Author Archives: Juan Lopera

Street Scenes in Urban Mexico City

The informant is from Mexico City, currently rotating at UT Medical Center.

The interview occurred at a family barbeque on a Sunday.

 He and I discussed what he thinks about when he thinks of his home, which is originally Mexico City. He said that there is nothing quite like the sights and sounds of the urban squares of the densely populated capital.

“Those of us who are from Ciudad de Mexico, it’s represented as CMX, instead of as the old Mexico, Distrito Federal, is the official title. We are known as Chilangos. We love to eat street food, sold at mobile markets called Tianguis. They sell esquite, which are roasted corn kernels mixed with mayonnaise, chili powder and lime juice, fruit with chili powder, gorditas, which are fried tacos of all sorts and tamales, which are known as the Student’s Menu, and used to be ten pesos each. We also have lots of informal commerce, even on the Metro, which is always chaotic and crowded. Many of the products are chafa, which means imitation of famous labels; sold very cheaply, and that’s why we frequently say “Lo Barato Sale Caro”, or “what’s bought cheaply becomes expensive (since it never lasts).”

The informant describes an urban environ filled with constant access to food, trinkets, and other vendors. As a young medical fellow in the city, Jesús experienced busy city life first hand, and often ended up eating at these mobile merchants. Thus, the street food of Mexico and the small carts one buys tacos, tamales, and other foods from, have become a part of the memory Jesús has of Mexico City. Also interesting is the nickname of “Chilangos” given to city dwellers. This is a moniker widely used by Mexicans, who call Mexico City “Chilangolandia.” There are numerous theories as to why this nickname exists, yet no concrete answers have been found. Some believe the “Chil” portion refers to hot sauces, while the “Angos” portion refers to the Nahuatl toponym “Tenango.”

The market of knockoff goods exists in many Latin American countries and is a cultural economy that many depend upon. His reflections on Mexico City are an interesting case study in Mexican urban culture and its imagery. For a similar experience, I suggest visiting Santee Alley near downtown LA, which features many of the same authentic street foods and a similar market setting.

An Encounter With A Bolero Musician

The informant is a musician from Oaxaca, Mexico. He has been playing Bolero music for sixteen years and is incredibly talented. I approached him at an outdoor coffee shop after hearing him on his guitar. I’ve included a clip of him strumming a Bolero chord.

“Yes so, something I would like to share is music. When I think of folklore I think of my music, Bolero music, the genre of Bolero music. It was something that was taught to me by my dad when I was ten years old. And Bolero music comes from Cuba but it also kind of influenced from myself, to stay connected to my own culture, my own language.

So there’s a folklore of Bolero music. It’s kind of a lost tradition. So I celebrate it, I preserve it, everyday by playing the music, if not listening to it, that style of song on Spotify or on the radio.”

How did your father introduce it to you?

“I think through cassettes or CDs, we would listen to it every evening. And he told me and my brother ‘I want you to learn it, to learn this type of music. So he hired a teacher because it’s folk music. So Bolero is folk music, so you won’t learn it in universities or in schools. It’s specific to my culture.”

So what makes Bolero music distinct, what defines it?

“In my opinion what makes it distinct is the lyrics and talking about it musically, chords, the artists, what they call the golden era of Bolero music. It was started in the 1920s. It started in Mexico. But the music has history since 1883, so it has African, Cuban, European influences.

It’s a lot of heartbreak songs, like blues. But also celebrating love. There used to be serenades, like back in the 1930s-40s where you would serenade a woman that you felt attracted to, a partner. So it’s about love songs, it’s about feeling nostalgia.

I’ve been playing since I was fifteen, so sixteen years now. So now I’m trying to preserve it myself through a concert series that I started two years ago. There’s a lot of artists in LA that play this music but there’s no space or outlet for them to showcase especially folk music, and just folk music in general. So I created this concert series called Boleros De Noche.”

Some songs the informant recommended: Sin Ti, Amorcito Corazon, Cien Años, Sabor a mi, Besame Mucho. The first bolero is called Tristesas. That’s the first Bolero recorded.

