index finger) ‘Eso’ (put down thumb and index finger) ‘Es’ (put down thumb, index finger, and pinky) ‘Queso’ (put all fingers up). ‘What is that? That is cheese’ It’s a thing that we would do, you can come up with all these words with just one word. It doesn’t work in English because what and cheese are different, in Spanish it does.”

The informant said that when he found out about this spelling trick, he was mind-blown. He and all his friends thought it was so cool, and they would do it all the time in elementary school. It was still done in middle school sometimes, but the informant said that it would be done secretly, because in middle school kids are trying to seem cool, even though they’re not. Even now, at age 20, he seemed to enjoy playing the game and the clever spelling trick that it involves. It reminds him of his childhood and native Spanish language, which he doesn’t get to utilize as much here in America.

I remember playing similar games with other English words, such as “this”. I think the meaning of the game, “that is cheese”, is silly, but that’s probably why kids enjoy it so much. It’s fun to appropriate a language and make games out of it. This little hand game is creative and silly, so it appeals to children. I definitely understood what the informant meant when talking about the difference between elementary school and middle school. The games change a lot in middle school, when kids start becoming aware of their sexuality and the status quo. I think this spelling trick is cute and fun.

Game
general

Simon Dice

“One person says things and the other people have to do them or they lose”.

Simon Dice is a Spanish name for Simon Says, a game that kids usually play among themselves. One person is the leader, called “Simon”, and they give commands such as, “Stand on one foot” or “Clap your hands”. These commands are preceded by the words, “Simon dice” or “Simon says”. If the leader does not say these words, the children are not supposed to do the action, and if they do they lose.

The informant played this game back home in Mexico when he was a young boy. He played it with friends at school. He said they he probably wouldn’t find it fun now, nor does he remember it being much fun when he was a kid. This is because it is very simple and not very exciting. He did not know that there is a similar version here in America.

I remember playing Simon Says when I was a kid. However, it was usually suggested by the adults as a group game to keep us entertained for awhile. We could play it at school or at camp. I think at one point I found it fun, because the commands can get pretty ridiculous. And when someone loses, by doing the action when you’re not supposed to, they stand out as the only one who messed up, and everyone laughs at them. I think it’s interesting that the exact same game exists in Mexico, showing that it has been around for some time and traveled across country borders. I also think it’s interesting that the name “Simon” is shared in both versions, although I can’t see a reason why this particular name is important. Note: In the Mexican version, the o in Simon has an accent, but I can’t enter it on the computer.

Humor

Pepito

Pepito is a character that shows up, or is the subject, in many Mexican jokes. He is a little child who is always getting into trouble.

An example of a joke with Pepito from the informant (a rough translation):

Pepito’s mom comes home after a long day at work and asks Pepito, “What are you doing, my son?” Pepito responds, “Nothing, just playing with what comes from my eggs.” The mother gets mad and yells, “Don’t you ever talk to me like that again, you little rascal! I can’t believe you just said that to me! You horrible son!” She slaps him around. The next day, Pepito is with his father. He is all beat up from his mother. He says to his dad, “Papa, papa, that is the last time you buy me chocolate eggs.”

The informant said that “eggs” in Spanish is a dirty alternate name for “balls” on a male. Therefore, this joke  rests on the dual meaning of the word and is kind of dirty. Pepito is playing with a chocolate egg in the joke, which is a treat that they have in Mexico. Inside the eggs are toys or trinkets. Thus, when Pepito says he is playing with the things inside his eggs, he is playing with his toys. But his mother thinks he is playing with his junk. The informant said that he learned this joke in middle school from a friend at school back home in Mexico. He still finds it a little funny. He said that there are many jokes that involve Pepito, some of which I found online.

I think I would find the joke funnier if I understood Spanish, but I still understand it. It is appropriate that the informant learned this is in middle school, because that is when sexuality becomes increasingly prevalent for children. I think it’s strange that half the joke rests of the mother beating up her son, because that could suggest that child abuse is more common in Mexico. I don’t know if that is true. The only similar consistent character I can find in American jokes is the dumb blond, who is constantly getting herself into trouble. The informant did not know about dumb blond jokes, which I found surprising. It just shows how much we take our own culture for granted, and how much cultural diversity there really is.

