Author Archive
Proverbs

Mexico: Monkey Proverb

Original:

Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda. 

Translation:

Although the monkey dresses in silk, it’s still a monkey. 

Analysis:

This Mexican proverb was given to me by my friend who is a 20 year old from Mexico City. The exchange happened in the form of an interview while on the USC campus. She claims to have been hearing this ever since she was a child. Her mom would repeatedly say this to her every time they encountered a new person who, according to my friend, was someone her mom did not like or thought was rude. My friend then went on to explain to me how this proverb speaks to how classist of a society Mexico tends to be.  There is a large gap between the different economic sectors of Mexico; 1% of the population is extremely rich while almost 50% of the population live in extreme poverty. According to my friend, this proverb is often used to describe people that come from a poor background and are constantly showing off their newly gained money. In other words, she says that it is used to describe “people that are new rich but don’t have manners.” Hence the image of a monkey being able to dress in silk but still being a monkey regardless of the fancy clothes.

 

I think this proverb speaks a lot about Mexican society and how it functions. It also says a lot about the inequality in wealth distribution and how class plays an important factor into how people are perceived. Furthermore, it implies that people’s actions are being scrutinized despite their newly acquired wealth and/or status. The end result is to demonstrate how Mexican society is extremely closed off to outsiders of people that have not been a part of it for more than one generation. This is very interesting to me because it delineates how wealth, status, and class are taken into consideration in Mexico City.

Folk Dance
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Venezuela: Los Diablos de Yare

Informant: Los Diablos de Yare are a religious festival celebrated in Venezuela during Corpus Christi. I remember being introduced to this in school as a child. Every time the festival approached, we would make masks designed to look like devils. Then we would wear the masks and dance around. Even though the masks were designed to look like devils or monsters, they were all extremely colorful. This festivity is a yearly tradition filled with joy, family, and friends. Basically, the whole festivities are made to celebrate good over evil. This is why the masks are made to look like devils and the tradition is considered religious; the whole point is to demonstrate how good will always beat out evil. I don’t remember the origins of it exactly, but I know that it has been a Venezuelan tradition for centuries and that it has obviously evolved over the years. 

Analysis: 

This festival seems to be a very important part of Venezuelan culture. I think the reason why it is so prominent in Venezuela is because its religious. This would explain why schools make a whole celebration out of it and why the tradition has been able to survive for hundreds of years.

I wish the informant would have been able to provide more information as to where and how the tradition originated exactly, but I understand that she has been around it for so long that she just takes it to be a yearly ritual. It’s very intriguing to me that the festival depicts devils in order to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. This demonstrates a very strong imagery that plays with perceptions. It is almost as if the use of devil masks make the devils less intimidating and demonstrate to people that they are stronger than evil. In other words, the creating of this masks can work as a metaphor for taking control over ones own demons. Overall, I really liked this piece of folklore. The vivid colors used for the masks and the dances that happen all around town make it pretty clear that this festival is a time for celebration and family.

Myths

Miami: The Fountain of Youth

Informant: The myth of The Fountain of Youth is something I have been hearing every since I moved to Miami.

Collector: When, and where, were you first introduced to this myth?

Informant: I don’t remember the time exactly but it was definitely something I was introduced to once I moved to Miami. A lot of people believed that The Fountain of Youth was located in Florida and, therefore, it was not uncommon to hear about this myth.

Collector: What were ways in which this myth got promulgated?

Informant: Well there were many references to The Fountain of Youth in movies and other forms of entertainment…umm…there was this one museum in Florida I remember going to that had a whole exhibition built around it. It was called the Vizcaya Museum and I remember them having a presentation on what The Fountain of Youth was and how it came to be located in Florida.

Collector: So the idea of The Fountain of Youth was used as a form of tourism as well?

Informant: Yes, exactly! There were many attractions and things related to The Fountain of Youth that were used to call attention to Florida.

Collector: Could you give a little bit of background on what The Fountain of Youth is?