Reflections on Sadhguru: A Philosophy to Paint By

I interviewed a young painter anda asked him for any responses. Below he shares a philosophy of life he paints by:

“Well, there’s, it’s not mine. I watched this talk, this interview of this guy Sadhguru, and he was talking to some, I think, this Neuroscientist, like a panel. And he’s, he ‘s like a mystic and they were talking about how there are five basic elements of nature, like earth, wind, fire, water, and acacia, which is like ether kind of. And, he said earth is sort of this gross material. Fire was heat. Water was gaseous, like fluid, fluidity. Ether was everything else. And he said the story of the first yogi. The first yogi was surrounded by his disciples, learned mathematicians, artists, architects, all these very intelligent people. They were asking him all about, all of life’s greatest questions, such as “Why are we here?’, “Who are we?”, those kinds of questions. And the yogi was just very bored with these questions. He just kept brushing them off because he thought these questions were very elementary. The yogi just basically said – “There are only five things which you need to care about” and he described the five elements. And he said, if you understand the five basic elements that guide this reality you can understand everything that it’s comprised of. But if you try and look at it from the outside in, you’ll cut it up into a million pieces and millions upon millions of forms will evolve. And he was relating it back to our modern reality and how all of these things, how all of this, our reality is so fractured. How there are so many kinds of people, how everywhere you look there’s this other thing and there’s so many people and they create so many different kinds of things, and they create so much waste. I don’t know there’s just this multiplication and it all comes from this singular source of life. As a result of, perhaps a refraction in this realm of duality. That stuck with me, because it was very telling of our time.”

Where did you hear this again?

“It was Sadhguru, he’s very famous, he does a lot of philanthropic stuff. He’s incredibly fascinating.”

Why did it stick with you?

“It very clearly illustrated how we got to this point, in terms of just the abundance of things, and the separateness, the perceived separateness of form between humans, and other objects. There’s this whole divisive mentality in our collective consciousness. And I think that’s what he was alluding to. It has to be known, it can’t just be told; the answers to all of those questions that all those very smart people were asking could not just be said, it wouldn’t have resolved the question. The question can only be embodied, known from within.”

Ghosts for Naughty Children

I interviewed my grandmother who is from Colombia and asked about any superstitions about ghosts. Below, she described how her grandparents got a household of thirteen children to get to bed early by scaring them about ghosts.

In spanish, followed by a full english translation below:

Ay aver…sobre los fantasmas. Pues eso era lo que nos contaban nuestros abuelos. Como no había luz, entonces ya a las siete se ponía escurecicimo y ellos se sentaban a contarnos historias para que nos diera miedo y para que nos dormiramos temprano. Entonces, ellos siempre decían que en las casas y en las fincas viejas habían era fantasmas de gente que no habían podido poder cansar nunca después de la muerte. Le ponían nombres distintos como el guerrero cojo, o el patasola, o la llorona. Era gente que no podían descansar porque habían cometido un error grave o habían echó alguna cosa mal echa. Entonces contaban eso y decían que ese espíritu estaba viviendo ya en la finca, y que o sí nosotros habíamos echo algo malo como, por ejemplo, comer nos unas naranjas que estaban para los huéspedes, o cualquier cosa que se crecía en la finca, las papas, los plátanos, eso era pecado comérselo por que era para que nosotros lo comiéramos como la familia. Entonces si uno de los niños se había comido un banano o un maduro o una naranja sin permiso, se moría del miedo, que el espíritu de algún fantasma lo cogiera. Entonces en cada instancia inmoral los abuelos tenían un cuento, como uno nuevo para decir nos a no robar, o cualquier cosa incorrecta. Y la manera de castigarnos no era ellos los abuelos, si no Dios, porque la gente que se moría después no podían descansar y venían a vengarse de las casas de los niños que hacían lo mismo que ellos hicieron. Por un lado ya estábamos en la oscuridad y nos daba mucho miedo de un espíritu, y los abuelos eran terribles entonces hacían que se cayera un plumero, o un libro, o que sonarán unas campañas que habían puesto listo para que suenen más sustosas. Como nos daban tanto miedo nos acostábamos temprano, nos tapábamos con las cobijas y nos durmiéramos rápido. Éramos trece niños nosotros y generalmente mi mama y mi abuelita. Ella venía mucho a ayudar por que éramos tantos niños! Casi cada año había un niño nuevo en nuestro casa, y éramos nosotros cada tipo de niño — los gritones, los locos, los felices, los que lloraban mucho. Te puedes imaginar por que hicieron esas historias de los fantasmas. Como más nos hubieran haber puesto a dormir!