Game

Piscatore

“So this is a game we play in Sardinia. Everybody holds the hand of the person next to them making like a circle. And there is a person in charge and he gives secretly everyone a type of fish. Like, you know, I would whisper to Samuel, ‘salmone’, salmon. And I would whisper into your ear, ‘you are, I don’t know, um, trout’. So each child is a type of fish. And then they, you know, they start singing this song, ‘We are fish and the fisherman is here to catch you and if I’m lucky I’m going to catch…Salmon!” And at this point Samuel is supposed to leave the circle and run around it while I try to catch him and if he’s able to get back to where he was and avoid the hands of the fisherman then he wins, and I have to go again. If I catch him, then it’s his turn to lead it.”

The informant told me about this childhood game after telling me about several other games he played as a child. It seemed that once he started talking about what he did as a child, he did not want to stop! He said that this was one of his favorite games to play, because it involved running around and was a little silly. It’s fun to make up fish names for people and then chase your friends around. He would normally play this at school during breaks with his friends. He has good memories of such times. Furthermore, he still remembers the tune of the song, which he sang to me. Now, as a teacher, he still sometimes uses games like this to teach his students Italian vocabulary.

This game remind me of duck, duck, grey duck, a game I used to play when I was in preschool and elementary school. The punchline is still the same: race your friend around the circle to the spot you just left. However, I like the edition of the silly fish names and the song. I think even now, as a college student, I might find this game entertaining, because it’s simple yet the chase is exciting. It’s interesting that the version I know talks about ducks, while the Sardinian version is about fish. Sardinia is an island off Italy, and they probably have a lot of fishing in their economy. A lot of culture centers around what and how people eat, so it makes sense that this version is about a fisherman, a “piscatore”, and his fish. Furthermore, it involves the fisherman chasing the fish, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. This reflects the reality of how hard it can be to fish for your food. I’m sure that the idea of chasing someone around a circle of people has many origins, because it is a simple and fun way to entertain a group of people. It is still interesting that similar versions of this game appear in many different countries. I like the idea that we grew up playing similar games, despite our disparate birthplaces.

Game

Bebe Leche

The informant drew a series of six boxes in a row, sharing a side with the next one. And the end of this row of boxes was a semi-circle. “So you draw this, and you throw like a piece of like a rock or something. And then you have to jump on one foot and then grab the rock throw it again while you’re still on one foot and then you go like that and like this (making his fingers jump on the drawing he made) and then you have to go back.”

The informant played this game when he was a child with his friend. It’s usually played outside on the dirt or sidewalk. He said that is was more of an elementary school game. The informant offered to talk about this game after hearing another person talk about his childhood games. When asked, people seem excited to talk about what they did for fun in their childhood. It probably brings back good memories, and we rarely get to revisit our childhood when we get older. Also, once people start talking about their childhood games, they don’t want to stop!

I grew up with a similar game, but we called it “Hop-Scotch”. It was essentially the same idea, although I never learned the “official” rules and never really knew how to play. I think it was waning in popularity when I reached elementary school. I never understood the point of the game, it seemed boring to hop about on one foot back and forth. However, the game does involve coordination, creativity, a little pressure to not mess up, and can be played with a group of kids, so it does have many of the aspects of a successful childhood game. This is another example of a simple game that appears in more than one country.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Sardinian Catholic Prayer

“Okay, this is a prayer, a Catholic prayer, that I have learned from my aunt, she’s my mum’s sister. Well in Sardinia, people recite the usual prayers, you know, our Father, Holy Mary, and others. But there are specific ones that are in Sardinia, and they have similar concepts of course. Umm this one describes like a bed, and says, ‘My bed has four corners and four angels sit on there’ and then I don’t remember a part. But anyway then these angels say, ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid of evil things…ummm….. Don’t be afraid of a bad hand.’ The angel Sara… I don’t know how we say it in English, its a kind of angel. Serafino. And the white angle will help you, amen. (Then the informant recited the prayer in Sardinian) Go in peace, I forgot, that’s the end. Um probably, probably I’m thinking this might be a prayer to recite before going to sleep, because it will kinda be like, you know, kinda like warding off the evil spirits and you know, seeking the protection of the angels and they are comforting and telling you, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid because you are protected by us.”

Here is the poem in Sardinian:

Su lettu meu est de battor contones
e battor anghelos si bi ponen,
duos in pêse e duos in cabitta,
Nostra Segnora a costazu m’istada
e mi narat: «Dormi e reposa,
no eppas paura ‘e mala cosa,
no eppas paura ‘e malu fine».
S’anghelu Serafine,
s’anghelu biancu,
s’Ispiridu Santu,
sa Virgine Maria
totu siant in cumpagnia mia.

Here is the translation:

My bed has four corners
And four angels sit on it,
two by the feet and two by the head,
Our Lady is beside me,
and she tells me: “Sleep and rest,
don’t be afraid of bad things,
don’t be afraid of a bad outcome.”
The Seraphine angel,
the white angel,
the Holy Spirit,
the Virgin Mary,
may all be with me.