Informant: Yes, of course. It is basically this spring that restores your youth if you drink its water. So it’s a source of youth, beauty, and health. Basically a form of obtaining immortality. But you have to find the fountain and drink its water, which is the tricky part. So almost all of the stories about The Fountain of Youth revolve around people trying to find it.

Analysis: 

The Fountain of Youth has been a myth that I’ve also heard about repeatedly. However, I used to hear about this in movies like Indiana Jones and other forms of entertainment rather than from the place I was living in. I found it very interesting how this myth was used in Florida as a way to attract tourists. In some ways, this demonstrates the relationship between folklore and tourism. Sometimes folklore is used to promote tourism and The Fountain of Youth is one of many examples. I think a big part of the appeal of this myth is that it is a recipe for old age and a way to prevent death. In Western societies, old age and death are one of the greatest fears people have. Hence, I can understand how the search for The Fountain of Youth is a myth that continues to live on and that is used to capture people’s attention and imagination. It is a myth that brings a solution to an inevitable part of life, and the appeal of that cannot be underestimated. I think it is because of such a promise that this myth has managed to live on for so long. Moreover, I can see how this can be used as a form of tourism. The main premise of the myth – immortality – is extremely appealing and people can’t help but wonder if The Fountain of Youth actually exists.

Folk Beliefs

Venezuela: El Ratón Pérez

 

Informant: El Ratón Pérez was a very important figure in my childhood.

Collector: Could you elaborate on who, and what, is El Ratón Pérez?

Informant: Yeah so El Ratón Pérez is the same premise as The Tooth Fairy but instead of a fairy it´s a mouse. So, in Venezuela, when kids’ teeth fell they were told by their parents to leave their tooth under their pillow so that El Ratón Pérez could come and leave them a present.

Collector: So every time one of you teeth would fall as a child it was El Ratón Pérez that you believed would come? What would he usually leave under your pillow?

Informant: Exactly! He would always leave money. The bigger the tooth, the more money. So, for example, I would get more money for a molar than for one of my front teeth.

Collector: And when did you realize El Ratón Pérez wasn’t real?

Informant: I figured it out as I began getting older, kind of like you figure out Santa Claus isn’t real. You start suspecting it and then the other kids start suspecting it as well until finally you just know that it was never El Ratón Pérez leaving money under your pillow and taking your teeth but that instead it was always your parents.

Analysis: 

I really liked the idea of El Ratón Pérez being the one to pick up your teeth instead of the Tooth Fairy. Again, I was struck by how similar this Venezuelan tradition is to the Mexican one; in Mexico, it’s also El Ratón Pérez that comes instead of the Tooth Fairy. Just like with the legend of La Llorona, which is both common in Mexico and Venezuela, I was extremely intrigued to see the overlap between Latin culture and folklore.

I think this type of folklore is extremely interesting because it applies to little kids and becomes such a big part of their childhood. However, the belief of something like El Ratón Pérez inevitably stops becoming a belief and, instead, only becomes a pleasant lie your parents told you.  This is what happened to Paula once she realized that El Ratón Pérez was not real. I also find it very interesting how this realization comes along as a communal thing. Paula mentioned how the idea of El Ratón Pérez and his existence began diminishing once the other kids started doubting its existence as well. Therefore, there is a certain sense of understanding and community that goes along with other children your age. In a way, folk beliefs last as long as your social group still believe them. If the people you identify with hold something to be true, then you will most likely hold it to be true as well. This could serve as an explanation as to why children all stop believing in things such as El Ratón Pérez and Santa Claus around the same time.

I really like this piece. It is a nice folk belief that dissipates kids’ fear of losing their teeth. In a way, you can say that the purpose of figures such as El Ratón Pérez is to make childhood funner and less frightening. As a kid, loosing one of your teeth can be an awful experience; the tooth hurts and moves for a few weeks before it falls, once it falls you bleed, and then you’re left with a physical gap in your mouth. The gap that is left over makes it uncomfortable to chew food and can leave kids feeling self-conscious. Therefore, I think that a belief such as El Ratón Pérez really helps kids go through this transition. They get a prize for their pain and what could be considered as scary (loosing your teeth) becomes exciting at the prospect of receiving a visit from El Ratón Pérez.