Ah, let’s see, about the ghosts. Well, those are the kinds of stories our grandparents would tell us. Since there was no electricity, well it would get very dark in the house around seven and we would all sit around together and they would tell us stories so that we would get scared and so that we would go to bed early. So, they would always tell us stories about how in old houses and ranches like ours there were the ghosts of people who couldn’t leave earth after dying. They would give them different names, like the crippled soldier, the one-footed man, and the crying woman. They were all people that couldn’t rest in peace after death because they had committed some fault, or had done something quite sinful. So they would tell us these stories and would tell us that those spirits were living on our ranch, and that if we are ourselves had committed a sin, such as eating the oranges we had reserved for guests, or anything that grew on our land that was off limits, such as our potatoes, the plantains, touching any of those was bad because al that food was to eat as a family, not to steal individually. So if one of us kids ate a banana or an orange or anything without permission, one would be incredibly frightened, that a ghost would come and get them for stealing. So for everything immoral like that our grandparents had a story, like some new one to remind us not to steal. And in that manner it wasn’t ever the grandparents that would punish us, but God himself, because the people that died couldn’t find peace after their loss of life, and they would come to reap vengeance in the houses of those children that also committed their sins. On one hand we were already in the darkness of night, and we would be so frightened of a vengeful ghost, and yet our grandparents were so mischievous that they would make a broom or book fall randomly. Or even worse, they would make some bells they had chime in a way that was more eerie. These effects would make us so frightened that we would go to bed early, and we could cover ourselves with our blankets, and we went to bed quickly. We were thirteen kids in my household and generally it was my mom and my grandmother looking after us. My grandmother would come often because we were so many of us kids. Almost every year for a long time there was a new child in my household, and we were each of us every kind of kid – screamers, wildcats, the joyful ones, those who cried very much. You can imagine then, why they used these ghost stories; how else would they have put us to bed!

Analysis: I found this story very touching, even if my grandmother and her siblings’ experience must have been tough. I can imagine why the grandparents used these tactics to keep the children morally just and from staying up al night and over-running the ranch. My father actually used to do similar things late at night – he would tie up objects with fishline and make them fall and tell me there were ghosts in the house. I got very frightened and would go to bed very early as well. There seems to be a widespread tradition surrounding ghosts in childhood in Colombia. Often enough, these beliefs are intertwined with the predominantly catholic belief system.

Cagatió – The Shitting Log in Catalonian Culture

The informant is a good friend and has family in Catalan. Below, she describes an incredibly unique Christmas tradition:

“There’s another Catalonian tradition that most kids partake in, which is the Cagatió, or the Tió de Nadal. Which is a log with a face painted on the front and two little legs, which wears a little traditional Catalan hat called a Barretina. And it’s kind of like, the set up is somewhat like leaving Christmas cookies out for Santa. So for a few days leading up to Christmas Eve, you leave cookies out to make it fat and so for a week before you’re feeding it constantly every night. The parents, after the kids go to bed, they eat the cookies. And of course they tell the kids ‘Oh no, the Cagatió ate your cookies and he’s really happy and thankful and he’s going to get very fat. And so for discretion, of course you put a blanket over the back of the Cagatió. And to not hurt the Cagatió you take wood spoons from the kitchen and all the kids go to the sink and run the wood spoons under the warm water to soften them. While the kids are doing that, the parents hide little gifts under the blanket of the Cagatió, so like stocking stuffers but in the butt of the Cagatió, and so they tell them to come back out and so they take the wooden spoons, which are now soft, and you proceed to like whack it while singing the traditional Cagatió song, which is basically, in translation ‘Poop log, poop. If you don’t poop gifts for me, I’ll keep hitting you with this stick’. When you finish the song you take the blanket off the back of the Cagatió. And so basically you keep going back to the sink, you do this four or five times until he stops giving you presents. The parents put fewer and fewer gifts under the blanket each time to simulate the Cagatió running out of poop.”

So what is it again?

“It’s a log. It’s literally a log with a face painted on it. That was a favorite tradition of mine. My family has multiple sizes of Cagatió (laughs). We have a big one for the living room and also a travel sized one.”

Below is a translation of the traditional song:


“Caga tió,

caga torró,

avellanes i mató,

si no cagues bé

et daré un cop de bastó.

caga tió!”



“shit, log,

shit nougats (turrón),

hazelnuts and mató cheese,

if you don’t shit well,

I’ll hit you with a stick,

shit, log!”