The informant said that he learned this prayer from his mother’s sister when he was a child. He doesn’t remember it completely because he has not recited the prayer in awhile. He said that he was raised Catholic, but that he converted to Buddhism about twenty years ago. However, he still has respect for Catholicism and this prayer. According to the informant, this prayer is unique to Sardinia, especially because there are very unique dialects that vary by region on the island of Sardinia. There are other similar prayers that are normally said before bedtime, but this version has aspects that differ from those versions.

I was not raised Catholic, so I can’t relate to saying prayers before bed, especially about angles. However, I think the prayer is very pretty, especially in Sardinian. There is something a little scary about going to bed, because it’s dark and uncontrollable. When you’re asleep, you could die, which is a fear some people have. Thus, it makes sense that people want to pray before bed. It also can help relax them, which can make falling asleep easier. The main message of the prayer is “don’t be afraid” because you are protected. It serves to  reinforce the power and love of God.

Game

Tower of Fists Game

“Okay, this is a game that children play, and so everyone puts their um fists on top of each other making like a tower, and then the one who leads the games sort of knocks everything, as if it were a building. Actually, in this one it’s as if it were a series of boxes, one on top of the other. And so basically, it goes up and down, ‘knock, knock’, ‘who is this?’, “well go upstairs’. But the last one is the most important one, when he reaches the top, and he says, (in Sardinian) ‘What is this?’ (Also in Sardinian) ‘A little box’, and then he asks, (in Sardinian) ‘What’s in it?’ (in Sardinian) ‘A golden apple’ (in Sardinian) ‘To whom are you going to give it?’ (in Sardinian) ‘Oh, to my beloved one in Alghero (which is a city nearby). May she be shown around with happiness’. And then they say something which doesn’t have anything to do with uhh. Whoever laughs first will get a slap in the face, because at this point everybody, you know the tower is destroyed, and everybody starts going like this, starts switching their hands like this, like mmmm (The informant rolls his hands quickly around each other, flat and with palms facing him, in front of his mouth). Of course its hard not to laugh when you are a child and doing this stupid thing. So uh that’s the game”

The informant also gave another version of the story inside the game, one from elsewhere in Sardinia: “And this one I remember from my father and it’s kind of the same idea. This time it’s about somebody going to the shoe maker, and the idea is that he has left the shoes to be repaired, and so the customer goes back and knocks and you know, again you do the tower with the fists and knocks and knocks. Like, ‘I’m looking for maestro so-and-so, you know, the shoemaker’, ‘well he’s not here, go to the… go upstairs’ and upstairs, upstairs until, you know, he reaches the top fist and this time he asks, uhh, ‘tum-tum (that’s like knock-knock)… (in Sardinian) who is this?’ (in Sardinian) ‘Is master Antonie there?’ ‘Si!’ This time the answer is yes, he is here. In all the other cases, it was go upstairs, to the other floor. This time, yeah, ‘Is master Antonie there?’ ‘Yes, he is here!’ (in Sardinian) ‘Is he done, has he finally fixed my shoes?’ ‘No’ ‘Oh!’ Then the customer gets angry and he says, (in Sardinian) ‘Now I’m going to destroy all the building’. And then, you know, everybody again starts like doing this movement, switching the hands in front of their month. And of course again, whoever is the first to crack up in laughter gets a little slap from all the others, so it’s the same idea.”

The informant played this game when he was a young child. He still found it pretty fun though, because we played it after the interview, and he laughed a lot when I laughed first. However, I avoided the slap. The hand motion is pretty silly looking and it’s hard not to laugh. The informant played the game in his hometown in northern Sardinia, but there are other versions of the story in different regions of the island, as well as in Italy. The first story version is more romantic and fantastical, with a lover and a golden apple. However, the other version, from another region in Sardinia, is focused on the business of shoe-making. A lot of childhood games, especially in Sardinia, have connections to food or jobs. This could be because Sardinia is more rural than many cities here in America, so much of the people’s time is taken up with finding money and food, and they pass that on to their children.

I found the game silly and enjoyable. I have never seen any similar game here in America. It’s hard for me to picture a group of kids playing this. I think it’s interesting that the structure in both versions is the same, even though the stories are very different. This suggests that the story is not the important part of the game. Rather, the hand motions and the laugh-slap finale are the real appeal. The story lengthens the game and creates a process for it. This creates suspense and the children can imagine that they are actually following a narrative while they play, instead of just stacking their fists and knocking on each one. There are games here in America that I’ve played that involves a story simply to structure it. Some examples include Mafia, and Honey will you please please smile. These games are fun if the leader is good. I wish I could play the informant’s game for real, just to experience it.