Legends

Venezuela: La Llorona

Informant: This is a legend I have been hearing since I was a child. It is called “La Llorona.” Most people think this is a Mexican legend, and maybe it did originate from there but I heard it from my Venezuelan friends and family. The legend basically says that there was this woman from a rural area who married a rich man. When her husband leaves her for another woman, she drowns her two children in the river near their house. Immediately after killing them, she feels such a strong sense of guilt that she kills herself. Legend has it that at night you can hear her crying “mis hijos, mis hijos,”  which basically translates to “my children, my children.” My friends and I used to tell this legend at parties and sleepovers, sort of like a horror story we used to entertain each other with. As a kid, I was always frightened by it, especially because of the imagery that went along with the legend. So, for example, the version I heard always included the woman, or La Llorona, dressed all in white and walking around the streets stealing children to replace the ones she lost. This legend was a really big part of my childhood and a great story that always got my friends and me feeling scared. 

Analysis: 

This was extremely interesting for me to hear because I’m Mexican and I thought than this legend was only told in Mexico. The fact that Paula is from Venezuela and grew up listening to the same legend took me a little bit by surprise. It also made me wonder if the legend of La Llorona is more of a Latin America tale rather than just a Mexican one. I can completely relate to Paula hearing the story from her friends and family and using it as a form of entertainment at social gatherings. I can also see how this legend would be used to instil fear into children and why it would be so fun to tell it as a little kid.

The story itself is really interesting and gets at the root of a lot of social interactions in Latin societies. The fact that it is about a woman who goes crazy after her husband cheats on her demonstrates the machista approach taken by most Latin societies. Basically, this implies that women need men in their lives in order to stay sane. It also demonstrates how women in Latin societies often grow up with the notion that in order to be happy their husband must be loyal to them; in other words, women cannot have a happy life without a husband. It is very intriguing that this story is mostly told among children. Its hidden meaning works as a form of unconsciously telling children what is valued in society and what is not.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mexico: Day of the Death

Informant: Día de los Muertos, which translates to Day of the Death, is one of the biggest holidays in all of Mexico. Basically, the holiday is a celebration of the dead so it works as an opportunity for people to pay homage to the ones they have lost. Even though the holiday revolves around dead, it’s very joyous. 

Collector: Are there any special rituals or traditions you do during this time? 

Informant: Oh yeah so many. You need an altar and in the altar you usually put pictures of your loved ones along with some of their favorite foods and items. You then adorn everything with marigold and make a little walkway so that the spirits can find the altar. Supposedly the spirits of the dead come back that night to visit their families, so the marigold leads them to their corresponding altar. The foods and items the family puts up serves as a tribute to the dead and as a gift for when they “visit.” 

Collector: Do you remember how you were introduced to the holiday? 

Informant: Everyone in Mexico celebrates it and they teach it at school so I’ve literally known about it ever since I was born. 

Analysis: 

Day of the Death is an extremely popular and sacred holiday in Mexico. It is interesting to see the recognition it has gotten lately, with movies like Pixar’s Coco. My favorite part about this holiday is that it chooses to embrace death. The holiday literally revolves around the spirits of the death and the afterlife. The fact that death and family are such an integral part of one of the main holidays in Mexico says a lot about Mexican culture. For starters, it demonstrates how family oriented Mexico is. The whole point of Día de los Muertos is that your altar will allow your dead family members to see you again. It also demonstrates Mexicans relationship with death. They’re not necessarily frightened by death, but instead, take it to be a natural part of life and view it as a different cycle.