Analysis: This is a very ancient tradition in Catalan and I’ve never heard of anything quite like it. The use of an actual shit log is very fascinating. The gifts that come out of the log are usually communal and small gifts, such as candies or small toys. The log almost takes on a personified character and specifically signifies a Catalonian person.

The “Caganer” in Catalonian Nativity Scenes

The informant is a 20 year old student at the Roski art school. She’s originally from Los Angeles but her mother is from Spain. She goes back to visit every year. Below, she shares an interesting Christmas tradition.

“So compared to Americans, Catalonians are known for being fond of scatological humor, so like they love bathroom humor. So even during Christmas traditions those jokes come out. Most families in Catalonia for Christmas set out a nativity scene and its customary to hide two special figurines in the nativity scene, one is the “Caganer” and the other is the “Pissener,” which literally translate to shitter and pee-er. And you’re supposed to hide them very strategically for little kids to find them. And it’s just like a cool Easter egg in there, you’re looking at the baby Jesus and all of a sudden you see a guy taking a shit in the woods. They’re little store bought figurines, I feel like everyone has the same ones. They literally have their pants down, and there’s even a little turd for the “Caganer.” I visit my family every year, usually during Christmas, so I was given the task of hiding the figurines and looking for them.”


Analysis: Nativity scenes are of course very important in various cultures during Christmas, but the inclusion of the Caganer, or shitting person, is a phenomenon mostly isolated to Catalan, but widespread throughout the region. The Caganer humanizes an otherwise perfect scene, even if his activity is grotesque. In my research I found a contemporary analysis by ethnographer Joan Amades that posits that the act of defecating fertilizes the ground of the nativity scene, ensuring fertility and good fortune for the coming year.



A Folk History of the Paisa People, the Colombian Mountain Dwellers

The Paisa people are a genetically distinct group of people from the northern mountains of Colombia, a region known as Antioquia. I asked my grandmother if she had any folk stories about the Paisa people and she provided me with a folk history of developments around the region of Medellin.

My grandmother experienced the transition from country living first hand. She grew up in a household of fifteen on a big estate in the mountains, and has witnessed the the transition from rural to urban, commenting on these sweeping developments and the tragic influence of dirty money. Although general in nature, her folk history provides a perceptive voice for many older Paisa peoples.

Below is a verbatim transcription in Spanish, followed by a full translation in english.

“Colombia es un país muy grand, y tiene muchos distritos. Las personas por todo el país son muy diferentes. Juana me llevo a Barranquilla cuando era una niña chiquita y me descresto mucho. El antioqueño trabaja mucho. En contrasto el costeño quiere la calidad de vida más que todo. Vive con la música. En la costa la música es muy alegre. En Antioquia es mucho más sombre la música. La música de cada región demonstra mucho a las personas.

Nosotros somos antioqueños. Para el antiqueño el humor es muy importante. Con la vida tan difícil para nosotras familias del monte, siempre es muy importante tener humor durante los largos días. Antioquia es la región más montenosa de Colombia, nosotros vivimos en las montañas Andes. Las bestias como los caballos nos ayudaron en fundar nuestras ciudades, en explorar las montañas y mover nuestras posesiones. También después el tren cambió mucho, nos ayudo mucho en establecer las ciudades como Medellín. Cuando ya tuvimos los caros y aviones verdaderamente se estábliso la vida moderna. Hoy en día el antioqueño es muy industrioso. Antes éramos todos campesinos. Nuestros abuelos en esta región tuvieron quince, veinte niños. La vida en el campo era difícil, trabajando afuera todo el día, sin casi plata o mucho para comer. Era una vida muy honorable, como nosotros antes vivíamos. Pero siempre, con taña pobreza, avía un enfoco en la plata, en coger la plata. Todo cambio muy rápido en Antioquia. Nos fuimos de las fincas asta los colegios y las universidades bien rápido. Y la plata vino bien rápido con la industria también. Nunca tuvimos plata como eso.

Yo creo que por eso era tan fácil que creció el narcotráfico, que gente como Pablo Escobar cogieran control. La gente querían plata, las cacas y el caro más lindo, y lo quieran lo más rápido que posible, gastar la más plata que posible. El antioqueño ama su plata, es muy industrioso. Pero el antioqueño viejo era muy distinto. Ahorraba todo. Antes era proteger y cuidar los caballos, estar en el monte. Trabajaba con el sudor de la frente, como se dice. El pensamiento se a cambiado totalmente. Todo se esta cambiando, están las cosas mucho mejor, pero todavía existen las cosas que cambian el carácter bueno del paisa, el antioqueño.