Customs
Game
Humor

Cow Tipping

“Basically, you run up to the cow and tip it over” -informant

Cow tipping is a hobby usually found in rural areas where cows are common. The idea is to surprise the cow and push it over, because it looks funny.

The informant tried to go cow tipping with her friends on a weekend up in rural California. However, she found that it is harder than it sounds, because cows are easily frightened and will run away if you run up to them. Furthermore, cows sleep lying down, so you can’t surprise them when they’re asleep. The informant, although disappointed that she could not successfully cow-tip, still had fun with her friends in the adventure. She learned about cow-tipping from back home in Washington, because she lives near rural areas where the custom is more popular.

I have heard of cow-tipping before, because my father grew up on a farm and told me about the custom. However, he also warned me that it is very dangerous, because cows are heavy and might try to kick you. I believe that I’ve seen cow-tipping in literature before as well. I feel a little bad for the cows who are tipped, because it sounds painful and annoying to get stuck on your side like that. I don’t think I would ever actually attempt to go cow-tipping, although it is kind of funny when you talk about it. I think it reflects the need of rural youth to find creative ways to entertain themselves, because they don’t have access to many of the distractions that are available in a city or even a suburb. It would be exciting to get in a little trouble and do something mischievous like cow-tipping, which probably would annoy the dairy farmers. I doubt that adult would partake in this custom, as it seems more suited to the humor of children and older youth.

Customs
Foodways
Game
general

Sardinian Pig Finger Game

“It is something that you do with children, with the fingers on one hand and uh, the thumb is the pig. And the other fingers are, ‘one killed the pig’, ‘the other one umm well after you kill the pig you have to pass it on the fire to burn the…the hair, its kind of a strong hair, and then finally the ring finger ate it. But then little pinky who told everyone, you know, spilled the beans, and then he didn’t get any. In Sardinia it goes like that, touching the finger. (The informant repeated this little rhyme in Sardinian). And this is in Sardinian which is the language of the island of Sardinia and the variety that I speak, not very well, but the one that I uhh learned through my maternal grandparents is the variety called Locudorese that is in the north. So I remember my grandmother, Antonina, um you know, playing with us and doing this thing. And it is very Sardinian because you know, that’s what people used to do when propane was scare, was to fatten the pig, typically around Christmas umm they killed it and of course they didn’t throw away anything because they made, you know, prosciutto, sausage, the ears, the feet, everything was used. And umm so this is the process. The fact that after you kill it, you know, the pig has this kind of this strong hair that you have to burn so you pass the pieces of meat on a fire. And it gives off a terrible smell, like when you accidentally burn your nails, because it is basically that same kind of substance. But you have to do it otherwise you can’t eat the meat.”

As the informant stated, he learned this game from his grandmother as a young child. The game relates to the traditional cooking in the region of Sardinia where he grew up. Folklore is born from culture, and eating is very important to a culture, so it makes sense that there are children games that deal with food and eating. The informant placed a lot of  importance on the process of burning the hair. Possibly this is because he remembers the distinct smell and the unique process, or because it is a foreign idea to me, as the collector, so he spent extra time on it. He also said later that the reason that the pinky-finger didn’t get any meat was because he spilled the beans about the feast, and when people hear about someone cooking pig in the village, that person has to share. This demonstrates the community ties of a small village such as the one where the informant grew up. They would share meals because such luxuries (like pig) were rare.  He says that this was a game he played when he was very young. It allowed him to bond with his grandmother, reaffirm his local cultural traditions, and partake in childhood games. Playing with the fingers instead of the toes allows the game to continue into later childhood, because it is less weird for someone to touch your fingers than your toes.

This little finger game reminds me of a similar game we play with babies and children. The version I remember goes, “This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none, and this little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home”. And instead of touching the fingers, starting with the thumb, you touch the toes, starting with the big toe. This game reminds me of playing with children and making them giggle. The pinky seems to be a funny finger/toe, always getting into trouble or doing something silly. The game also helps children connect with their bodies, which they need to do in the early stages of life. I think it’s interesting that the Sardinian version talks about cooking pigs, while the version I know talks about buying beef at the market. It reflects the difference in culture, because here we rarely cook our food from scratch, while that is more common in rural Sardinia. It should also be noted that the informant said the Sardinian version, but I didn’t want to attempt to spell (or misspell) his words phoenetiallay. However, I included his  translations.

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