The use of the marigold is crucial to this holiday and demonstrates how culture heavy Día de los Muertos is. These flowers were sacred to the Aztecs, and are used throughout all of Mexico as an homage to Mexican culture and roots. The fact that they take center stage in one of Mexico’s most important holidays shows just how culturally relevant the marigold is. It is a reminder of Mexico’s past and a flower representative of the country.

I think Día de los Muertos is an amazing holiday that relies heavily on culture and family. I love the approach that the holiday takes towards death and I can understand why this was such a prominent part of the informant’s life; he claims that he has been surrounded by Día de los Muertos festivities ever since he was born. It sounds like a very joyous holiday where one is supposed to celebrate life through death. Even though death is a crucial aspect of this holiday, there is nothing sorrowful or scary about it. Instead, it’s about remembering and maintaining a connection with our loved ones and the people who have passed on.

Game
Musical

Mexico: La Papa Caliente

Informant: The following is a song I used to sing as a child with my friends. We would sing this song and play it at school all the time. There was a game that went along with it where you had to hold a potato, or a ball, and pass it around while you sang the song. Whoever had the potato in their hands when the song was over would lose. The song went like this: 

La papa caliente estaba en el sartén 

Tenía mucho aceite, quien se quemo? 

Uno, dos, tres. 

This roughly translates to: 

The hot potato was in the pan 

It had a lot of oil, who got burn? 

One, two, three. 

Analysis: 

This is yet another example of how folk music is often times used to accompany children games. The song being sung has a specific game and action involved with it. Again, we can see how this is used in a social setting and as a way to establish relationships; the informant claims that he would play this with his friends at school. In a way, this song is a game in and of itself.

I find it very interesting that the song uses potatoes. Potatoes are a really big part of people’s diets in Mexico. They can be found anywhere in the city and are a very common ingredient. I wonder if this is why the song makes use of potatoes. Aside from that, I think this song is really cute and funny. I love the idea of a bunch of kids passing each other potatoes and singing a song to see who loses.

Musical

Mexico: La Cucaracha

Informant: There is this one song in Mexico that everyone knows and everyone sings. It’s really silly but or some reason its very popular. I have been hearing it all my life and all my friends know it but I think the first person I ever heard it from was my grandmother. She would sing it all the time. The song goes something like this: 

“La cucaracha, la cucaracha 

Ya no puede caminar 

Porque le duele, porque le faltan

Las dos patitas de atrás.”

This roughly translates to this: 

“The cockroach, the cockroach 

Can´t walk 

Because it hurts, because he’s missing 

His both legs from the back.”

Collector: Was there any special ritual or game that went along with singing this song? 

Informant: Not really. I think people would just sing it because it was catchy but there was nothing specifically involved with it.  

Analysis: 

This song seems to be a type of folkloric rhyme that has been passed down through the years. It is interesting that it has no specific meaning or activity involved but is still so popular. That goes to show that folklore thrives on popularity; the more widespread and popular a piece of folklore is, the better chances it has of surviving throughout the years.

I thought that this song was funny and I can understand why such humor would make it so popular. The song is literally about a cockroach that can’t walk because it loses its legs. Even though there isn’t necessarily any meaning to it, it still paints a very vivid image of what is happening. Such imagery is a recurring trend in Mexican folklore; the language gives way to very strong visuals. Such imagery might be part of the song’s appeal.

The informant also mentioned that the first person he ever heard this song from was his grandmother. Moreover, he said that everyone he knew was familiar with the song because of how widespread it was. This would help explain the song’s popularity. If the song is being passed down from parent to child, then it would make sense that the popularity of the song is due to its involvement in family life. In other words, the song may be a source of comfort due to how familiar it is.