“Colombia is a very big country, and it has many diverse districts. The people in every district of the country are very different from each other.

Juana (her grandmother) took me to Barranquilla (a coastal city) when I was a little girl and I was very amazed by how different they were from us. We antioqueños work a lot. In contrast, the coastal people are most concerned with their quality of life. They live and breathe music. In the coast, the music is much more upbeat, whereas music from Antioquia can be very somber. The music from every region demonstrates each of the peoples very well.

So yes, we are antioqueños. To the antioqueño, constant humor is very important. With such a difficult life in the mountains, it was always very important to have a sense of humor throughout the long days. Antioquia is the most mountainous region in Colombia. We live in the Andes Mountains. The work early on was done with the help of our horses and mules, they helped us to found our cities out here in the desolate mountains. They helped us trek upwards and move our supplies and possessions. Then, later on, the development of trains was incredibly impactful; they helped us to really establish cities such as Medellin as we know them. When finally we had cars and airplanes, things really picked up at an incredible speed and modern life as we know it established itself.

Nowadays the paisa is incredibly industrious. Before, all of us lived out in the country, on our ranches. Our parents, that generation, they all had 15 to twenty children, all of them. Life in the mountains like that was incredibly difficult, working outside all day, without much money or very much to eat. It was an honorable, family oriented life, how we used to live. But of course, with such poverty, there was always an underlying thirst for wealth for us, we wanted to have our own industry, our own factories, not to import. Everything changed incredibly fast in Antioquia. We went from the ranches to the factories, the schools and universities very quickly. And the money too, it came very quickly with the industriousness. We never had been used to having money like that.

I think that’s why it was so easy for narcotrafficing to grow quickly in our region, why people like Pablo Escobar came into control. People wanted money, the houses, the cars, the nicest ones and they wanted it all as fast as possible, to spend as much as possible. The antioqueño loves his money, he’s very industrious. But the old Paisa was very different. He saved everything. Before it was take care of the horses, protect them, trot in the mountains. He worked by the sweat of his brow, as they say. The way of thinking has changed completely. Everything is changing, and things are getting much better, but even still there exist those things that affect the good character of the antioqueño, the paisa.

Analysis: I love to hear my grandmother’s thoughts on the paisa people and our development. It’s very interesting that the peoples of Colombia are actually such different groupings. In fact, we even look different around the country even though we all consider ourselves Colombian. My grandmother grew up on a massive ranch with thirteen siblings in total. She has seen the changes first hand. She seems to have a belief in the cunning and intelligence of the paisa but perceives a negative bent in our current culture. Every time I talk to her she is very hopeful for the future of Colombia now that a peace deal is in process.

‘Silleteros’ – Flower Carrying in Colombia

In Medellin, Colombia, our biggest festival and celebration is the Festival of Flowers, a yearly festival that celebrates our beautiful variety of flowers. We come together as a people and witness the flower growing families parading their latest designs as they carry them on their backs through the streets. It’s a breathtaking sight and something I’ll never quite forget.

The silleteros have been come a folk symbol for our region of Colombia. Diego Rivera famously painted a silletero during a visit to our region. And even outside of the festival, one often finds flower growers with heavy displays on their back, ready to sell flowers. I asked my grandmother about the history of these flower carriers. Below the verbatim Spanish text, one will find an english translation.

Por qué tienen las flores en su espalda?

“Preciso por que pesan tanto, las flores. las más lindas y lo más grande el silleto, el premio vallé más. Al principio no les daban premios, sólo los aplaudían y los sacaban el el periódico por que antes no había televisión. Decían cuales eran las más lindas y quien había ganado, quien las había cultivado, pero no habían premios en efectivo. Pero ya las producen, las industrian, la gente muy rica patrocinan la feria de las flores. Dan premios muy grandes. Un premio que se puede ganar un silletero es que lo mandan a estudiar las flores al exterior, vez? Entonces les interesa mucho, si? Antes en las ferias eran muy chiquitas las silletas, pero fueron creciendo tanto que ya son kilos y kilos. Para qué la espalda del silletero pueda resistir ay unas medidas para que no se vayan deformando las espaldas de ellos. Entonces por eso la parte que necesita la más fuerza para resistir es la espalda, y por eso las silletas generalmente se ponen en la espalda, son casi como sillas. Es como una silla que ellos asen y la cuelgan en la espalda. Esas silletas las hacen con figuras hermosas. Ya hasta son con historias completas, caracteres grandes. Son de las mismas flores que ellos cultivan. Es algo que se aprende generación en generación. Ósea, los hijos de los silleteros aprended del cultivo, del diseño de la silleta, como cargarla. Ya es una tradición. Ya ay familias con diez, quince premios porque cada año lo hacen mejor.”


