Informant: A.G. 22 years old current senior in undergrad at USC, third generation from Honduras/Mexico
Location: Los Angeles, CA
A.G. grew up in an Mexican and Honduran household, and has participated in and experienced this birthday tradition since he was a child. This tradition represents an important, but often unspoken facet of his culture, one that can be viewed and participated in as both heritage and tradition. I have transcribed his explanation below:
“So every time it’s somebody’s birthday, you have to sing ‘Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to Anthony, Happy Birthday to you. Ya queremos pastel!’ which means, ‘we want cake now!’ Then, right after you blow out the candles, everyone chants, ‘que lo muerda, que lo muerda,‘ which means, ‘bite the cake’ and when they go in for a bite, you grab the back of the person’s head and slam their face into the cake. After that, we start to cut pieces off the cake where the face did not touch and give a slice to everyone. In Honduras, it’s pretty much the same tradition but instead we say ‘feliz cumplanos’ which is just happy birthday in Spanish.
A.G. remarked after describing the tradition that it often makes him smile because it’s always done at a time of celebration, The celebration of one’s birthday and of coming of age is an important part of his culture and therefore this small tradition has a bigger importance in his cultural identity. He recalled learning the song as a child, celebrating his aunt Reina’s birthday, and how there were differences between the song when he was celebrating a birthday on the Honduran side of his family, or on the Mexican side. He specified that this tradition is not specific to children in the family, even though it can be more fun, but that the tradition is practiced with adults as well because it has such a cultural significance. He himself has experienced this tradition first hand for many of his birthdays, and sometimes the most fun part was picking out the cake, knowing that it would be used in this tradition later. It seems he views this tradition and the memories that stem from it with great fondness.
I found it particular interesting the small variations between the Mexican and Honduran version of the song. Linguistically, while much of South America speaks Spanish, there are small but significant variations in the words used or the common expressions. It reminded me of how certain regions in America will infuse different elements into their versions of Happy Birthday, that help differentiate it from other places. This brings to mind the idea of different folk groups and the multiplicity that they may express when performing tradition. There is no one way to perform this birthday ritual, but each has it’s own cultural value to the groups that claim specific heritages.