Myths
Tales /märchen

Mexico: Chupacabra

Informant: The story of the Chupacabra is one I have been hearing for most of my childhood. The first time I heard it was at a sleepover when I was about nine years old. We were all getting ready to go to sleep and decided to tell each other scary stories. The Chupacabra is a type of monster that attacks and drinks the blood of livestock, specifically goats. Hence its name “Chupacabra” which literally means “goat-sucker.” The monster is always described as a type of beast with really sharp teeth and black eyes. Even though it doesn’t necessarily attack people, the terror towards it comes from the fact that many people have claimed to see it. It’s almost as if its presence is the horrifying thing rather than its actions.  Even though my fear towards it eventually faded, it was still a figure people talked about. This was especially true for little children. So, like, if you want to scare a little kid or get him to do something you can always say “Va a venir el Chupacabra por ti” which basically translated to “the Chupacabra will come get you.” 

Analysis: 

I find it very interesting that the informant describes his fear towards the Chupacabra as a kid even though humans are not this creature’s target. I think the fear stems from the scary appearance of the Chupacabra.

The fact that the Chupacabra sucks the blood of livestock made me think of vampires. Among other things, vampires are known for sucking the blood of people. Therefore, the trope of taking the blood from another living creature as a form of survival is something both creatures have in common.

I think that the reason why the Chupacabra takes blood from livestock is because many parts of Mexico are rural. Farming and agriculture is very prominent in Mexico and for people living in rural areas their livestock is extremely important and valuable. Therefore, I can understand how the idea of a creature that goes around killing your livestock can become a terrifying prospect. The part that I would be interested to research more are the supposed Chupacabra sightings. The informant mentioned this briefly but I wonder what who exactly it is that has claimed to see the creature. Is it kids, farmers, old people? This would provide a much more holistic understanding to the Chupacabra tale.

Myths

Brazil: Saci

Informant: I really like myths and Brazilian myths were such a big part of my childhood that many of them have stuck with me throughout the years. This myth is  about Saci and the first time I looked into it was after watching the Disney movie “Aladdin,” which was one of my favorties growing up. Saci is basically a Brazilian figure that is a one-legged mulatto and smokes a pipe. He has a magical cap that lets him disappear and reappear and if you catch him or steal his hat he will grant you a wish. The reason why I was drawn to the myth of Saci after watching “Aladdin” was because of the genie that appears in the movie. Even though they are completely different magical creatures, both grant you a wish so Saci kind of reminded me of the genie. 

Collector: So you heard about Saci before or after watching “Aladdin”? 

Informant: Well I already had a vague idea of Saci before watching “Aladdin” but it wasn’t until I watched the movie that I started researching into the myth and became attracted to it. 

Collector: And from where had you heard about Saci before watching “Aladdin”? 

Informer: From other kids at school. It wasn’t uncommon for kids to speak about myths and a lot of times we would research them at school. However, I wasn’t really interested in the Saci myth until I was able to relate it to the movie. I guess this was because “Aladdin” was such a popular movie and seeing it made me realize the similarities that the myths used there had with the ones in Brazil. 

Analysis: 

This interview was an interesting one. Saci and the genie in Aladdin are completely different, and the informer is aware of this. However, he claims that the reason why he was able to relate both figures was because both of them grant wishes. Aladdin is based on folklore so it was amazing to see how one piece of folklore can lead a person to be interested in another piece of folklore. In this case, the informant already had a vague idea about Saci but was never drawn to the mythological figure until he saw “Aladdin.” He claims it had something to do with Aladdin’s popularity and how it made him realize the similarities between folklore from one culture and folklore from another one. Another important thing to take note of is that Saci has a tendency to disappear and reappear. To me, this sounds like Saci is presented as a trickster. This imagery is not uncommon to encounter in myths and tales, which goes to further show the overlap that occurs between different pieces of folklore.

This is definitely not uncommon in folklore; there is often a lot of overlap between the myths, legends, and stories of one culture and another. The beauty of folklore is how one piece of folklore can lead to the interest in another. This was definitely the case with this informant. As for the myth itself, it manages to represent different aspects of Brazilian cultures. The informer claimed that Saci was mulatto, and this is something that might resonate with the population of Brazil since it is composed of people from many different places.

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