Why do the silleteros carry the flowers on their backs?

Precisely because those huge displays of flowers weigh so much. The bigger and more beautiful the display, the bigger a prize the flower grower can get. Before, there were no prizes, they were just applauded and they came out on the newspaper, because before there was no television. They would write about who had had the most beautiful flower displays, who had cultivated the flowers, but there were no real prizes. But now they really cultivate those flowers very scientifically. The very richest in Medellin provide patronage the Festival now and they give incredible prizes. For example, a prize a flower grower might get is to study flowers and cultivation techniques around the world, you see? You see they’re very interested in that. Before the flower displays were very small but year on year they grew and now they’re massive and weight very many kilos. So that the spine of the flower grower doesn’t get deformed during the long festival, they’ve designed a certain device to carry that many flowers without injury. So of course the portion that needs the most reinforcement is the brunt of the back, so the device they use is called a silletera, they are designed almost like a chair that they make themselves and then hang on the back. Those flower holders, they spend so much meticulous time coming up with clever designs for them. They make beautiful art on them with flowers. Now they even have stories, figurative works, symbols for towns. They’re all made with the same flowers that that family cultivates themselves. It’s something that’s learned generation to generation. That is to say, the sons and daughters of the flower growers grow up learning how to cultivate those flowers, how to design the flower displays, how to make the flower holders, how to carry it. It has very much become its own tradition. There are families now that have won the big prizes ten, fifteen times. Every year they are looking for ways to improve, every year they are getting better.

Analysis: This has always been a big question for me before going to the festival and before witnessing it firsthand. This image of the flower carriers is all over our country, in paintings, on murals, in our songs. It’s interesting that this has become such a strong cultural tradition in such a short amount of time, and that it is carried forward by families of flower growers.

The Festival of Flowers in Colombia

In Medellin, Colombia, our biggest festival and celebration is the Festival of Flowers, a yearly festival that celebrates our beautiful variety of flowers. We come together as a people and witness the flower growing families parading their latest designs as they carry them on their backs through the streets. It’s a breathtaking sight and something I’ll never quite forget. I’ve asked my grandmother, a native from Medellin who has spent her whole life there about her insights on the celebration.

A note: An Antioqueño or Paisa is a person from our region in the North of Colombia, high up in the Andes Range.

Below is a verbatim transcription first in Spanish, and then fully translated to English:

“El festival de las flores…pues el festival siempre se celebra en Augusto. El siete de Augusto. Ya están organizando el del año próximo. Entonces te voy a decir del festival de las flores. El antioqueño ácido muy negociante siempre, mi amor. El que el vende, lo produce. Ai aquí cerca a Medellín un pueblito muy frío, muy frío que se llama Santa Elena. Aya desde muchos años se cultivan las flores, y las señoras ricas aquí en Medellín le busca tener floreros con flores muy hermosas. Aya se cultivan flores de todos tipos muy hermosas, finas, como las rosas, orcidias, romelias, pero también flores más baratitas, las margaritas, los camelias, las flores menos elegantes, menos caras. Entonces, el señor cultivaba las flores, y las esposas y las niñas se venían a Medellín para venderlas y habían barrios más ricos como tu conoces aquí en Medellín como por ejemplo laureles y el poblado, la gente son muy ricas.

Entonces las que venían con las orcidias, la flor nacional de Colombia, las rosas que son hermosas aquí, las romelias, las flores más elegantes de vendían en el poblado y las señoras las compraban por que ellas no tenían probeñnas de plata. Pero las otras florecitas al fin se hicieron las más populares, porque ya la gente no tenían tanta plata entonces esas flores ya se vendían muchas aquí en el centro, en el verinque, en la media, en barrios menos ricos.

Se volvió una industria grandísima. Entonces el campesino sembraba una quadrita de tierra al año, y ya después podía sembrar dos o tres. Y se volvió tan importante sembrar flores que de volvió un negocio tan importante como vender frutas o pedalear carros. Entonces esta feria de las flores se originó a por ay cuarenta o cincuenta años. Pero las flores han sido desde ase muchos años un patrimonio antioqueño en casi todos los pueblos, pero mucho más en este porque la gente de especializaron. Por ejemplo las margaritas, las naturales, eran solamente blancas y amarillas. Pero el antioqueño se inventó la forma de ser las margaritas moradas, azules, o verdes. Entonces eso les aumentaban mucho el negocio.

Entonces cada vez el campesino sabía más de esas flores, muchas variedades de esas flores se hicieron porque el antioqueño las creo, por eso se volvió una industria fuerte, por eso se ha echo famoso, y en esos últimos cincuenta años se han volvió una exhibición con esos silleteros.


“So the festival of flowers. Well, the festival is always celebrated in August. The 7th of August. They are already organizing the festival for next year. So I am going to tell you about the festival of flowers. The antioqueño has always been very business savy, my love. What he sells, he made himself. Here, near Medellin, there is a town that is very very cold called Santa Elena. There, for many years, they’ve been cultivating flowers. And the rich women of Medellin look to have big bouquets of flowers with beautiful lush flowers. There they cultivate flowers of all types, beautiful, fine flowers. Roses, Romelias, Orchids, but also cheaper flowers, Daisys, Camellias, less elegant ones that cost less. So there in Santa Elena, the men cultivate the flowers and the women and their children come into Medellin to sell them. There were richer neighborhoods like you know, such as Laurels and the town center, where the people are very rich. That’s where you buy the nice flowers. There they had the orchids, the national flower of Colombia, also the fine roses which are incredible here. The Romelias, too, the most beautiful flowers of all kinds. And the rich women would come and buy them because they had no money problems.

But in the end it was the cheaper flowers that became most popular because Colombia fell on hard times and no one had any money, so those cheaper flowers sold very well in the city center, in all of the neighborhoods with less money. The flower industry became huge. So at first the country fellow would plant one plot of flowers and then year on year it would grow, he would have two or three plots of flowers. It became so important a business that one could make more money selling flowers than selling fruit or driving around a cart.

So this festival of flowers of ours really became well established about forty, fifty years ago. But flowers have been an important facet to us antioqueños in almost ever town for a very long time, but most especially here because the people really specialized in it. For example, daisies, the natural ones, were only white and yellow. Yet the paisa came up with a method of cultivation that allowed for purple, blue, and green daisies. So these new flowers really led to quite a growth in flower production and selling.

So every time the paisa knew more about those flowers, new varieties arose, each special and cultivated by those countrymen. That’s why it became a strong industry. That’s why it’s world famous. And in those last fifty years it’s become that famous exhibition with those displays on the cultivator’s backs.

Analysis: this is a very interesting story that captures a lot of the shifting dynamics in Colombian society as well as economic disparities. This festival truly is the biggest celebration we have in Medellin and it was lovely to hear my grandmother’s thoughts on it. It has quickly become a major cultural symbol for us paisas.

The Difference Between God and A Surgeon

The informant is a junior at USC from Chicago, Illinois studying dentistry.

After a discussion of the meaning and purpose of folklore I asked him if he knew of any folk practices or sayings related to his profession. We arrived at this question because he comes from a family of dental practitioners. He has been shadowing various oral surgeons over the past year and described an incident that occurred over the past summer.

He was shadowing a successful oral surgeon in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. He was observing his first intense oral surgery as it was occurring.

Mid surgery, the surgeon whom he was shadowing looked up and recited the following:

Do you know what the difference between God and a surgeon is?

(After a pause) God doesn’t think he’s a surgeon.

He couldn’t help but break into a fit of laughter as the surgeon returned to his procedure.


This is an interesting little joke that is variously ascribed to a variety of high skill professions such as lawyers and pilots as well. There’s an interesting duality here in that a high level of intelligence, skill, and grit is necessary to become a surgeon, and yet of course there are problems in thinking so highly of oneself. Thus, I sense a bit of ambivalence in the joke that is highly contextual. For example, if the surgeon performs a high-risk surgery correctly and says the joke, there’s a bit of pride in the sense of peril and gamble that the surgeon competed against. On the other hand, if the surgery were to fail and the joke be told (rare or strange, of course), the attention would then shift to the absurdity of such risk, of the sense of avoiding the unavoidable failure and the conceit latent in thinking so. Beyond this startling ambiguity, there’s also a sense of science superseding faith. The surgeon steps in and saves a life when there is no hope, thus affirming his or her self as a miracle of science is performed.